The Secrets of Althorp with Charles Spencer

Monday:Ancient Secrets of Althorp with Charles Spencer; (Channel 4, 9pm)

By Claire Cartmill
Sunday, 14th November 2021, 5:00 pm

It’s 24 years since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, yet the British public seem to be as fascinated with her as ever.

A year ago, the fourth season of the hit Netflix drama The Crown made her marriage to Prince Charles a subject of discussion again, and the Princess was back in the headlines in May when an inquiry criticised the way Martin Bashir obtained her infamous Panorama interview.

Meanwhile, the film Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart as Diana, is currently in cinemas.

Archaeologist Cat Jarmen with pickaxe, and Charles Spencer outside Althorp House

Channel 4 is also weighing in tonight with two very different documentaries. The first, Ancient Secrets of Althorp with Charles Spencer, is less interested in Diana herself than it is in the history of her family home. However, it is followed by Diana: Queen of Style, which takes a closer look at some of her most iconic outfits.

The first documentary sees Diana’s brother Charles opening the gates of the 500-acre park Althorp for an archaeological dig. His ancestral home has been in the Spencer family for more than 500 years, and Charles is the ninth Earl of Spencer to live there. However, he wants to go even further back into its history to find out if there’s any truth to the legend that a lost Anglo-Saxon village lies in its grounds.

The dig is led by Dr Cat Jarman and Prof Mark Horton, who unearth some unwelcome surprises left by Charles’ ancestors, but little evidence of a Saxon village. However, just when they are beginning to lose hope, they begin to uncover extraordinary evidence of pre-historic people living at Althorp.

As Charles, who is also a best-selling historian, says: “There’s no way that I could have foreseen that we would find something this massive – it’s extraordinary. The idea that this historic landscape, that’s bound by the walls of Althorp Park, contains something that goes back so far, it’s really mind-blowing.”

However, the focus is firmly on the 20th-century in Diana: Queen of Style, which looks at the enduring power of the Princess’s fashion choices – designers, influencer and today’s royals have all paid tribute, and she’s become a style icon to a generation who weren’t even born when she died.

From her fairy-tale ballgowns to the little black ‘revenge dress’ she allegedly wore to upstage Prince Charles’s interview with Jonathan Dimbleby, Diana’s clothes helped her to express herself and connect with the public.

The documentary cast an eye over some of her most intriguing outfits, taking in everything from her famous wedding dress to her 80s knitwear and 90s cycling shorts.

The contributors include model and designer Leomie Anderson, drag artist, model and musician Bimini, as well as hair stylist Sam McKnight and makeup artist Mary Greenwell, who discuss their own roles in shaping Diana’s look.

There are also insights from some of Diana’s favourite designers, including Jacques Azagury, Elizabeth Emanuel, and Joanna Osborne and Sally Muir, whose ‘black sheep’ jumper was an early sign that, even in the days before social media, the Princess of Wales knew how to use fashion to send a message.

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