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.