The whole Diana business remains fundamentally unedifying, ten years on. I don’t want to take away from the tragedy of the two boys losing their mother at such a young age – I was born in the same year as William and cannot imagine having experienced that at 15 – and Harry’s speech at the memorial service was far better considered than I would ever have expected. But the whole phenomenon is deeply strange, unsatisfying and distasteful, primarily on account of the media.
It is almost as if the media instantly had to turn all items relating to Diana into hagiography from the moment of her death because they had to cover up their previous treatment of her and her family. Diana was a figure often vilified in the press: for all that she was able to use it to promote, say, her landmine “work” (tireless worker for charity? She worked a damn site less than most working people and someone in her position being hailed for “tireless work for charity” is nothing less than condescending to everyone else), it attacked her at the same time. The papers immediately prior to her death – up to and including the early editions reporting what was at first believed to be no more than a serious injury – prominently featured salacious particulars of her holidaying with Dodi Al Fayed, and it was lost on few that she had spent most of the last few weeks of her life on luxurious holidays. Lurid allegations of the onset of cellulite, allegedly visible as Diana left the gym, were also fairly recent stories. Was she the People’s Princess, or some sort of modern saint then? Of course not.
Diana was of course as culpable as anyone else: she courted the media and used it for self-promotion, usually to the detriment of the royal family. There can be little doubt that Diana’s death has been good news for the Windsors in terms of their public image: the public was willing to cut them some slack following the Queen’s capitulation to crass media demands over flags on palaces, and in the longer term, the absence of an alluring public figure briefing against the royals has undeniably been helpful to them. One has to wonder at quite how much trouble Diana would have caused the royal family if she had lived.
Of course, she had reason to resent them: she had been the central figure in the monarchy’s last attempt at implementing traditional protocol that was not remotely appropriate in the post-war era. Their main concern was for Diana to produce an heir and a spare: that done, she had no role. For a woman who had been thrust into royalty aged 19, married to a considerably older man desperate to obtain the necessary constitutional adornment, and selected for the role not least by virtue of the fact that she was still a virgin, it was a fairly awkward to predicament to end up in by the mid-1980s. No wonder she went off the rails.
While Charles had his mistress, Diana simply had affairs. Understandable, perhaps, and caused by her treatment by the royal establishment (Charles’s famous alleged quote about not being the only Prince of Wales never to have a mistress), certainly. But affairs nonetheless – “three people in this marriage”? Honestly…
And finally, the “outpouring of grief” (copyright all newspapers, 1997) – media-drive hysteria would be more like it. The sudden death of a senior royal in violent circumstances, with a strong hint of scandal and a dose of conspiracy theory thrown in, was undeniably remarkable. Charles and all the rest standing on the tarmac, waiting to “greet” the plane carrying Diana’s coffin, would not have been imagined by anyone 24 hours previously, yet there it was – dead princess in a box. But it goes without saying that the supposed sudden love for Diana among everyone in the whole world everywhere did not actually happen, and even the admittedly large numbers who turned out over the period between the her death and the funeral were mostly affected by something other than grief. Exactly what this was is hard to say – if you’re feeling uncharitable, it was gullibility and brainwashing. But overall the phony grief, the endless crass “tributes” and messages about “Diana, Princess of Hairstyles”, the complete overshadowing of the death of more worthy figures, not least Mother Theresa, and the endless supply of Diana-licensed tat combine to make Diana’s death look as sad and tawdry as the worse parts of her life.
None of this is intended particularly as an attack on Diana – everyone has their faults. Rather, it’s an effort to show how warped the media’s coverage of her over the last ten years has been, to the point of making large numbers of people behave in a deeply strange fashion. However tactful it may be to emphasise the positive to some extent when discussing a recently deceased public figure, such a total disregard for the facts and wholesale propagation of a massively fictionalised account of the late princess is wholly unforgivable.