Diana at 60

I was recently contacted by Arndt Striegler at Bild newspaper offering a healthy fee to write an article about my memories of Diana to mark what would have been her 60th birthday. This isn’t the first time I have been mistaken for Richard Kay, the royal correspondent of the Daily Mail, and so this time I decided to take up the challenge. I wrote an article and sent it to Arndt asking for details about invoicing. I haven’t heard back. I suspect it wasn’t the article that they were anticipating but, having made the effort, I thought I would share it here.

Article (commissioned by Bild Zeitung?) June 2021

It is that old cliché of “I remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the news”: in the words of Fry and Laurie circa 1990 “I was listening to the news”. This really was one of those events where you can recall what you were doing when you heard. For me, I had just finished the final day of a gruelling coast to coast cycle ride with my equally unfit friend when I was told by a member of our welcoming party. I remember being decidedly less interested in the news, however shocking, than in my freshly completed feat of endurance. Little did I realise at the time that the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, was just the start of it.

I was thrilled to be asked to write an article about my memories of Diana and for my opinion on why she is so special still, as we approach what would have been her 60th birthday. I was also somewhat surprised at the request, being predominantly a writer of plays and songs (plus an actor of no renown). Perhaps it is a refreshing everyman perspective from a member of the general public that is of interest here. After all, everybody surely has an opinion about Diana. Or perhaps it is merely a case of mistaken identity. Whatever the reason, I suspect I knew Diana just as well as any journalist has claimed to.

When we lose somebody in the public eye it is perhaps natural to relate it to your own circumstances. In 1996, at the age of eighteen, I lost my mother to cancer. A year later I was unavoidably drawing parallels between my loss and that of Princes William and Harry. I felt angry at this level of national hysteria and the media frenzy that fuelled it: anger that this was somehow more important than my own Mum’s death and anger that these young boys did not have the opportunity to grieve in the way that I had that previous year. This grieving process has continued for me to this day and yet so has the unwavering and distasteful attention on Diana; the property of the public and the media.

Let me be clear. Whilst generally ambivalent about the Royal Family, I had nothing against the lady. From what I can gather she was a loving Mother, she had a warm smile and was not afraid to show both her vulnerabilities and her sense of mischief. All qualities I admire in any human being. You also have to admire the positive work that she carried out as a UN special envoy, calling for an international ban on the use of landmines. There have been many other such altruistic acts from too many unknown people. Perhaps she also encapsulated a fresh and exciting new look to the tired old-fashioned Royal family. However, at what point was it appropriate to claim ownership of her to fuel Britain’s ongoing delusions of empirical grandeur?

Diana would have turned 60 this Thursday; still no age at all. She has been gone nearly 24 years and yet she still carries the sort of infamy that only requires the use of her Christian name (unless I have misunderstood a request to write an article about Diana Dors). Of course, she is still special, to her family friends and anybody who truly loved her, as any bereaved person will attest to regarding their own loved ones. As the news outlets clamour to find the appropriate way of marking what would have been her 60th birthday, whilst conveniently overlooking the insatiable tabloids’ role in her untimely death, I am inclined once more to relate it to my own personal circumstances. This gives me opportunity to reflect on my sister’s terminal diagnosis and her determination to make it to her sixth decade, for the sake of her children as much as herself. Perhaps unsurprisingly this draws me to consider Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, and the loss he must still feel while further revelations of lies and deceit continue to freshen his wounds. I suspect his own feelings, still too raw, continue to take second place to his sense of responsibility towards those he loves. I am guessing, of course, as I know him no better than you do, but I am bound to relate the situation to the inherently human emotions I am currently experiencing in my own personal life.

Of course, we all remember the news. Is it too outrageous to suggest that it is no longer news and to enable a person to be remembered in the only way that matters; by the family members and friends who truly knew them?

Richard Kay

(not of the Daily Mail)