Can it really be twenty years since the death of Diana? If you were a full grown adult at the time you might respond with the cliched ‘it only seems like yesterday’ because that what happens with time – it gets more fleeting the older you get. It also has something to do with denial at getting older. You don’t want to acknowledge that so much time has passed. If you were one of the people who wept and wailed at the time you might welcome the distance the years bring – in an emotional sense, certainly.
It hasn’t taken the full twenty years to feel a collective queasy embarrassment at the whole spectacle though. Those rumblings started before the floral funeral carpet wilted so we’ve had almost that whole period for psychologists, sociologists, historians and writers to analyse and pick apart the whole phenomenon. None more excellent than the recent essay by Hilary Mantel in The Guardian. With her customary surgical precision she dissects who Diana was, how she was and why she was. The otherworldly is alluded to with Diana the last in a line of doomed sacrificial princesses cast from both fairy tales and historical reality. She delves into the psyches of Diana and the other main players but finds – as royals and aristocrats – there isn’t much depth to delve into. The main player herself confused and having to create a winning persona with help from a selection of advisers. It’s a staggering piece with fascinating observations about how we mourn and how that’s changed (wear bright colours and be happy) and our attitude towards death (still a naive non-acceptance). But are we any closer to understanding the actions of the crowd at that heady time?. Understanding is probably not relevant though as the crowd here is cast from folklore and can be – by turn – the baying mob or weeping mourners.
In reality and back in 1997 there were no such binary choices. If you weren’t a weeping mourner your reactive profile category would vary from mild sadness to intense frustration at the Media overload. The public perception of the individual was pretty binary though. If you weren’t part of the hysterical outpouring of grief you had to keep it quiet lest the weeping mourners became the baying mob from folklore. These days though – you want binary? Spend a few minutes with the various Diana trends on Twitter (today will be the worst) and you’ll be able to view both extremes.
For myself – I was definitely in the mild sadness/intense frustration category. In the subsequent years however I found myself wanting to make sense of it all. Not the ‘why, oh why did she have to die?’ but rather that many people just couldn’t accept that fame, status, beauty, money and a kind heart weren’t enough to make a cloak of invincibility for her. And the whole thing of looking for a saviour to protect us from the world’s ills. Like some kind of super hero/heroine. That continues today with people proclaiming that the world would be a better place had she lived? Really?
I managed to work out my own particular fascination with the phenomenon by giving the woman herself a new life and a new persona in a work of fiction. She had to be fictional as I could never claim to have known her – actually, spiritually or emotionally – unlike how so many others have done. Maybe I’m atoning for my mild sadness and intense frustration, who knows?