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Memories of Princess Diana

Posted on 14 June 2009 | 9:06am

We had a nice time at the Althorp literary festival, the first that Fiona and I have done with separate his’n’hers sessions on our books, me on All In The Mind, Fiona on her Secret World of the Working Mother.

The festivals I have done have tended to be very white, middle-aged, middle-class events, and this was no different, but it was a fantastic setting for a literary festival, and good crowds turned out for authors as varied as Bernard Cornwell (has he really written FIFTY-ONE novels?), Michael Dobbs, Sandi Toksvig, Pattie Boyd and Simon Schama.

My session kicked off the day and was enlivened by the presence of Boris Johnson’s dad Stanley rising to ask what was intended to be a tricky question but delivered so much in the style of his son that by the time he got to the end of it, we were all laughing. With Charles Spencer in the audience, when the subject of the media came up, I also took the opportunity to pay tribute to his speech at Princess Diana’s funeral twelve years ago

The bulk of questions were on the novel and issues of mental health, a few political, and one I particularly enjoyed from a man who said he used to think there was a link between hard work and happiness because when he worked hard he was a lot happier. But then he realised he was happier because working hard meant he spent less time reading papers and watching the news. I know journalists roll their eyes when I tell them this, as I did to a couple later at Rebekah Wade’s wedding, but I think there is a deeper feeling than they realise among the public that media negativity is now so relentless as to be a big turn off.

It was a lovely sunny day, if not as hot as today, and we went for a stroll down to the place where Princess Diana is buried. Only close family and, I learned, Nelson Mandela, have visited the actual burial site on the little island that sits in the middle of a small lake. But there is a nicely designed memorial lakeside with a silhouette of Diana, a quote from her about the work she did for others, a quote from her brother from the funeral speech.

As anyone who has read my diaries will know, I used to whack Diana with the rest of the pack when I was a journalist, then became a tad smitten when I actually got to know her a little, and very sad when she died. The week that followed was one of the most remarkable of the weeks I worked for TB.

I often think, and thought again yesterday, whether Britain would have been different had she still been alive. I know that TB always felt she was an important part of the projection of a more modern and dynamic Britain.

I still cannot totally make sense of that extraordinary week and the outpouring of grief that went beyond anything that anyone truly had expected. 

As part of the Downing Street team asked to assist the Palace in managing events and preparing the funeral, I was making regular visits up and down the Mall. As the crowds grew, and the mood grew nastier, the day before the Queen came down from Balmoral, I stopped and talked to two young couples who had come to lay flowers. I asked them why they had done so. They talked as though they had lost a loved one of their own. They really spoke as though they knew her. Their anger, which was real, came from a belief that the Royals did not care in the same way as they did. I would love to bump into them again and find out what they think now, whether they really understand what the response to her death was all about.

The wedding was in an equally beautiful waterside setting, a couple of hours drive away. As well as families of course, media figures were dominant among the guests which included a smattering of politicians. I had a couple of chats with David Cameron. I regret to report that he does not seem remotely complacent about the fight ahead.

  • Jane A

    I agree the week after Diana’s death was one of the strangest times. I was on holiday in France and ingested most of it via several-days-old UK papers but vividly remember my Dad (my Dad, for heaven’s sake!!) phoning me in tears.

    She clearly had a one-off charisma which people took to their hearts. She was emotionally fragile, which meant people related to her, and she was a much needed dose of reality for the Royals. She hurled herself into charity work, and maybe the combo of all those qualities just made for the total effect she had.

    Who knows what she’d be doing now. Maybe campaigning on mental health issues 😉

  • Catriona Smith

    A tad smitten?? The conversation between yourself and TB in the book is hilarious re’ your meeting with Diana.
    Fantastic quote re’hard work and happiness. Totally concur with this view and am trying to limit my news watching/reading, because it does have a detrimental effect on my health. Relentless negativity is indeed a total turn off. Loads of normally conscientious voters didn’t vote last week because of this.

