Friday, 31 August 2007


Today is the 10th Anniversary of the death of Princess Diana.

I have always felt a certain affinity with her. We were born in the same year and I watched her fairy tale wedding on the television with my future Husband, full of hope for the future that it was possible for a bright bubbly personality to live happily every after with a more sober, older man.

I read my Hello at the hairdressers and saw the pictures on the News as her life unfolded. The pregnancies and births. The public occasions. The clothes. The new hairstyles. The glamorous lifestyle. Dancing with John Travolta and hobnobbing with celebrities.

Then the rumours started. And the press manipulation. I read Andrew Morton's book like car crash television - with my slitted fingers covering my eyes and yet unable to look away. The revelations were extraordinary. The eating disorders exacerbated, if not caused, by the sadness within her married life - more empathy there.

Whilst the Wales's marriage was spinning out of control into a very public fireball, I was engaged in bearing and bringing up my own two very small children. Seeing her turn up at the Serpentine Gallery in that fantastic little black dress, completely stealing the show away from her Husband, who was being interviewed about his life that very night on the television by Jonathan Dimbleby. Watching her, horrified, on Panorama as she revealed the very intimate details of the three people in her marriage and yet completely understanding the reasons why she did so.

It became apparent to all of us that she was as much an attention junky as any blogger on the internet today. Her desperation for everyone to love and admire her left her with no choice but to get third parties to voice the reality of her situation. And yet her ability to make people love her without having to do any of that was so clear. You only had to watch the reaction of the people who met her, even in the full glare of the media. They were completely smitten by her smile and the warmth in her eyes. Her devotion to her charitable causes, her determination to use her position and her persona to make a difference were immensely laudable attributes.

But I just wanted her to find someone who could give her the love she needed. All those men, the army types, the bodyguards, the sportsmen, the heart surgeon, the art dealer - none of them had the social standing or the gumption to be able to face down the paparazzi and deal with the disdain of the higher echelons of society in which she moved.

And then there was Dodi. Wealthy playboy, used to the attentions of the media. Accustomed to being considered a pariah by the English gentry. He and his father must have seemed so different to the cold family life that she had experienced where duty was all. In the world of the Al Fayeds, it seemed to be all about having fun and enjoying the world and all it had to offer, money no object.

Watching the documentaries about that last summer, I was taken back to my own thoughts as I saw the pictures on the evening News. She just looked as if she was having a great time. For once, completely relaxed and enjoying herself. The programmes in recent months have seemed to imply that a lot of it was staged for the cameras and maybe some of it was in an attempt to give the paparazzi what they needed so that the couple could ensure some time for themselves.

And then the cold reality of the cctv footage from the Paris Ritz. The Princess, tired and tearful from being chased around. Why didn't they just stay at the Ritz? Who will ever really know? But they exited stage left with a man who could have been drunk behind the wheel and it all ended in tears at pillar 13 of the Alma Tunnel. In another City, hundreds of miles to the north that I drive through regularly, there are a series of such tunnels and often, as I enter the dark, narrow tubes, I think about how easy it would be to lose control just for a split second... and I'm only travelling at 30mph.

We had been away visiting friends on the August Bank Holiday weekend of 1997, returning home late on Sunday night. My Husband awoke me at about 10am to tell me that they were reporting on the radio that Princess Diana had died and we turned on the television. To be honest, I felt quite tearful. She had been such an icon, such an immense figure throughout my life for the previous 17 years. I had grown up with her, tried to copy some of her fashion and hairstyles. She was the same age as me and she was dead.

As the days passed, the story unfolded and the mountain of flowers and messages outside Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace grew, I watched the public display of grief with a certain detachment. Yes, I could understand it but I had no desire to join it. I had my own personal memories of the happy smiling teenager who grew into such a beautiful but tormented woman.

I watched the Funeral from quite early in the morning. There were several tearful moments - the sight of the little wreath of, was it white lillies? on top of the coffin. With the card bearing the single word 'Mummy'. The appearance of the main men in her life, especially her young sons, as they joined the cortege behind the coffin and walked to the Cathedral and the eulogy given by her brother, Earl Spencer. I didn't look away until the hearse bearing her coffin drove in through the gates at Althorpe and disappeared.

Suddenly, there was no more to see. The Princess of Wales had left the stage and the world was a sorrier place without her. I think she touched the lives of so many people, just by being there, being photographed, being shared with us. The alacrity with which the Press tried to fill the void with the Kylies and Victoria Beckhams of the world was laughable.

The Prince went on to marry his mistress and seems to be living happily ever after. Do I begrudge him that? Of course not. He should have followed his heart and done it in the first place rather than making three people miserable by doing his duty. But if he had, then Diana Spencer would never have seen the light of a million flashbulbs... and the cult of her celebrity would never have been born.


Anonymous said...

I think that what you most have in common with her is an open and loving heart.

Anonymous Boxer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous Boxer said...

I like reading an English view of her life - thanks. She sparkled the entire world, but she was your Princess first.

(I deleted my first post.. I found a spelling error.)

BenefitScroungingScum said...

I have never understood the mass hysteria that seemed to happen in this country when Diana died, it was deeply disturbing, her loneliness was always palpable though.
I hope you are ok, you've been in my thoughts x

Pixie said...

I thought she was wonderful, which is not something I ever have done before or since. I used to talk about her all the time in therapy, she was a briliant role mdel for people who were self hating.
I watched the TV when she got married the day she died and her funeral.
But now will read nothing about her.It was enough when she was alive.

john.g. said...

That was a beautiful post!

EmmaK said...

She was definitely a very interesting person, I felt sorry for her circumstances and bad childhood, but I can't say I was that fond of her. Will always remember the sea of flowers and candles outside Buckingham Palace though and one could not help but tear up at the sight of it.

Loving Annie said...

Oh Cake, you said that so perfectly. I remember being fascinated by her from the engagement on - all the way to her funeral, and even now, I read 'The Unoffical Royal News' on the website everyday.
You summarized it so eloquently. I miss her.

George said...

Very well written Cake. We tasted your life too and it was great

The Man With Secrets said...

Coincidently, I found myself walking across the Pont D'Alma yesterday evening, towards the tunnel where the crash took place. Even though it was still quite early, a vigil was gathering ...

Gypsy said...

I always loved Princess Diana and had a lot of empathy for her when it came to light that Charlie was carrying a photo of Camilla on his HONEYMOON. Things between them were pretty much over before they had even begun. You are right, he should have followed his heart in the first place and spared that young woman a lot of misery. She was way too young to deal with her position and situation but on the whole, she carried herself with a lot of dignity and class. Of course she was damaged, who wouldn't be after marrying into that family. No offence meant to any royalists reading this.

Jackie Adshead said...

You've written a beautiful piece as a reminder of the mostly positive relationship Diana had with the people and the negative one she seemed to share with the majority of the royal family. She was a woman doing the best she could in her difficult circumstances.

n said...

I remember i was visiting my sick Grandma in hospital and all the patients were watching the funeral from their beds. Everyone cried but i think that the elderly people so ill in hospital were crying for other reasons too. If they had their chance again or how they missed people. I was crying for my grandma and i wished never to forget how i felt at that moment so i would grab this little life with both hands.
Hope you are doing ok xx

having my cake said...

I watched the resume of the Princes' Memorial Service for their mother today on the News. I think she would have been particularly proud of Harry's words and his delivery of them. As the Bishop of London said, let this be the end of the pursuit of Diana and let her rest in peace.