“Mummy, where were you when you heard about that nice Princess Diana getting killed?”
“Off my face in an Edinburgh hotel room, sweetie-pie. And believe you-me, I thought it must have been pretty strong stuff that we’d been having … when *that* particular news item flashed across the TV screen.”
Actually, no. I didn’t answer the child in this particular way. Although for the last 20 years, I have often wondered whether I would give an honest reply to a smaller version of myself when they inevitably asked the ‘Kennedy question.’
But putting the moral dilemma aside and ignoring the ‘was the lady who collects ceramic thimbles REALLY such a wild-child once upon a time’ question, I’d like to share an observation or two with you. Perhaps most of you were too busy weeping over your vast swathes of cellophane wrapped flowers to notice that;
a) Not everyone liked Diana (and I’m not just referring to the Royal Family here)
b) The English definitely had a different reaction to her death en-masse, in comparison to the other countries of the British Isles
c) Not everyone likes the Royal Family
And all of the above puts me in a bit of a pickle when I try and explain ‘what it was like’ to my children. It’s hard to put into the words the strength of feeling that the antics of Lady Di generated in many quarters. I think that it’s illustrated best by the reaction to the interview that Di did with Martin Bashir, some time before her death where the Bambi-eyed gal finally dropped the bombshell about the ‘three in this marriage’ shenanigans. At the time, I was working in small office almost entirely comprised of women. And the day after the interview had been aired, by 9.30 AM we had experienced a big collective barney about whether Diana was a manipulative little vixen, or indeed a victim. One side of the office were not speaking to each other (Frank the repair man did have rather a lot of visits on the Stockport housing estate that day, from what I recall. Typically male reaction to an emotive issue. Heh.)
Diana divided people, you see? You didn’t even have to *like* the Royal Family, to give a toss about this young gal, who had been just 19 when she wed the old geffer. I mean, she was 19, for God’s sake! 19! At the age of 19 I didn’t even have the balls to send back my soup when I found a waitress’ false nail in it, never mind turn down a chump of a Prince who wanted to make me a Queen*. It wasn’t like she was chasing fame. It wasn’t like she’d auditioned for ‘The Rex Factor’ or summat. You *had* to feel sorry for her, you had to …
Whoops. Back in the Stockport office in August ’97 there. Sorry.
But I’m actually pleased that the news of her death reached my ears in that particular way, on a oooh-me-poor-sore-heed morning, north of the border. Because on returning to England the next day, it kind of put things into perspective for me. I was 9 years old when Diana married that bloke. I adored her. I was a little girl – she was a bigger girl, pretty, famous; the whole ‘fairy tale’ stuff that a small lass in East Manchester couldn’t fail to be impressed by. And although I went through a phase of being embarrassed about all of those photos of me in 1981 with my head cocked-on one side and ‘that Harmony hair-spray style’ and even though I grew up and developed slightly more edgy role models, I do understand what it was all about now.
On that morning-after, sore-heed AM call in Edinburgh, there wasn’t a single soul who seemed to be particularly upset about news of her death. Some of my ultra-left pals were all; ‘at the end of the day, she was a filthy-rich, privileged aristocrat and I’d rather waste me brain cells on someone more worthy’ and others were just ‘ah, shame – pass the black pudding… and take a wee hair of the dog, lassie?’ I was up in Scotland again this week and asked around a bit whether my memories of ‘ambivalence’ were indeed, correct. The general feeling seemed to be “well, there *are* some Scots who are happy for English royalty to own vast amounts of Scottish land, but in general you’d be hard-pressed to …”
So yes, when back off the M6 and back safe and sound in Manchester (sorry, my tyke-chums) it was hard not to notice a tidal wave of grief sweeping across England.
And looking back, it was all a bit strange. Driving round the housing estates, the day after, all that you could get on the radio was this funereal-dirgey music. I let some of my tenants get away with their rent arrears that week as they looked like miserable enough gets as it was, without my Notices of Seeking Possession being thrust upon them. My pal from the USA phoned me to express her regret and to say that she and her family were thinking of us (thus setting a trend over the years; we always phone each other when a national crisis occurs – although I didn’t call her this year about Trump as that would just have been like rubbing salt in the wounds.)
Oh – and the funeral itself. There seemed to be this grim tug at nearly anyone and everyone to feel that they had to watch the funeral. Unfortunately, I picked my viewing comparisons very unwisely. Lizzie hated Diana and the Royals and everything that they stood for. And Katy was rather fond of them all. At one point in the proceedings (when I was blubbing that much that my snot was pooling on the carpet) I thought that Katy was going to grab Lizzie and put her in a headlock because she had started on with the Blackadder line of ‘bury me in a Y-shaped coffin.’ Interestingly though, the one thing that they both agreed on was that it was ‘out of order’ that Diana’s little boys had to follow behind the coffin. A sentiment born out years later when Harry put his two pennorth worth into the whole affair
“So,” my 9 year old son replied to me when I had taken so long in wittering on about all of this, that I had burned his meat and potato pie, “basically, Diana made all the English go a bit mental and everyone else in the world stayed sort of normal.”
Bang on, our kid. I was the one who happened to have achieved the BA in History, but I couldn’t have put it better myself.
*This event did actually occur. But I was a bit older. And it was in Mottram. Which is in Cheshire. So you’d think that they’d know better than to drop bits of their bodies off into your grub, wouldn’t you?