  • gary Enefer

    Really nice well written piece. Expressed a lot about these/our times….

  • Des Currie

    Unless the whole of Labour goes to Damascus on foot there is no chance of it winning the next elections. And that is by no means certain.
    It’s what you get when you get athiests pushing for the team.
    Des Currie

  • Helen Shapps

    Well done on being so frank about your own history of psychosis and depression and for answering such a range of questions good-humouredly. It was interesting to see you in the flesh, and see that you are actually in some ways similar to the public image and in other ways so different. I can see why the press were a little scared but also why they probably admired you more than they let on. Good luck with the next novel. It sounded very interesting

  • George McCallum

    I went to London from Ayrshire during that week, with my wife and mother in law, and I felt at the time it was all over the top, but by the time we got there it was impossible not to be drawn into the mood of almost hysteria. I am a bit like you. even though I liked her and I knew she inspired people, it seemed out of control, something that felt both logical and illogical at the same time

  • Em

    Maybe it’s just because I’m a Labour supporter but every time I see Dave he seems to be sporting a complacent countenance — except on that photo of him at the RSPCA holding a puppy. Suddenly, he looks adorable. There ought to be standards about MPs pulling at the public’s strings like that. A puppy for Christ’s sake…

    Not to make light of the Princess but, when reading your diary, do you realise how hilarious all the entries concerning her prior to her tragic end are? The characters are so perfect, it reads like fiction. You, convinced from the get-go that the Princess is madly in love with you; TB’s irritation at this and his (dare I say adolescent) repeated attempts at shutting down your delusions. Wildly entertaining and poignant considering the reader knows what is soon to come.

    Hope you read at our very diverse authors’ festival in Toronto one day — and bring she who must be obeyed! She is unknown here but people would fall head over heels in love with her. Does it sound bitchy if I say I only started really liking you only once I got to know her? FM is far too bright to waste her time with an idiot, so, not that I thought you’re an idiot, but I started thinking you were worth a more thorough look and purchased your diaries. Did that sound even more bitchy? If so, sorry… ok, thanks, bye.

  • Catriona Smith

    Just laughing at Emilie’s post….so funny! Have you heard Denis Healey’s famous quote Em, ‘When you’re in a hole, stop digging’?

  • CPW

    Such a pile of sentimental tosh. Perhaps when you are next in Burnley you’ll deign to ask a couple of residents why they voted BNP. It was nice to hear you paid a couple of snivelling sops the same respect outside the palace in 97.

    Reading you blog and comments, leads me more than ever to the conclusion that this country is a soulless, empty place.

    Dire, really dire.

  • Jerry Short

    Any comment on Lieutenant General Sir Michael Willcocks stating that you are a liar ????

    I know who I believe, you are a sad, septic piece of human excrement. I hope to see you locked up as a war criminal.

    How many more times will you be called a liar ?? How come there are no legal cases over these comments ??

    I hope you see every one of the innocent dead from Iraq when you sleep………..

    Jerry, Lancs…

  • Em

    Shall I tell him a common friend of ours called me a good communicator only yesterday? Let’s keep the name secret so as not to embarrass that generous soul.

    I can only hope the point I was trying to get across somehow came through. Poor AC. He deserves far better commentators than I.

  • New Labour Boreblog

    My the comments on here are more Brown nosing than inspirational. If Gord has his way we have another year to squirm on this blog as Noo Labour try to turn things around. Complete Drivel.

  • gary Enefer

    CPW (TO QUOTE) and Des Currie are truly soulless but I do not believe our wonderful country ,with it’s people,politicians and young people,is.

    CPW and Des – time to get a life don’t you think?

  • Stuart Le Gassick

    Alastair

    I have to comment about Jerry Short’s missive!!! It is a sign of the times when an illinformed ignoramos can make comments as banal as these!! Even ‘dyed in the wool’ Tories like me, take no satisfaction from name calling when all did was communicate which as I understand was your job and at which you were good!!!

    Stuart Le Gassick