Monday, November 27, 2006


I reported the funeral of Princess Diana. Perhaps I went a little over the top. But I had just 80 minutes to write the piece and, inside the Abbey, only the dead kings would have been immune to some kind of intense emotion. Possibly my report would have depressed political blogger Stephen Tall. It seems internal BBC research has shown that 44 per cent of the population thought that media coverage of Diana's death was excessive and over-emotional. This, it seems, made them feel 'alienated'. Tall himself says he felt 'utterly disenfranchised'. These words are absurd. If such news coverage makes you feel alienated, then you must be pretty alienated to start with. If it makes you feel 'utterly disenfranchised', then your political sensitivities and your language are out of control. Now, here we go again, next year there is to be a charity concert to mark the tenth anniversary of Diana's death. This will re-start the attacks of the hard-ass right on the 'soppy' Diana cult and the attacks of the touchy-feely left on the 'cold' institution of the monarchy and the oppressive class system, yaddy-yadda-ya. I've been on both sides for the purposes of getting through dull dinner parties. In hard-ass mode, I agree that Diana and her entourage were a bunch of flakes. In touchy-feely mode, I accept that she seems to have been tortured. One book I reviewed, however, made me realise that my feelings on the matter were irrelevant. In The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class, Michael Collins shows, among other things, how such mass acts of mourning are a distinct tradition within the London working class. They confirm identity and perpetuate consoling stories of community and solidarity. After reading Collins, I abandoned my posturing. I am neutral on Diana for the simple reason that she was not meant for me. She was meant for people who had much more urgent needs and reasons to belong.


  1. Diana was an aristocrat. And the working class responds to aristocracy in a way the middle class either dislikes, does not understand or does not want to understand. Ordinary people responded to Diana's tragic life and death because it resonated with their own experience. The middle classes tended to sneer and condemn, but in Diana ordinary people found an empathy, a connection, between their lives and the life of someone who 'had it all' but lived and died tortured and broken. This spoke to them over the heads of their smug middle class rulers and they responded.

    During the Peasants' Revolt the rebels did not want to harm the king whom they saw as their natural protector, not their oppressor; that's the function of true kingship and by extension true aristocracy.

    Or something like that (no time to hone this further).


  2. During WW1 street shrines proliferated on street corners in the East End- replacing the honour rolls of men who volunteered. I like to think that the arrangements of plastic wrapped flowers and teddies that seem to accompany every road accident are similar......speaking to a religiosity that Dawkins and 'the Hair' cannot fathom with their cod-rationalism. Although I am a republican, I was amazed (so to speak) by the depth of attachment to monarchy that those events revealed. Your last commentator is alluding to the well-known medieval phenomenon (which applied to Hitler and Stalin too) that the King could do no wrong, all error being the fault of wicked advisors (Gavestons etc) who got the chop.

  3. I sent a comment earlier which probably didn't get through. Anyway, I just wondered if indeed the outpouring of grief witnessed following Diana's death was confined to the working classes. From this side of pond, it didn't look that way. Maybe it started with the 'oppressed' and spread to the 'oppressors'. Grief is sometimes contagious. I nearly had to be carried from a funeral recently of someone I didn't know and had never met.

  4. Diana resonated with my generation of women (around her age), I think, because she was always there in the media, her halo of hair, her beautiful boys, her lovely smile -- she was a constant, a royal counterpoint for the rest of us, our middle- and working-class lives. And, yet, though she was beautiful, she was not happy. The media let us see the dark side of her life with a man who did not love her, a royal hierarchy in which she could not seem to fit (and this is very modern: Nobody knew these kinds of things about Queen Victoria, for example, in her own day).

    She was sad, and this enabled us to pity her as well as admire her. She was like Richard Cory, who glittered when he walked, but went home and put a bullet through his head.

    I published an op-ed about her death in The Philadelphia Inquirer because it hit me hard at the same time it did not surprise me at all. The last lines of my essay were: "Poor little rich girl, she's dead at last. For the rest of us, middle age is coming fast."

    And it has....What begins in dreams must inevitably end in reality.

  5. ...Or in literature, Susan. Good writing can help us stave off the insidious onslaught of reality almost to the end.

  6. Most arguments can be rubbished as absurd if you sum them up by taking just two words out of context, Brian.

    My point was clear: the reaction to Diana's death among the public was by no means as uniform or grief-striken as the maintstream media made out it was.

    Those of us who felt sorry for the kids and the family, and thought the family should be left alone to grieve in private were ignored in favour of mawkish hack-journalism.

  7. I wasn't rubbishing your argument, Stephen. As I indicated, I have, in the past, agreed with it on alternate days. It was your language - 'utterly disenfranchised' - which I questioned. It weakened your argument because wild overstatement made you sound insecure and uncertain of your own feelings.