Finally, after what feels like forever, the much-anticipated fourth season of The Crown is dropping on Netflix this Sunday. The next season is set to cover Diana and Charles' rocky relationship - and we'll also meet Gillian Anderson's Margaret Thatcher for the first time. Charles will continue to be played by Josh O'Connor, but in the next instalment we'll be introduced to Diana, played by newcomer Emma Corrin.
Obviously, Diana is what everybody is focusing on - with early reviews praising Emma for her portrayal of the princess, including her 'sparing' and 'well-handled' depiction of Diana's eating disorder. Now, in a new interview, Corrin has revealed that she asked writers of The Crown to include scenes where Diana makes herself sick. 'I felt that if we were trying to depict bulimia in an honest way, we had to show it,' she told the Radio Times. The Sun have said the scenes where Diana is seen 'violently vomiting into a toilet' are 'so shocking' that warnings are being included at the beginning of three episodes. (These warnings are essential as these scenes could be incredibly detrimental for those recovering/dealing with an ED.)
While the scenes might be uncomfortable and shocking to those who have never dealt with the illness - that’s one of the forms that bulimia can take. (As someone who suffered with it for years and spent hours of my teenage years crying over a toilet bowl, I would know.) It's not going to make for easy viewing - but simply alluding to the eating disorder wouldn't be the right thing to do. As Emma said before, speaking at a press conference, 'I said very early on that if [Diana's bulimia] was going to be included, I would like to show it properly and not have it alluded to. I think it's important if these things are going be shown then they're done right.'
Recognising you have bulimia is not an easy thing to admit to yourself, let alone talk about, but Diana did speak about the illness candidly, and bravely, while she was alive - adding further argument as to why her story needs to be told. (Emma herself says she admires how honest Diana was about her struggle.) In the now infamous (and about to be investigated) Martin Bashir interview from 1995, Diana described the eating disorder as giving her 'a feeling of comfort' and a 'symptom of what was going on' in her tumultuous marriage to Charles. The princess added how the disease was ‘like having a pair of arms around you'. 'But it's temporary,' she added. 'Then you're disgusted at the bloatedness of your stomach, and then you bring it all up again. And it's a repetitive pattern which is very destructive to yourself.’
Even though, slowly, some of the stigma about mental health is starting to be tackled, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding bulimia, with many women and men suffering from the disease years before confiding in someone and asking for help. And there's a lot of stigma. Overeating has always been viewed by society as disgusting - and then there's the unsavoury ways of 'getting rid' of the food, by over exercising, using laxatives, or, in Diana's case, being sick, which some people just can't understand. But, like depression or anxiety, bulimia is a mental illness which needs to be treated with compassion and kindness - even if you don't quite get it.
As Diana herself said, bulimia is often a 'secret disease' (sufferers, like myself, often aren't underweight). When I was 21, feeling relieved after my parents discovered I'd been making myself sick during a visit home, I wrote about my eating disorder on my blog - and I couldn't believe the amount of messages and DMs I received from women I used to go to school with, or had worked with, who told me they had gone through exactly the same thing. About three months after I published the piece, I bumped into a friend at a party who told me it was only after reading someone she knows be honest about the disorder that she finally realised she was ill - and decided to get help.
I hope that seeing bulimia for what it really is - on a popular series, on screen - could dislodge some of the stigma and start a wider discussion about an ED which is rarely tackled in pop culture. And, hopefully, encourage more people to get help.
Obviously, for this to happen, it needs to be shown in the right way. It can't be glamourised or romanticised - that would be irresponsible, and, quite frankly, dangerous. But thankfully -with positive reviews and warnings before episodes - after seeking guidance from ED charities, it looks like the producers have portrayed the eating disorder in the right light. The production company behind The Crown previously told The Independent in a statement that 'producers worked closely with [eating disorder charity] Beat to ensure that their portrayal of Princess Diana’s bulimia in season four was both accurate to the disorder and sensitively handled.' Rebecca Willgress, head of communications at the charity, told the publication that while the charity wasn’t present on set, they advised Netflix and Left Bank Pictures on how to portray Diana’s bulimia in ‘sensitive and non-glamourising way. including signposting to appropriate sources of help and providing trigger warnings where needed.’
If you have been affected by this story, you can visit Beat here or call their helpline on 0808 801 0677.