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Two Princes, Missing Their Mum, Tell Her Story as Only They Can
July 24, 2017  | By David Hinckley

HBO won the Princess Diana anniversary sweepstakes.

Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, which HBO picked up from Britain’s ITV, airs Monday at 10 p.m. ET and features reminiscences from her sons William and Harry.

Among the dozen or so major TV productions leading up to the 20th anniversary of Diana’s stunning death on Aug. 31, 1997, the princes are clearly the alpha catch.

And not just because they’re famous and William will very likely someday be king of England.

For all the analysis of Diana’s life on other anniversary shows, the best of it sincere and insightful, no one can provide anything close to the portrait we get from her sons.

Now yes, sure, these are 1) her sons and 2) a pair of men trained from birth to be diplomatic.

The closest thing to an eye-raising comment is when Harry says one of his mother’s favorite mottos was, “You can be as naughty as you want, just don’t get caught.”

Beyond the fact that’s a pretty radical approach to parenting and to life, it’s drenched in irony. Given that Diana could barely walk to her car without someone snapping her photo, it’s hard to imagine she felt she was able to live that advice.

In any case, it’s appropriate that William and Harry don’t make any tabloid headlines here, that they don’t tell us Diana would sneak to the royal kitchen late at night and make peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

Absent some distracting revelation like that, what resonates most strongly with the viewer is that these are two men who were 15 and 12 when their mother died.

The rest of the world remembers how everything stopped for the first couple of days in September 1997.

Harry and William remember the last phone call, hurrying to wrap it up so they could all get on to something else.

Harry talks about going into the Army years later to block the world out, to turn it all into “white noise.”

William says he’s sorry his mother never got to see his own kids.

It’s small stuff, ordinary stuff, routine stuff. It’s the stuff almost everyone else, no matter how un-famous, feels when they lose a parent.

In almost all the Diana TV specials, someone makes the point that she extended the royal hand beyond the traditional small circle of royalty.

She spoke out for the poor, the inconvenient, the disenfranchised, the forgotten. While that didn’t mean they all ended up inside a caring fold, the mere fact they had been acknowledged reflected our better angels.

The world didn’t care about Diana just because she was young, blond and beautiful and had a soap opera in her life. There were and are lots of other beautiful young blondes who live in soap operas. Most of the others didn’t put down their aristocratic chips in support of people with AIDS.

At this point, of course, you also want to caution against over-romanticizing Diana. She wasn’t on the cover of People magazine 57 times just because she helped call attention to undetonated land mines.

She wasn’t perfect. She didn’t make the best choices in men. She also made mistakes with the media, figuring out how to turn it on without realizing that meant she couldn’t turn it off.   

But she was also a mother who piled her kids into the car and drove down random roads singing Enya songs, or sneaked them into the cinema.

She was a mother who died at 36, just before her sons were reaching the next stage of interesting.

We already knew that she died, by all indications, before she got to experience a fulfilling relationship of her own.

What we hadn’t seen or heard before was Diana’s sons leafing through the family photo album – an unremarkable act with a remarkable consequence.

It gently readjusts her own picture from goddess down to human.

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