Let me set the scene.
Twenty years ago next month my wife and I were on holiday in France. On the last morning of that month, while my wife had a shower, I turned on the television in our hotel room. I will never forget what I saw. It was shocking, horrific in the extreme. Diana Princess of Wales and her friend, Dodi Fayed, had died in an appalling car accident in Paris while being pursued by the paparazzi.
It was a Sunday morning so, naturally, we went to Mass. I am never very good at following French sermons, but there were enough references to “nos amis, les Anglais” for me to grasp the theme. And, whenever, on that day and for days thereafter, we spoke to local people we found the same message of sympathy being given to us for the loss of Diana. It was touching and kind, but it was not manic.
I used to drive the car to the top of a hill where long wave reception for Radio 4 was reasonable. As the days went by I became more and more astonished by what I was hearing. It seemed my fellow countrymen had all, or most of them, gone mad. It wasn’t just that many thousands of people (possibly hundreds of thousands) were descending on Kensington Palace with flowers wrapped in polythene. It wasn’t just grief. No, grief had apparently turned to anger. And the anger was not directed at the drunken driver of the car or the paparazzi. It was directed at the royal family.
Princes William and Harry had accompanied the Queen to church at Balmoral on that Sunday morning. The nasty, secular mob screamed with one voice that the Queen was abusing her grandsons. Church was the last place children should go to when their mother had died. It was evil of the head of the Church of England to even consider taking the boys to church.
Then there was all that fuss about there not being a flag at half mast over Buckingham Palace. At that time, and for centuries before then, no flag would ever have been flown at all over Buckingham Palace (or its predecessors as the monarch’s principal residence) if the monarch was not in residence. Furthermore, tradition decreed that, when the monarch was in residence, the Royal Standard would never be flown at half mast. When George VI died and his daughter returned from Africa to Buckingham Palace her standard flag flew at full mast. The same happened when George V died, when Edward VII died, even when Queen Victoria died. But the mob insisted, egged on by the then Prime Minister, that the failure to fly a flag at half mast over Buckingham Palace when Diana died was an insult to her memory.
Next, we were told that the mob, whose members had never even met Diana, was furious because the Queen was grieving privately with Diana’s sons in Scotland. It was her duty, they screeched, to come to London and console her subjects. Forget about the young princes, there are hundreds of thousands of people in London who have seen Diana on the telly and are therefore much more in need of consolation than are her sons.
I was totally bemused as I sat in my car on a hilltop in France listening to these extraordinary stories from the land of my birth.
And then it got worse. We drove back to England on 6th September, the day of the funeral. Radio 4 was on in the car. There was nearly another car crash as I listened to a simply appalling address given by the Princess’s brother and was reliably assured by the BBC that the massive crowds in Hyde Park and elsewhere were cheering his attacks on the royal family.
There was, of course, no rational explanation for that extraordinary rage. But there was an irrational explanation. We had, for some years, been forced to watch both the Prince and Princess of Wales blaming each other for the breakdown of their marriage. The divorce, which we (or those of us who were sane) all hoped would bring the curtain down on this dreadfully tasteless drama, had happened a year before the awful accident. Everything was fresh in the minds of the mob. And what its members all knew was that the fault all lay with the Prince of Wales. Diana, especially now she had died, was entirely blameless. It followed from all that that, had the Prince not been so beastly, Diana would not have been cavorting with Egyptian playboys in Paris. She would have been safely in Scotland with the rest of the Royal family. She would not have died.
The mob, in other words, behaved like the man who said he would not have been run over if he had stayed in bed: his accident was caused by his getting up in the morning. The logic is faultless. The man would not have been run over if he had stayed in bed. Diana would not have died if she had remained married to the Prince of Wales and spurned the advances of Egyptian playboys. But it was simply insane of the mob to claim that it followed that the Prince of Wales, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh had killed her.
All that happened twenty and more years ago. Inevitably, the media are keen to revisit the tragedy. The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Henry of Wales have done their bit with a television programme in which they say how wonderful their mother was. Nothing wrong with that. It is plain to all that she was a wonderful mother. But Channel 4 (it had to be between Channel 4 and the BBC) has decided we need more meat.
It seems that Diana employed someone to train her in how to speak in public. He used to video her during their sessions. Lots of those videos still exist. In them, apparently, she spoke endlessly about how awful her husband was. A few (though not many) excerpts have been shown in America, but no British broadcaster has been prepared to show them. The view has been taken that they are tasteless and would distress her sons. Channel 4 has announced, however, that because the Princes have made a programme about their mother, they have, in effect, waived any objection they may once have had to the videos being shown on British television. Channel 4 will, therefore, show them in a two hour programme timed to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of Diana’s death.
Why must we be put through all this again? What is to be gained from it? The breakdown of any marriage is always a tragedy. It is entirely understandable that the parties to a divorce will often (though not always) seek every opportunity of blaming their spouses for the disaster. But twenty years after the event?
Not only will William and Harry be dreadfully distressed by Channel 4’s programme. The Prince of Wales and his wife will also be distressed. But so will I and hundreds of thousands of other sane people. Just as the vast majority of the country has accepted the Duchess of Cornwall as a wonderful ambassador for the royal family, all those nasty, bitter people who blamed her for Diana’s death will rear their ugly heads again. “She must never be Queen, she killed the People’s Princess, lock her up and throw away the key”.
You may not be aware of this, but Channel 4 is technically a public service broadcaster. And yet it behaves like the most discreditable tabloid newspaper. I hate it.