Diana: Queen of Style review – ‘England’s biggest punk’? I think not

The Princess of Wales is cast as a trendsetter, a #MeToo pioneer, ‘the ultimate influencer’ and much more in a documentary which revels in laughably revisionist history

I’m afraid to say that the youth have discovered Diana, Princess of Wales. Maybe we’ll have to go through this every generation now – another thing to add to the list, along with sex and drugs, that any cohort coming into its majority thinks it has invented anew. Just when you thought people couldn’t get more tiresome.

Talking of tiresome, we turn to Channel 4’s 49-minute-long (I know because I kept checking how many were still left to go) documentary Diana: Queen of Style. She was “the ultimate influencer”, we are assured, with the programme promising to trace how she became “the perfect icon for today”.

And then it was 47 minutes of almost pure guff, churned out by people who should know better. Perhaps the makers had – for reasons known only to themselves – wanted to keep drag star Bimini Bon Boulash’s standalone, decontextualised assertion that “Diana was the biggest punk to come out of England” in the programme, and therefore had to reduce everyone to a similar level of imbecility so it didn’t stick out too much. I don’t know why I’m reaching so hard and so far for excuses. I suppose it is the natural human instinct to try to make sense of things that on the face of it seem utterly inexplicable. A protective measure against the encroaching entropy of the universe, perhaps, of which Instagrammer Eloise Morgan’s belief that Diana’s black dress, worn to the Serpentine Gallery on the day Prince Charles revealed his affair with Camilla to the world, was “the most powerful moment in her narrative” would otherwise seem incontrovertible proof. “Everyone wants to look good after a breakup,” Morgan added. “And I can really relate to that.”

Diana was also, we are informed, a pioneer of the #MeToo movement, because she didn’t do what the patriarchy wanted. (“She was this early feminist icon.”) Think of her as Christine de Pizan in Christina Stambolian.

On and on we went, collapsing and confusing history, filling fashions and Diana with meaning, and emptying them of it at the same time. Bold colours and polka dots are “hers”, apparently. There was a “literal metamorphosis”, when she emerged from the carriage in her enormous, Emanuel-designed wedding dress. It had, its co-creator Elizabeth acknowledged, got a bit creased in there and, when she saw it, “My heart stopped for a minute.” But it’s OK now because – as they did with Diana, you see – people loved the imperfection, and Elizabeth now thinks it “reflected what happened later”.

We went from the early days of yellow dungarees, Liberty-print skirts, sheep sweaters and voluminous maternity dresses and on through better and better clothes, silhouettes and hairstyles with no one pointing out that the Queen of Style had no innate talent for the sartorial business whatsoever but was increasingly surrounded by people who lived and were paid to dress her enduringly slim and lovely form appropriately on every occasion, and who helped her escape the 80s as quickly as possible.

Some of them, such as the makeup artist and hair stylist Sam McKnight, talked about her and their contributions to her evolving look with warmth and enthusiastic informality. Others, such as Said Cyrus of Catherine Walker and Co, talk as if they were part of the Second Coming. “When we had,” he says reverently, before pausing and all but laying a hand over his immaculately clad breast, “the privilege of being asked to design for a royal tour, we wrote ourselves a very precise brief.” The brief in question was to distil into each outfit a tribute to both the country being visited and to Diana’s own England. He showed us the mood board of Bedouin women in robes of deep, vegetable-dye colours, fringed with little mirrors and then the sharp-shouldered power suit in hot pink and red with big buttons that this inspiration was somehow translated into for Diana. It was one of the funniest things I’ve seen all year.

But the waste of everyone’s time and resources such a programme represents was even more glaring than a fuchsia jacket. Of course there is a story to be told about Diana’s clothes and, at times, the programme tried to tell it, before getting submerged beneath a tide of nonsense about how she was this, that and the other, plus everything and to all people, all the time and now to people born after she died. Indeed, Queen of Style would have you believe that Diana invented punk, polka dots and Peter Pan collars, and became a hero-icon for it. Or, like, something.


Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

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