Number one bestselling author WENDY HOLDEN has written 10 consecutive Sunday Times Top Ten bestsellers. Her latest novel, The Princess, is the final novel in her ‘The Windsor Women’ trilogy and is a deeply moving novel about young Princess Diana. AKINA HANSEN writes.
From a young age, author Wendy Holden was fascinated with the royal family. And it’s no wonder. The excessive displays of wealth, power, scandals, and dysfunction would captivate even the most indifferent of us.
‘The Windsors are often called a soap opera, but I think they’re far more than that. They are grand drama, on a huge scale, with colossal characters,’ says Wendy.
While Wendy has had a long and successful writing career, it wasn’t until 2020 that she decided to pursue this passion and make the leap into writing historical fiction with her novel The Governess. This marked the first in her now beloved ‘The Windsor Women’ trilogy, which includes The Governess, The Duchess, and now The Princess.
‘Together [they] shine a bright and a very revealing light on the murky inner workings of the British Royal Family in the 20th century,’ she says.
The Princess is the final novel in her ‘The Windsor Women’ trilogy and perhaps tackles one of the most popular royals yet, Princess Diana. Wendy became fascinated by Diana as soon as she came onto the royal scene.
‘She was only a few years older than me when she married Prince Charles, so she was around for a large part of my life,’ she tells me.
Princess Diana was an activist, advocate, fashion icon and is undoubtedly recognised as one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. Yet, much of what we know of her life is during her rise to fame and celebrity. A time where her marriage and actions were heavily scrutinised by the press, and her life up for constant conjecture.
In fact, it was exactly this that prompted Wendy to write about the princess.
‘Her trajectory was so dramatic, from innocent teenager to world-famous icon. What writer wouldn’t be interested? I also felt, as it’s a quarter of a century since her death, that she was now a proper historical figure and so deserved a historical novel.’
The Princess gives the reader an intimate look into the early life of Princess Diana, a period which is largely unknown. This fictionalisation hones into her life at boarding school, her troubled home life, to her first encounter with Charles and their ill-fated marriage.
‘I set out to tell the story of the unknown years of the world’s most famous woman. The difficulty was deciding from which and whose angle to approach it, as so many people were involved. In the end, I opted for multiple points of view, the whole framed by a single character, and I think it has worked brilliantly. I am so proud of this novel.’
Indeed, Wendy’s writing approach allows the reader to see Diana through the eyes of another party, her best friend, Sandy. In turn, the traits that the public came to love – her kindness, vulnerability and empathy – are reaffirmed. Diana is painted as a sweet but naive child who takes refuge in the pages of romance novels and is consumed with the idea of falling in love. Sadly, these idealistic notions ultimately cloud her judgement.
The Princess shows us from the outset, that the royal family are in search of a wife for Charles. Specifically, a young, impressionable and aristocratic woman like Diana. When the two finally meet, we see how their courtship is ultimately influenced and guided by forces larger than the two of them and how this sets their futures in motion.
Interestingly, while Wendy was researching for this novel, she was particularly struck by the calculated steps taken by the royals to ensure that this marriage took place.
‘From the outside, to the adoring public, her engagement to Charles seemed to breeze along, but the truth was the exact opposite. There were a couple of times when it almost didn’t happen at all,’ shares Wendy. ‘I was riveted by the amount of manipulation that went into it, by so many people, all with their own vested interests. My job was to try to imagine this vulnerable young girl with her idealistic convictions about love, caught in this pitiless machine.’
The Princess is a fascinating glimpse into a woman who was simultaneously vilified and idolised by the press and the public. In this novel Wendy achieves humanising Diana and providing insight into what ultimately shaped her into the resilient and empowered woman she was.
Wendy Holden is an experienced author with two novels and thirty non-fiction books to her credit. She wrote the bestselling memoir of Uggie, the dog from The Artist and has ghosted autobiographies that chronicle the lives of extraordinary women, including the actress Goldie Hawn; a World War II spy; Frank Sinatra’s widow Barbara; and the only woman in the French Foreign Legion. She now lives in Suffolk, England, with her husband and two dogs.