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.