Plus ça change. Markets are turbulent, Iraq is disintegrating, and we still have time for a dead Princess. Or so we can assume when looking at some of the commemorative gush that is streaming out ten years after Diana’s death. Not even Winston Churchill, whose quotes dot the after-dinner circuit, compares. The saviour of Britain and empire doesn’t even warrant a service. The ethicist Peter Singer ‘encountered’ the Diana myth in 2004 as one would a tree, finding middle-aged women he unfairly described as resembling ‘football hooligans’ in commemorative Diana dress. This still continues, though the glow has dimmed.
The Diana story is a stage show. Its subplot is the idea of Britishness. To be born British has been said to put you ahead of the game, to win you ‘first prize in the lottery of life’. Tony Blair did not disagree, and proceeded to demonstrate what that might be, pushing the envelope of the cult to an extreme. We could already see signs of congenital mythmaking at Downing Street, and it looked like Blair was preparing for a career on Broadway.
And what a show it was, something that came to resemble, in the words of Carmin Callil, the Nuremberg rallies. If Diana is Saint, then Blair is her High Priest. Blair managed to use Princess, death and demagoguery to spin a fine tale of a princess both accessible and vulnerable. She was the Ennio Morricone of the cult scene, writing the death score as she was sped, Dodi Fayed at her side, to her doom by a drunk chauffeur. Blair, a Sergio Leone in the director’s chair, did the rest. Alistair Campbell, in the aptly named role of ‘director of communications’ was of course, in the credits, along with the nameless paparazzi. The show might have been termed Once Upon a time in Britain. Marketed as the people’s princess, it was a New Labour contrivance that placed Tony Blair closer to God and Diana closer to the people. Neither case was true, but it didn’t have to be.
Blair’s role in the whole saga is now firmly ensconced in celluloid format in The Queen, which had the negative effect of drawing sustenance from the Diana myth despite humanising the wise denizen of Buckingham Palace. Sadly, not even Dame Helen Mirren had the cinematic clout to outflank the spectral ‘Saint’ Diana. Theodore Dalrymple would complain in the Britannica Blog that the grief was of the pop variety, insincere and ‘pyschopathological’. A new breed of Briton had bolted out of the stable with debilitating attributes: emotional incontinence with an inclination to ‘blubber in public’ when not infuriatingly rude.
Conspiracy theories flourish in the manure of myth. Diana loyalists, and they are many, continue like new-age radicals seeking justice for the princess. For them, the enemy is the very institution that actually gave us the princess in the first place. She was flawed and modern in the way the Queen isn’t, but then again the Royal person was never foolish enough to permit it. There are still suggestions rich with the stench that Diana was done over both by forces within and without, though these are starting to echo less with time. The cheese-eating ‘frogs’ across the pond must have cut corners in their investigation, but even this allegation is only held by the most fervent Dianists. Besides, she died there, searching for happiness, hounded by media vultures and spurned by the House of Windsor.
Prince Charles’ wife Camilla, neither femme nor fatale, yet the object of the ‘crowded’ relationship that was plastered with tedious regularity across the papers, will not attend the Friday service. She prefers the discomfort of home viewing at Ray Mill in Wiltshire. Charles was openly ‘defied’, or that is at least how it was portrayed. Then again, defiance is a common theme within the Windsors, who, when not defying modernisation are best at defying each other. Once Mrs. Simpson nabbed Eddie, the royal family was never quite the same again.
BINOY KAMPMARK is a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org