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Britan's Princess Diana attends a gala performance in London in this Dece. 16, 1985, file photo. (David Osborn/Reuters)
Britan's Princess Diana attends a gala performance in London in this Dece. 16, 1985, file photo. (David Osborn/Reuters)

Sarah Hampson

Lover, grandma, saint: How Princess Diana is getting a posthumous makeover Add to ...

In case you’ve been lost in summer distractions, unplugged from the world, and are only now resurfacing, let me break the news to you: Diana, Princess of Wales, is making a comeback. Not only that, she’s having a posthumous makeover.

More than a decade and a half after her tragic death in a Paris tunnel, there she is on the cover of Vanity Fair’s September issue, looking relaxed and happy, gazing calmly and coolly into the camera with a self-possessed smile and a hint of satisfaction that she is once again looming large in the global consciousness, revelling in another Diana Moment. Later this fall, a new biopic, Diana, starring Naomi Watts, will present a flattering portrait of the late superstar. No longer the thick-as-aplank, desperate jetsetter she was often portrayed as, she is depicted in the film as a focused, loving woman who was coming into her own in the last two years of her life through her under-the-radar love affair with a Pakistani heart surgeon, Hasnat Khan.

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All these years later, Diana may have been in our heads, but now she’s in our face. It was inevitable, really. Diana’s spectre has been floating about for a while now, ever since Prince William presented the former Kate Middleton with his mother’s 18-carat oval sapphire engagement ring when he asked her to marry him. Every time the Duchess of Cambridge is photographed, she is wearing it, conjuring Di’s memory.

During her time in the royal media spotlight, Kate has become Diana’s style avatar. There was Kate’s blue Issa engagement dress, which onlookers immediately compared to the outfit worn by Diana for her official engagement to Prince Charles in 1981. In the same September issue of Vanity Fair, editors announce this year’s Annual International Best-Dressed List; among the appointed is the Duchess of Cambridge, pictured wearing some of her favourite designers. Her style icon? “Diana, Princess of Wales,” she (or her office) is quoted as saying. And, of course, Diana was on that list in her day, “canonized as a beloved ’80s idol,” the magazine gushes.

But of all the events of the past two years, it was the royal birth this summer that brought Saint, er, Princess Diana back the most forcefully and poignantly. On that (now-iconic) doorstep of the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital in London, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stood with a swaddled Prince George just as Diana and Charles had posed when Prince William was born. Even Prince Charles announced his delight over “my first grandchild” with careful respect for Diana’s memory, avoiding any suggestion that Camilla, his second wife, is the baby’s grandmother.

That’s because Diana has been vaulted into a new and powerful position – the ever-present invisible grandmother – and, as such, is inspiring a new round of breathless profiles. Andrew Morton, her professional biographer, waxed purple in The Daily Telegraph recently about what a fabulous grandmother she would have been as he recounted the emotional hardships of her own upbringing and how she loved to hug her boys and shower them with unconditional love.

Others have noted that she would have been 52, far too young to be a granny, but not a “glammie,” as youthful, stylish grandmothers are apparently known. It has also been pointed out that Diana shares the same birth sign – Cancer – with Prince George (as does Prince William), prompting a onetime astrologer to the late princess to proclaim that “Diana’s genetic and psychic imprint will be firmly on that child.” Take that as a spoiler alert that more comparisons will be forthcoming. Imagine if the child had been a girl.

In Diana, which opens in Britain this September and will be released in North America later in the fall, we see a princess puttering around Khan’s small, one-bedroom apartment, doing the dishes and folding his laundry, in what producers for the film call her “shot at normalcy.” Based on the Kate Snell book Diana: Her Last Love, the story recounts Diana’s two-year relationship with Khan, her “soul mate,” according to Oliver Hirschbiegel, the film’s director; she reportedly met Khan in December, 1995, in the waiting room of London’s Royal Brompton Hospital, where she was visiting a friend’s husband.

Diana’s fling with Dodi Fayed, which led to the Paris car accident, was never serious, say friends quoted in the Vanity Fair story. It was Khan who truly loved her, even though he had serious doubts about the publicity a life with her would entail. Still living in London, Khan has remained silent about the relationship, only divulging information when asked by police during the various inquests into her death. He didn’t co-operate on the film and is said to have “laughed off” certain scenes.

But does it matter how truthful it is? It is fun. It is fashionable. (Those sheaths that Diana liked to wear were presciently stylish.) And it is fall, the season for debuts.

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