Today marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, arguably the most famous person in the world.
During most of the teenage years, I was an anglophile, deply fascinated by the British royal family. I don’t know if it was caused by the Arthurian stories I read as a child or Kenneth Brannagh masterful portrayal of Henry V, which came out when I was 14. All I know is that at that age I would spend hours at the British Council in Rio, pouring over encyclopedias reading everything I could about all the different Henries, Edwards, Georges… I had a predilection for the Plantagenets, the Tudors (who doesn’t love the Tudors?), and the Windsors. I collected every scrap of news about the Queen, Charles, and Diana.
I simply adored Diana. She stirred my imagination. She was like a heroine from the Barbara Cartland novels I used to read at 13, whom I later found out to be Diana’s step-grandmother, only that in her case the storybook wedding didn’t end the way she imagined.
I remember well the day she died. I was in Brazil, recently back from 5 weeks in Canada, and we were visiting my grandmother. I had slept in and all I remember is my mother waking me up and saying “Lady Di was in a car crash”. I shrugged “shurely she must be ok”, I thought. Then my mother said it looked really serious, the boyfriend died. I became a little more alert, jumped out of bed and turned on the TV. I had no doubt she would make it. She couldn’t simply die like that, could she? I think it was then that they announced her death. I think I spent the next few days glued to the TV, accompanying every minute of the few days after the death, the Royal family in Balmoral, the coming back to London, the funeral. I cried as if I lost a good friend.
As most fans of Diana, I hated Charles and thought it was all his fault. Now I feel deeply for the man. I understand him better. I can see more clearly the manipulative side of Diana. I can also see how courageous she was in taking up the causes she championed. She kissed AIDS victims in a time when ignorance led most people shun them like they had the bubonic plague, she hugged leprosy patients in Asia, she literally touched all the people she met. She might not have been the brightest people around, but her compassion and concern for the most downtrodden more than made up for it. In an article for this week’s Time magazine, Catherine Mayer says:
Though friends say he was just a distraction, her choice of two Muslim boyfriends looked set to test how deep the tolerance of New Labour’s Britain would go. This much is plain: she had long since escaped or shed the attitudes of many white Britons. After her death, Trevor Phillips, a black Labour politician who now chairs Britain’s Commission for Equality and Human Rights, told Newsweek Diana “embraced the modern, multicultural, multiethnic Britain without reservatio.” Unlike most Europeans, she had “no flinch, no anxiety about race… for nonwhite Britons, she was like a beacon in the darkness.”
In the end of the article, Mayer concludes by saying:
But the fact that she was – undeniably – on occasion manipulative, deceitful and self-centered should not blind us to the fact that, during her 17 years in the limelight, she had grown as Britain had grown, changed as Britain had changed, and that by the time she died she had something increasingly vital to offer. Arbiter [press secretary responsible for Diana’s funeral arrangements] recalls a strange, muted, mournful night after the Princess died when he encountered a group of wheelchair users on their way to lay flowers at Kensington Palace. “They were saying, ‘Who’s going to speak for ys, now?’ They had a point. The disabled: who’s going to speak for them? The AIDS patients: who’s going to speak for them? The drug addicts, the down-and-outs, the homeless, the elderly? She was their voice and drew attention to their plight.” Arbiter pauses. “She’d have made a good Queen, you know. But that’s it. She’s gone.” Gone? As anyone who knows anything about the strains that make up modern Britain will tell you, that is very far from true.
The magazine includes also good articles about Charles, and the princes William and Harry.
Watching the news today, I couldn’t help but feel moved all over again. Harry’s words during service made me cry and feel for the two young men. I leave you with his words: