Friday, August 31, 2007

Diana – a decade on

Ten years ago today I was at a 30th birthday party. There were twinkling fairy lights, buffet food in the garden and plenty of gin. I allowed someone else’s fiancé to kiss me and wasn’t popular. Later, my flatmate and I went with our former news editor and his wife and drank more gin at their house. They had a separate fridge reserved for alcohol; I thought this was the height of sophistication. Later still, we ended up looking at Ceefax, as journalists do. We ‘oohed’ a bit at reports Princess Diana had been injured in a car accident.

The next morning, I was woken from my alcoholic slumbers by my flatmate bashing on my bedroom door. “Princess Diana’s dead,” she said. I surfaced from the haze of sleep, convinced I was still dreaming. Once copis mentis, I wrapped myself in a duvet and planted myself in front of the TV for the day: “This is history,” I told my friend.

In the week that followed, reality seemed suspended. I had read a piece by Lynda Lee-Potter days before Diana died, in which she ripped the Princess to shreds; miraculously, hours after the crash, Ms Lee-Potter published a gushing column, praising the People’s Princess and surreptitiously sweeping her tirade of the week before under the carpet. Suddenly, in the public’s perception, journalists were in league with the devil. Midweek, I took a taxi to the pub with the same group of friends; we fell to discussing conspiracy theories that the Princess had faked her death and was now living with Elvis on a remote Pacific island. Then I caught sight of the taxi driver’s pinched face in the mirror; I thought he was going to throw us out.

I was bemused by the public wailing and gnashing of teeth; the piles of flowers outside Kensington Palace, the petal strewn road as the hearse travelled to Althorp. I didn’t weep for Diana: as Keith Richards reportedly said, “I never knew the chick”. I saw her once, when I was sent to report on her visit to South Tyneside. Etiquette dictated that one could not address a member of the Royal Family unless they spoke to you first. I had to be content with smiling recollections of elderly ladies with plastic union flags who had briefly bathed in her sunshine. My abiding image, though, was of a tall, slender woman with impossibly thin ankles. She looked like a sunflower: one strong gust of wind and her stem would break.

17 comments:

mountainear said...

Like you I was at a party and, like you, heard the early news - which didn't sound good. The next morning was woken by our middle son with the news that Diana had died in Paris. My only thoughts were 'Oh those poor boys.'

I think we all have a tale to tell - which anchors us in a time and a place with a shared experience - for an earlier generation that 'where I was when' moment was Kennedy's assasination. (and I know where I was then too). Mostly these snapshots are not in the least bit interesting but by hanging them onto such a major event they gain significance out of all proportion.

And I've never met anybody who was anybody, alive or dead.

DJ Kirkby said...

Her stem broke all right. Good post, very emotive.

@themill said...

I was surprised just how upset I was. My older two are the same ages as William and Harry and like Mountaineer I just thought 'those poor boys'. It was also only six weeks after my mother died and one week after we buried our much loved 14 year old springer spaniel so I was emotionally raw.
I still think 'those poor boys' becauses she may have had her faults, but she was their mother and they are still having to defend her memory 10 years on. No wonder they hate the press.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

I look back on the day of her funeral as something so weird and rather un-English, stoked up by the tabloids. Who was she? What did she do? It was a kind of national hysteria and I found it quite scary. The sunflower metaphor is so apt.

Mopsa said...

I was most confused that British folks should wail en masse. Just didn't get it. Still don't.

occasional northerner said...

It was a very strange week and very strange national reaction, although I suspect a fair reflection of the "public property" the Princess of Wales appeared to have become to many. Her children were not, have not become, and I hope will remain not, quite such public property. For anybody other than them to wail and gnash their teeth (particularly in the light of the bravery, dignity and maturity with which they have throughout conducted themselves) seems bizzare to me.

Stay at home dad said...

It was an archetypal story: a princess, prince, wicked stepmother, love, revenge. Anyone who's ever read a fairytale - or read Shakespeare - probably had a passing interest.

Nicely balanced post M&M. Forget Di, more about the fiance please!

Mopsa said...

Forgot to say - I have, for many years, yearned for Keith Richard's bracelet. You can see it close up if you click to enlarge the image on your KR Wikipedia link. I want it not because it's his, but because it is fabulous. I have a thing for big bracelets and for silver.

Gill said...

I don't think people weren't really crying for her though were they? I think they were crying for the things in their own life that we aren't usually allowed to cry about in public. She was just the trigger.

Gill said...

oops! that should read.. I don't think people WERE...

beta mum said...

I was on call and woken from my slumbers at about 5am by the early presenter at the local radio station I was working at.
He was young and a prankster, so I assumed he was joking.
Once I realised he wasn't, I spent the day at work calling the great and the good for reactions, often to news that I had to break to them before they had any reactions.
A busy day, followed by a mad and even busier week.

GeraniumCat said...

I'm heartened to read other people saying what I felt at the time - I seemed to be out of step but at least I trusted my own feelings. And I think Gill is right, the emotion at the time was largely vicarious and people pinned their own feelings on to the events gaining, as m'ear says, their own significance.

At the same time, I know that some global events can have personal significance, but I feel it is incumbent upon us to restrain our emotions. The response to Diana's death seemed to me like wallowing, and actually I felt sorry for the Queen who grew up in an era when restraint was a virtue, yet was villified for her apparent lack of grief. I've never cried at a funeral, including my father's. It isn't done. Thoughts, anyone?

Pig in the Kitchen said...

I thought the clapping at the funeral, as the hearse went by was really strange. In fact it gave me goosebumps, it seemed so genuine, an instinctive human response perhaps? But in response to what, I'm not sure.

Omega Mum said...

I still think a separate fridge for alcohol is the height of sophistication. Sad, isn't it. And it's funny - I think Diana and 11/9 have replaced it as 'where were you?' moments that the death of Kennedy did for previous generation.

Karen said...

I remember being woken up by mum on the Sunday morning and being told that Princess Diana had died. She had just read it in the Observer and obviously thought it was important enough to wake up a 14 year old early on a Sunday morning.

My first instinct I think was that she had been shot. I was quite surprised to find out that she had an "ordinary" death in a car crash. I suppose there will always be conspiracy theories though, just as there are with Kennedy and Kurt Cobain et al.

Personally I am sick to death of Diana memorial stuff, it's being going on for the past 10 years. Yes it was sad that she died young, and she did a lot for people but for god's sake give it a rest!

lady macleod said...

she certainly had an impact on the world didn't she? as you said, history.

Winchester whisperer said...

10 years on and there still hasn't been an inquest. Watched The Queen last night: what a caricature and unfair, I thought, to include live footage.