I’ve managed to avoid any TV programmes and articles on the subject, but we’ve recently had the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death. I remember it well, particularly the shameful “outpouring of grief” that followed, whereby millions of seemingly sane and ordinary people with no connection to the promiscuous princess wept in the streets. Since then, the mass feigning of grief in order to feel part of something has become a recurring theme in British life, and has spread to other English-speaking countries (witness the embarrassing scenes in Australia following the death of cricketer Phil Hughes). For me, the death of Diana (or rather, what followed) marked a turning point in Britain becoming something of a joke. I always found it hard to take the British public seriously after that.
I have a Ukrainian friend who for some reason has a strong interest in the British royal family. She was rather surprised when I told her that before she died, Diana was an unpopular and rather divisive figure. Many people, myself included, thought she was an embarrassment and I was particularly annoyed with her muddle-headed campaign to ban land-mines, a subject she knew nothing about. She went to Africa and encountered victims of the millions of Soviet and Chinese landmines scattered willy-nilly around the continent’s many war zones, then returned home and harangued the British Army – who carefully map their minefields, and use them only for essential defensive purposes – into giving them up. My initial reaction to her untimely death, before it transpired she’d got into a car driven too fast by a guy who was drunk, was that she’d stepped on the toes of somebody with a considerable interest in land mines.
The idea that Diana was universally loved and adored is pure revisionism (see PCar’s comment here for example). In the months preceding her death, Viz ran an amusing series called “The Queen of Hearts” which used photos of her with fictitious captions. One of them was of her holding the leg of an African child in a hospital:
Diana: Is this your leg?
Diana: Is it supposed to be that colour?
They also took the piss via spoof collectible offers, such as The Lady Diana Pubic Soap of Hearts.
Then there was this incredible correction issued by the National Enquirer after news came in that she was dead:
The switch of stance typifies the tabloids’ reaction to Diana’s death, and since then there has been nothing but whitewashing.
The other thing I find annoying about Diana, one a bit closer to home, is the way her sycophantic admirers have hijacked the Flame of Liberty in Paris:
The Flame of Liberty (Flamme de la Liberté) in Paris is a full-sized, gold-leaf-covered replica of the new flame at the upper end of the torch carried in the hand of the Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World) at the entrance to the harbor of New York City since 1886. The monument, which measures approximately 3.5 metres in height, is a sculpture of a flame, executed in gilded copper, supported by a pedestal of gray-and-black marble. It is located near the northern end of the Pont de l’Alma, on the Place de l’Alma, in the 8th arrondissement of Paris.
The Flame of Liberty became an unofficial memorial for Diana, Princess of Wales after her 1997 death in the tunnel beneath the Pont de l’Alma (see death of Diana, Princess of Wales) The flame became an attraction for tourists and followers of Diana, who fly-posted the base with commemorative material. Anthropologist Guy Lesoeurs said, “Most people who come here think this was built for her.”
They’ve even had to add a separate plaque nearby half-acknowledging the monument’s unofficial role as a Diana memorial. However, this annoyance is tempered somewhat by recalling the response of the French authorities when it was suggested that the design of the Alma Tunnel was unsafe and contributed to her death, along the lines of:
“There’s nothing wrong with the tunnel if you don’t drive through it at suicidal speeds.”
With characteristic French stubbornness they resisted calls to alter the tunnel, and it remains unchanged to this day.