Diana: To watch her as she was in 1980 is to shudder when you know what follows
31 August 2017 2:31PM
I wasn't going to write about Diana this week. Although I, like all those left stunned by her death, can remember where we were when she died, I hadn’t given her much thought over the past years.
Saying that, it has been impossible to avoid the recent programmes and articles on her life and the run-up to her death.
Looking back on it all, 20 years later, I wondered if I would think any different about her and those days after her death when the world seemed to stop.
One thing which was striking was just how very young she was when the whole media circus kicked off. Only 19 and looking very vulnerable, it seemed, and indeed was. To watch her as she was in 1980, with the benefit of hindsight, is to shudder when you know what follows.
It is astonishing to now think that we believed Diana would pull on that infamous dress, adjust her tiara and become the traditional English princess knowing her place.
Looking at the news over the 16 years when she was “the most famous woman in the world” I had forgotten just how much she dominated the agenda. Even without 24-hour television and smartphone coverage, she was everywhere.
One newspaper chief said a great picture of Diana would put on sales of 100,000, earning a photographer his annual salary with one shot. Her power to gain attention was extraordinary.
I was on maternity leave at the time of her death, so spent that week sitting on a sofa glued to the television feeding my three-month-old. It felt as if the world had come to a standstill.
A BBC programme looking at the seven days from Diana’s death to her funeral seemed like another time with its angry, potentially revolutionary crowds sobbing so openly in the streets.
There is no doubting Diana’s death was a tragedy – the death of a young mother, killed in such a pointless way, could not fail to affect people. But what struck me, watching 20 years on, was the way the crowds’ grief, for a woman they had never met, was so visceral, while her sons walked around the flowers, being stoic.
In the programme, Princes William and Harry said they did not want to break down and thought they needed to do their duty by being strong. God love them. They were still children.
At the time I am sure I would have been one of those wanting the Queen to show some reaction and to head for London with the young princes.
I have to say now though: who the hell were we to tell that family how to grieve? I cringed at the pressure put on the royals to behave in a manner which suited us at the time.
Again, in hindsight, I believe William and Harry should have been left in Balmoral with the Queen, and never allowed to walk behind the coffin at the funeral. You only have to look at their young faces to now realise the misery they felt trying not to cry. I felt ashamed we thought our sadness at Diana’s death somehow matched the feelings of her family.
At that time we felt she somehow belonged to us; she really didn’t.