Some thoughts on Lady Diana Spencer.
My chief memory of the Diana affair was of disruption of the television. In those days there were only four (perhaps five?) channels on the television so if you did get bored of something like this, your only option was to turn the TV off and read a book. So far as I can remember we didn’t discuss it at school; I don’t remember teachers mentioning it. For my contemporaries and me, it simply didn’t matter. I still think it doesn’t matter.
There was something on television the other night, and I dared to utter a voice in dissent from the Diana cult. My mother replied and said: “well, you should watch this and see how out of touch you are with the vast majority of the human race!” Seems a bit over the top, doesn’t it? But sanity is not statistical, as a man far greater than my mother once said. As in the time long past, I went upstairs to read a book (from the diaries of Joe Orton, in the spirit of the occasion, if you care to know). And I suppose I’ve always been out of touch with the modern world. I don’t care for most popular music; I’m not involved in the “gay” community; I’m indifferent to celebrity culture. Even in modern “religious” circles I am rather distant. I remember standing in Marienfeld, some miles outside Cologne, in 2005 watching as the “popemobile” drove by. I stood watching in alarm as hundreds of young people made a stampede to the barrier that separated pope from plebs, trampling sleeping bags and personal items in a wave of hysteria. It seems to me that a similar wave of hysteria took hold of many British people twenty years ago, as they railed against Her Majesty The Queen and wept over the “memory” of a woman that was for the most part false.
Why did Diana Spencer appeal to so many people, particularly coëval women? My mother, for example, was born in 1961 (like Diana) and is an avowed republican, and yet still admired Diana and hated Charles and Camilla, ostensibly for their reputed ill treatment of the fairytale princess. I think it’s an ugly combination of subliminal factors. First of all there was the ritual collapse of Anglicanism, enshrined in the never-to-be-repeated coronation order of our present Sovereign, twenty years ago still in living memory for a lot of people. The decline in Christian faith, hastened by the aforementioned ritual decline, also left a void in people’s lives. (I suppose that’s one reason Queen Elizabeth I was so successful: the void left when the mediaeval cult of the Blessed Virgin was suppressed, now filled by the “virgin queen.”) People who are now rudderless, and have a vague sense of “being nice,” ad hoc ethics which are untested by divine authority, and are in some cases hostile to Christianity; these people are more apt to enslavement to celebrities and bulimic drama queens than somebody like me. Psychologically, Diana Spencer held some appeal, particularly in the week after her death. Women who felt cheated or wronged by their husbands, or their husband’s families, were naturally sympathetic. And then there’s the trite celebrity-charity thing. Diana was acclaimed as so very charitable in her life, touching lepers, embracing people infected with the AIDS virus, or spending an afternoon in a mine field in Bosnia. That’s all very well but what else would you get up to if you’re a bored millionairess?
There are lots of other issues here. Peter Hitchens discusses some of them in his latest Mail on Sunday blog. I’m sure there are other dissenting voices out there too; perhaps twenty years later it’s safe for them to come out! As for me, I hope that the cult of Diana Spencer, having no spiritual significance, will pass with this (or the next) generation. I’m not convinced that Diana was a good thing. She was pretty, blonde, with an air of tragically-damaged beauty. But she was also calculating, she knew how to get back at the Royal Family for her perceived wrongs and to make her charitable efforts seem genuine; she ought to have had more decorum in her private life, particularly the Fayed business which must have been an embarrassment to the young princes. As I say, I hope this cult will dwindle in the years to come, but I fear it will take the end of the British Monarchy for that to happen.