Q&A: Tina Brown on Princess Diana

It's not easy to write yet another book about Diana, the Princess of Wales. A gaggle of writers and critics have had 10 years since Diana's death to ferret out every last detail of her life. In "The Diana Chronicles," Tina Brown, former editor of the London magazine Tatler, as well as U.S. magazines Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, has managed to paint a fresh and human portrait of this iconic figure. Brown spoke with NEWSWEEK's Christopher Dickey in New York. Excerpts:

DICKEY: What was your relationship with Diana?
BROWN: I met her ... it must have been four or five times over the years. At Tatler, our job was to cover her. We were all young at Tatler. And she was just about to turn 20, and so there was kind of a generational echo with Diana. I've always felt that kind of bond with the story.

And then I saw her at the American Embassy dinner, at different embassies, two or three times. And then I spent time with her at the end, when she came to New York. We had lunch with Anna Wintour [the editor of Vogue]. We talked for two or three hours at the Four Seasons, six weeks before she died. I got a sense of her in this pivotal moment in her life where she had decided to try to reinvent herself in a very American way. I was struck by the enormous change in her from the girl that I'd met at the American Embassy. She'd become this self-possessed, striding, global superstar. It was really remarkable.

Reading your account of covering her for Tatler, I wondered: if there had not been a Diana, would there have been a Tina Brown?
[Laughing] Well, she was certainly good for business. She was the big story, and we were in the big-story [business]. She sure helped England become a swinging center, and that was great for a social magazine. Tatler was supposed to be the magazine about the London social scene, and here was Diana, who electrified it.

You don't believe for a second that there was a conspiracy connected to Diana's death?
I really believe that conspiracy was a fairy story of [Mohamed Al Fayed, father of boyfriend Dodi].

As you point out, everybody involved with Diana's death was working for Fayed.
This is the agony for Fayed.That Diana died in a car procured by his hotel, leaving his hotel. With the bodyguard who worked for him. With his son. With his security chief driving, who was drunk. It's a horrible and unpalatable fact.

Was Diana as good a mother as she's cracked up to be?
She was a very good mother. A very loving mother, actually. She lived for those boys.

And not just because they were heirs to the throne?
No, no. I think that was the least of it, actually. No, I think she adored those boys. I think that with the boys Diana got the only unconditional love she's ever had. It was a two-way street. She needed their love like they needed hers. She planned her entire day around them. Her calendar was rigorously protected for the sake of them. Like, "I can't do that, that's William's field day. No, I can't do that, that's Harry's sports day. I gotta be here this weekend. They're home. I don't care who it is. I don't care if it's a sheik wanting me to go ... "

She's ruthless in that period. She's serving Sarah Ferguson up on a plate to the paparazzi.
Oh, yeah, she served Fergie up. Fergie was the person she would feed to the wolves.

You have no feeling that there was any chance of her marrying Dodi?

Or anything remotely like that ... ?
No, I am so convinced that Diana would never have given up being Princess of Wales to be Mrs. Dodi Fayed. The boys didn't like him. That's why she wouldn't have married him. And also, you know, Diana was already giggling about the gold taps and the silly, you know, rugs on the plane. It was meant to be, it was a summer frolic. And even if she thought she might have been in love with him that month, by September the leaves would have turned and so would her feelings for Dodi. I am absolutely sure of it.

What about her love life with Prince Charles? What went wrong there?
I think she just bored Charles in the sack.

And he her, apparently.
And he her, but I think, in fairness to her, he was the experienced one and she wasn't. And, in the case of Charles, I think that he liked experienced women. Some men would be thrilled with an innocent girl who needs to be brought along.

A virgin.
A virgin. Which is what he bought. But other men just are not really turned on by it because they don't feel the girl's on his wavelength. To him, she wasn't on his wavelength. She felt very hurt by a realization that she just didn't do it for him. And I think, in her case, she was a girl who, once hurt, went into her mollusk [shell]. She could not function when hurt. When she perceived that her husband wasn't really very interested in her sexually, it hurt her so bitterly that she then withdrew.

But then she became a very sexual creature.
We have [Maj. James] Hewitt to thank for that. She fancied him rotten. He was tall, he was fabulous-looking in his uniform. He was extremely dashing. Diana had this rather naive liking for very, very sort of traditionally handsome, cutout kind of guys. And Hewitt was that. He was the one who made Diana into a sexual creature.