Most readers of this newspaper will never professionally encounter
the geological pressure exerted on the Royal family by the media in the
name of the people over the handling of Princess Diana’s funeral. It
might, however, be useful to try to understand the phenomenon.
I am appalled that newspapers, which share some responsibility for
Princess Diana’s death, should have demanded, partly to keep the story
going, that the Royal family show they care. I think they had
demonstrated a far greater sense of caring, respect for the dead and
dignity by choosing to remain at Balmoral than the hysterical lot
outside various palaces and in assorted news rooms.
But it doesn’t matter what I or other like-minded souls think. It
The public reaction, assiduously cultivated by the press, was fearful to
behold. The Royal family did not just bend before the wind; advised by
our insufferably pious thespian of a Prime Minister, they
They came to London early, went on walkabout amid the flowers, extended
the funeral route and the Queen broadcast to the nation. Thank God, they
did not take the advice of the Sun or, Heaven help us, the Independent,
and dissolve into tears.
Still, it was an unprecedented abandonment of protocol, not to mention
British reserve. What on earth are we to make of it? Not much, I
It was par for the televisual age.
The truth is that many people lead two different lives these days - one
their own, rather problematical and often trying, existence and the
other the fantasy world of soap operas into which they escape. The
tabloids often lead with the antics of soap stars or, better still, the
next thrill in the story line. Cunard even updates its QE2 passengers on
the high seas with the development of plots.
Soap is big, powerful business. And Princess Diana, the Queen of Hearts,
provided the best of them. She played the wronged woman, frightfully
glamorous, following the jet set and at war with the establishment, and
horribly indiscreet in pursuit of hostilities. The other side of the
coin was a loving mother, an immensely tactile comforter of the sick,
dying and diseased - a sort of official stroker to the nation. In short,
as Earl Spencer acknowledged in his cheeky funeral oration, she was a
terribly complex character.
The result was that when she was killed with a millionaire playboy the
soapsudded public felt acutely deprived as well as shocked. But the
press gave them the chance to write the last script. In doing so, they
illustrated what a powerful hold soap opera has on the people. I doubt
whether it was any more than that. After all, would millions have gone
doolally over a plain Jane?