The People’s Princess
By Flora Harding
What it’s about?
Buckingham Palace, 1981
Her engagement to Prince Charles is a dream come true for Lady Diana Spencer but marrying the heir to the throne is not all that it seems. Alone and bored in the palace, she resents the stuffy courtiers who are intent on instructing her about her new role as Princess of Wales…
But when she discovers a diary written in the 1800s by Princess Charlotte of Wales, a young woman born into a gilded cage so like herself, Diana is drawn into the story of Charlotte’s reckless love affairs and fraught relationship with her father, the Prince Regent.
As she reads the diary, Diana can see many parallels with her own life and future as Princess of Wales.
The story allows a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life in the palace, the tensions in Diana’s relationship with the royal family during the engagement, and the wedding itself.
What I think:
This is a well-crafted dual narrative that tells the story of two princesses.
Lady Diana Spencer has just become engaged to Charles, Prince of Wales. She moves into Buckingham Palace to prepare for the wedding. But her fairytale is not all it seems. Diana is lonely – Charles is busy and has little in common with his younger fiancé. He’s also still spending time with his former girlfriend, Camilla.
Diana takes an interest in the portrait of a young woman, Princess Charlotte of Wales, daughter of the Prince Regent. Reading her diary, she find she has much in common with the young woman looking for love.
Charlotte is a fantastic character. Caught between her warring parents, she is expected to marry well, and make a match that is good for the country. Charlotte is isolated, seldom allowed out in society and bored. Her only friends are her servants and her father is jealous of her popularity.
There are striking similaries between these two young women searching for happiness.
Both have little control over their lives and search for the things that they can influence. Charlotte finds herself looking for affectionate in the wrong places, with some unsuitable romances. Diana turns to fashion and her obsession with her appearance in the media escalates her eating disorder.
Marriage is a key theme of the novel. Charlotte marries for duty but finds true love and companionship with Prince Leopold. Diana soon realises that she and Charles are not a good match, but hopes that marriage will bring them closer.
Both women have tragic stories. While Charlotte’s play put to the end with her tragic death in childbirth, it’s hard not to read any fictional account of Diana without seeing hints of her own future.
The oppressive, behind the seen atmosphere of 1980s Buckingham Palace is subtly and respectfully recreated. This is not a sensationalist drama. Similarly, the details of Charlotte’s life, parties at Carlton House and the Royal Pavillion in Brighton add lots of historical atmosphere. Harding had an eye for describing fashion, something that bring joy to both Charlotte and Diana.
This is a well-written story of two fascinating young women that fans of The Crown will love.
Thank you to One More Chapter and Netgalley for the gifted advanced copy of The People’s Princess which out this spring.