Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
For a fleeting moment in 1989, I was caught in the whirlwind of nonsense that sweeps around Diana, the Patron Saint of Harrods and Sloan Square. Her visit to Hong Kong accompanying Prince Charles was a major security undertaking. Except that I spent a lot of time on standby, awaiting a role that never materialised. Then she was gone, whilst he loitered on HYS Britannia doing what Princes do when the wife's away. At that time the cracks in the relationship were already evident. The body language told you everything you needed to know.
It’s 21 years since the divorce. It’s 20 years since she died. On 31st August 1997, pursued through Paris by paparazzi, her driver managed to wrap the Mercedes-Benz S280 around a tunnel pillar. She, Dodi Fayed and the driver Henri Paul all died. Trevor Rees-Jones, a bodyguard survived. The paps took the initial blame. Their wanton chasing of the couple ascribed as the cause of the crash. The very media that deployed the paps judged them ... then convicted them, before extracting vengeance through vilification. Hypocrisy hung in the air.
A later more sober investigation revealed a different story. Henri Paul was drunk, on anti-depressants and other drugs. He’d earlier taunted the paps. This was a man intent on showing them he could escape their prying eyes. He’d driven at high speed through the tunnel before clipping another car, spinning and smashing into Pillar Nos 13. No one in the car wore a seat-belt. Never a sensible idea.
Despite the wild claims, including from Fayed senior, all the evidence points to a banal traffic accident. She died at the hands of a drunk driver. Nothing more, nothing less. Facts, though, are irrelevant when you are wrapped in vapid effusions.
Her death produced an outpouring of emotion that was un-British in its magnitude. Lamentation became a compulsory state. In the process, for many, it cemented her position as Saint Diana. Wronged by the scheming House of Windsor, she’d been cut loose and allowed to flounder. Yet, this is a multi-dimensional story. By that stage, Diana had morphed from a naive Sloan Ranger into a cunning manipulator of public opinion. She played her hand with finesse. Her target the ‘Windsors’ are still feeling the impact.
From the grave, Saint Diana is working her enchanting spells. Hilary Mantel touches on this in her recent Guardian article. She explores the phenomena that created Princess Diana - a person somewhat different from Diana Spencer. Whether Saint Diana existed is now irrelevant, because, like that other false mensch, Mother Teresa, she is deified by the public.
Let’s be honest, Diana was chosen as a virgin brood-mare for Charles Windsor. His true love had married. The feckless Charles was lost. Diana ticked the correct boxes. No history, no attachments, not too clever - she never passed a public exam - polite and available. Except, perhaps, the ‘not too clever’ assessment was hasty. She was a quick learner, who soon understood the power in her hands. This was a young woman smart enough to recognise how to carry public sentiment with her. She deployed this understanding to devastating effect when she went rogue. Her actions threatened the very foundation of the British monarchy; the line of accession was under attack.
By 1986 the marriage was in trouble. They’d soon separate in private, although keeping up a pretense for public occasions. This unrivalled as information leaked out about their 'Ugandan' activities. The media was loving it. From the avalanche of leaks, it's impossible to assign fault to one side or the other. Unfortunately for Charles, his ‘spurned woman’ proved more adept at making her case.
A cold war rumbled through the tabloids as each sought to portray the other in a bad light. Then Diana pressed the nuclear button. Her November 1995 TV interview with the BBC’s Martin Bashir put the knife firmly into Charles. It was a finely staged performance, with a few gems that twisted the knife … "Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” and "I'd like to be a queen of people's hearts.” Utter slush. But, yet, brilliant. She understood the modern need for an emotional connection. Charles was on the ropes getting pummeled. Taking the phlegmatic Windsor clan with him
The House of Windsor acted swiftly to cut her off. A divorce was ordered. Charles was probably relieved. His 1981 remark “whatever that means” when asked about love gave us a telling insight. His commitment to the marriage was always tenuous. The fact that he’d resumed his relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles in 1986, is all that needs to be said.
The Queen has rarely put a foot wrong. Her reading of the public mood during the Diana saga proved less than astute. Having removed the tumour from the body Windsor, it then spontaneously reignited outside and continued to grow. Diana carried on with her charity work, using her star status in support of matters close to her heart. It’s now known she was still scheming by seeking the confidence of Tony Blair. The up and coming Labour politician was acting as her secret advisor. The full story of that is yet to be exposed.
Her death provoked such a reaction, that it caught the Royal Family off guard. Portrayed as stern and unfeeling, the Queen felt the wrath of public opinion. This was an odd place for her. Having said that, the focus of the bile was on Charles. Such was the resonance of Diana’s campaign, the public had decided on guilt.
Even today Diana is a shadow loitering over Charles Windsor’s ascendancy to the throne. A recent survey suggests that only 14% of the UK population wish Camille Parker Bowles, his second wife, to be Queen. A few more are prepared to accept her as Princess Consort. Despite the efforts of the Windsor PR machine to polish their image, it lags. Even in the once faithful colonies, Charles is under siege. Only 46% of Canadians want him as King, and the Australians are less enamoured.
It’s no surprise the Queen is hanging in there. The British monarchy reigns, but does not rule. Reigning is about carrying the people with you. Charles Windsor appears to be failing that test even before he gets the top job. His poor taste in consorts and daft ideas suggest a man somewhat out of his depth. His embrace of Islamic fundamentalists is disturbing. In the past, he supported elements later linked to Richard "Shoe Bomber" Reid and Abu Hamza al-Mari. Further, he has on occasions rejected science for nonsensical babble. It's not encouraging.
I’d like to see the monarchy survive given the role it can play to anchor the country in times of crisis. However, in accord with the tenets of the British constitution, Charles Windsor will succeed his mother. Many feel it’s a blessing her stout heart has held out so long. That means we get less of Charles. At the age of 68, Charles will be the oldest person to be crowned the monarch. Whether Camilla can become Queen is debatable. In view of the tenuous hold that Charles has on public opinion, he’d be wise to tread carefully.
It’s also wise to have a spare waiting in the wings ... just in case. In my view, Princess Anne would be ideal. Regrettably, circumstances are such that she’s out of the running. Meanwhile, Prince William is showing all the right signs. Skipping a generation may not be such a bad thing to save the institution. Perchance, Charles Windsor could finally make the right decision and step aside. That way he could truly serve his people.
The last word must go to Frankie Boyle.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.