Monday, November 23, 1998

'Monica's story' much like Diana's

The most famous feminine icon of our media-obsessed fin-de-siècle is an attractive, egocentric, not-particularly bright, love-addicted young woman from a well-to-do broken home, prone to frequent temper tantrums, with an eating disorder, a questionable taste in men, a serious telephone, shopping and hairdressing habit, and who, just out of her teens, fooled herself into thinking that she would one day become consort to the Master of the World.

No, not Monica Lewinsky. The late Princess Diana, of course.

The announcement, earlier this week, that Diana's approved biographer, Andrew Morton, would write Monica's own story for St. Martin's Press/Michael O'Mara books, should come as no surprise to us.

After all, both women alternately tried to conform, then chafed (rather than rebelled) against bewildering expectations of public and private behavior. They found themselves hounded by the establishment and the media, their telephone calls tapped, their love life speculated upon. Both have followed various courses of psychotherapy and counseling. Vast sums of money have been offered to auction off their clothes. Both rated "Vanity Fair" photoshoots. Both spent claustrophobic months cooped-up in their plush apartments, eating TV dinners in front of the tube, reduced to tears at the prospect of a life forever spent under a magnifying glass.

The similarities go much further than the effects of the celebrity machine steamroller. Both Monica and Diana were painfully ill-equipped to deal with adulthood, their barely-adequate schooling (whether at West Heath College or Bel Air Prep School) offering them little opportunity for self-esteem. After managing a single prize over her entire high-school years (for "best-kept hamster"), Diana was so desperately unhappy in the Swiss finishing school she was subsequently packed off to that she dropped out after one term. Monica was the only girl in her class not invited to her classmate Tori Spelling (daughter of "Dynasty" producer Aaron Spelling)' 15th birthday. Diana's first jobs were as cleaning lady and nanny. Monica's were as shop assistant and legal receptionist.

Both girls have unresolved conflicts with more poised, but less scrupulous mothers, who drilled into them unreasonable expectations, and whom they have regularly, if somewhat wistfully, termed [their] "best friend[s]". Diana's "bolted" (the accepted expression, in the English upper classes) from the family home to pursue an affair with a married man, ultimately losing custody of her children. Marcia Lewis-Lewinsky divorced Monica's father California-style, with a settlement including therapy costs for her daughter. "I was brought up with lies all my life," says Monica in the infamous Tripp tapes. "To get money from my Dad I had to tell him a story. My Mom lied about everything ... all the time."

It was her mother - thin, celebrity-focussed, more successful with men - who got Monica her intern's job at the White House. It was Diana's maternal grandmother, Lady Fermoy, a lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother, who eventually pushed her as a suitable bride for Prince Charles; but it was Diana's mother who first encouraged her children to play with the young princes, and used to joke that Diana would marry Prince Andrew. This is the boomers' sense of entitlement gone mad: Windsor Castle or the White House as post-prom playground; as the convenient set for ambitions vicariously vested in their children.

Just as Diana ranted about the courtiers, the "gray men" who tiresomely wanted her to read up on the institutions she carelessly opened, Monica complained about Evelyn Lieberman and other White House staffers who expected of her -- typing skills! correct spelling and grammar! Diana rollerskated down the corridors of Buckingham Palace to the muffled sounds of her Walkman. Monica stalked the East Wing corridors with gifts of pizza and Godiva chocolates. Reproaches of unseemliness were greeted with rolled-up eyes by both girls alike. Even their indiscretions are amazingly similar, down to the expletives. "When I think of all I've done for this f***ing family!" [the House of Windsor] Diana complains to her boyfriend James Gilbey in the notorious "Squidgygate" taped telephone call.

Flareups were frequent: Diana shouted at her secretaries, press assistants, her husband's staff; rang up Camilla Parker-Bowles to tell her she had sent hired killers to her house; dropped her friends dramatically; fired aides, maids, hairdressers, masseuses, therapists. Monica merely screamed at the Secret Service and at the long-suffering Betty Currie. "If I'd know the sort of girl you were, I would never have gotten involved with you," President Clinton is quoted as telling Monica: feelings heartily endorsed by Prince Charles.

Both Diana and Monica have repeatedly described themselves as "insecure" and "vulnerable"; and in both cases, they have been enthusiastically believed when putting forward their cases for public consumption. Diana's stage was the world media, while Monica's, so far, has only been Ken Starr's Grand Jury; but it is interesting to note how well the jurors received her testimony: time and again, evidence of identification and bonding shows through the transcripts. Motherly advice is profferred: ": Monica, none of us in this room are perfect," says one juror at the end of her deposition. "We all fall and we fall several times a day. The only difference between my age and when I was your age is now I get up faster." Diana charmed the historian Paul Johnson and the film producer David Puttnam; Monica has obviously bowled over Larry King, who had repeatedly said on air that "the President did the wrong thing by this young girl."

Andrew Morton, one of the hardened breed of British Royal correspondents, will no doubt find himself in familiar territory when he starts working with Monica. "They clicked very loudly," his publisher Michael O'Mara said last week, describing the first Morton-Lewinsky meeting. "They were making progress on the book before [Morton] even signed." Diana had picked him personally to write the 1992 biography revealing her bulimia and her suicide attempts, and which finally sealed the end of her marriage to Prince Charles. Its serialization in the Murdoch-owned "Sunday Times," raising as it did Britain's Republican sentiments, was seen as high treason by the Windsors. (Diana answered all Morton's questions in a series of tape-recordings in order to be able to deny ever having met him, a cute legalism Clintonites should appreciate.)

There will be talk of midnight binges (Monica, unlike Diana, did not make herself throw up afterwards); of best friends to whom one "babbles." There will be names of heads of State and foreign countries thrown incongruously into a Barbara Cartland recital: Monica accompanying the Defense Secretary to Bosnia and giving her analysis to Clinton late at night; Diana meeting president Sadat of Egypt during her honeynoon and impulsively kissing him.

It should be acknowledged at this stage that both women tried to please according to the rules they were brought up with. Diana, perfectly capable of stalking her men (the married art-dealer Oliver Hoare, who received more than 200 anonymous phone calls traced to her private line; the Pakistani surgeon Hasnat Khan, whom she regularly visited at night in hospital, and whose parents received a surprise visit at their home near Lahore) outwardly cultivated the pure English rose style. Monica, in the Beverly Hills style documented by the late Nicole Simpson and Faye Resnick, "fooled around" at the drop of a beret.

Of the two, Monica got the rawest deal - a $600,000 book contract instead of a $80 million divorce settlement; Monica inflatable dolls instead of Diana Franklin Mint memorial figurines - but it should be said that she was the more sincere of the two. She did love her "Butthead", whom she saw, perhaps accurately, as a lonely, insecure little boy (a description which could easily apply to prince Charles, but which his ex-wife never considered.) Unlike Diana, she never wished to topple the head of State, trying to protect him instead. But with Andrew Morton's canny help, she might fare better in the long run, as long as she avoids playboys and too-fast cars.

© Copyright Chicago Sun-Times & Anne-Elisabeth Moutet 1998

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