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Children of Empire

And when the time was right—when divorce was imminent—she used emotion to sway the public to her side. She told every secret thing, first to Andrew Morton, for his biography Diana: Her True Story, and then to Martin Bashir for his famous BBC interview. She described her “rampant bulimia,” her episodes of self-mutilation, and becoming so desperate for love and attention that she threw herself down a flight of stairs. She described the dirty trick that Charles had played on her: telling her he loved her, asking her to be his princess, but all along in love with another woman.

She said she didn’t care that she would never become the Queen of England, because she would be instead “a queen of people’s hearts.” The press mocked her for it. When she became a single woman, they said she was over, a has-been, desperate and irrelevant.

But the press is always wrong about these things. A year and a half after she made that pronouncement, she was killed in a car crash in Paris, and all of England rose up to prove her right.

Some 900,000 Britons died in the Great War; not a family was untouched by it. The symbol of the armistice was a single flower, the red poppy of Flanders Field, and any person who wore it—that father or mother or brother or child—was understood to be someone who had suffered greatly, and whose silence, whose diminishment, were the products of a great sorrow borne bravely.

When Diana died, the sea of bouquets left outside her former home in Kensington Palace was five feet high in some places.

Liba Taylor / Corbis / Getty

The flowers were offered in honor of a woman most people had never met—had never even seen in person. And yet people roamed the streets like zombies, keening and sobbing and holding on to one another. Optimistic Tony Blair optimistically said that the British people had found “a new way to grieve.” What the prime minister left out was the obvious self-involvement that the new way introduced.

“It’s something weird and strange that’s happening,” a young man told a reporter. “I’ve cried about this, and it’s partly for Diana and it’s partly—” he paused, and then located the exact and troubling truth—“for ourselves.”

Five hundred miles from London, in the green-velvet silence of the Scottish Highlands, two people for whom this disaster constituted an actual crisis were asleep in their b when their mother was killed. William, age 15, and Harry, 12, were visiting their father and grandparents at Balmoral Castle, and when the terrible call came through, the shocked adults allowed them to sleep a few more hours before waking them. In one stroke they had to accept, as best they could, two truths: Their mother was dead, and they did not have the luxury of crying in the streets.

Twenty years after their mother’s death, the princes commissioned a documentary to commemorate the anniversary. In Diana: 7 Days That Shook the World, the young men spoke publicly for the first time about their experiences during that week.