MIDWAY: Dead blondes, bad books

The Diana Chronicles, one of an estimated 14 books about the former princess being published in the lead-up to next month’s 10th anniversary of her death, is as superficial as it is supercilious, a bubblegum book for a bubblegum reader. If Tina Brown’s book were an aberration, it wouldn’t be worth the time it takes to write these words. But it’s representative. People keep churning out bad biographies because there’s a market for them, and in some ways the readers of biography are to blame.

So we get the biographies we deserve. But what about what the subjects deserve? The problem rapidly becomes circular: the best and cleverest writers devote themselves to “respectable” subjects, while those who are deemed trivial are doomed to simplistic treatment, crude writing and a cavalier disregard for anything that might usefully be called fact or truth.

My problem with The Diana Chronicles is that I’ve read it before, a hundred times, in biographies of all the other dead women. In dying young and beautiful “first”, Marilyn achieved the dubious honour of becoming the dead woman to whom other glamorous women who die young would be compared. As the New Statesman delicately put it in a 1997 article about Diana’s death: “By dying young, at the peak of her fame, she has taken her place in the holy trinity of immortal blondes. The more beautiful Marilyn Monroe overdosed wearing Chanel No 5. The more intelligent Sylvia Plath died with her head in a gas oven like a Sunday roast.”

In truth, if there’s a trinity of dead blondes the third member isn’t called Plath, she’s called Peron. The cult of Evita makes the hysteria over Diana’s death look like a display of British reserve. Evita’s corpse was exhibited in Buenos Aires for two weeks before queues of 2 million. It was then embalmed in a still secret process that took six months, copied twice in wax, and sent to Milan where it was buried upright, before finally being returned to Argentina to be buried in state 20 years later. Some hold that the corpse was copulated with and urinated on. Now that’s a story worthy of Tina Brown’s talents. As for the new dead blonde theme song, I’m thinking: Don’t Cry for Me, Elton John. If only.