Tempus Fugit. A recent ABC program on the death of Princess Diana reminded me that 20 years have gone by in a jiffy. She died August 31, 1997, following a car crash in the underpass of Place de l’Alma, and sent a nation, and the world, into mourning.
Mind you, Princess Di is no longer talked about in chic London drawing rooms the way she once was, but that is only natural. Her children are grown up, her ex has remarried, and her in-laws are in their 90’s. She is no longer a threat to the monarchy, although once her ex becomes king, his meddling, I predict, will get him into hot water sooner rather than later.
The ABC program reminded me of that old axiom that people who don’t know speak, and those who do know remain silent. Tina Brown, who needs no introduction, featured prominently, talking about Di’s inner feelings about her Pakistani doctor lover as if Brown had been present during their trysts. Tina is an able journalist who knows how to make a story interesting, and she did a credible job, except for one fact. She only met Diana once in her life, at a luncheon for British women living and working in New York. Another woman offering nonstop opinions on the program was one who goes under the name of Lady Colin Campbell. She’s a woman of a certain age born somewhere in the Caribbean who married a drunken English lord who ran away rather quickly once he realized what he had done. I am not certain of this, but I’d bet a fortune that this Lady Colin person never came face to face with Di except, of course, if she ran across her in a public street.
But I digress. Why shouldn’t aging ladies who are no longer in the public eye pretend to be intimates of the icon of our times? Why not, indeed? The others who appeared on the two-hour telecast were acquaintances of the princess, starting with Michael Cole, a p.r. man for the dreaded Mohammed Fayed. Cole throughout the program referred to the plebeian Egyptian with the aristocratic prefix “Al.” He did a good job hinting that Dodi Fayed and Di were about to become engaged, as big a crock as I can think of.
I’ve often written about Diana, with whom I was on very friendly terms, so I will not regurgitate old gossip and tired old tales. Simply put, she was a sweet young woman who once told me she had never opened a book in her life—an exaggeration—and that she was thick as a plank and embarrassed when conversation turned to serious matters. But she was a very canny woman, smart as a whip, one who had taught herself whom to trust and mostly whom not to. Once you crossed her, you were struck off the list forever.
Although another journalist on this particular program claimed he was the last one to speak to Diana over the telephone, I always thought it was yours truly who had. It was a beautiful afternoon in the Swiss Alps, and I was in the garden of my chalet with Nigel Dempster, the premier gossip columnist of Britain, now long dead. In order to annoy him I told him I had Diana’s private number, and I would call her in front of him as long as he didn’t make his presence obvious to her. He gave me his word and stuck to the bargain. I rang her, and she answered. Hello, stranger, said she. This is a professional call, said I. She giggled. Are you about to go Muslim on us?, said I. You gotta be kidding, said she, putting on an American accent. I’ll be in London tomorrow. Ring then, said she. Lots of love, said I. And that was that. She crashed and died that night.
Her death almost brought down the monarchy because of the perception—mostly false—that the family had treated Di badly. That, the family did not do; in fact, both the Queen and Prince Philip sympathized greatly with her. The Queen Mother was very much against her, and Prince Charles acted like a cad, but that’s an old story. Charles is what the English call a ninny, a whinger, a tantrum-throwing snob who is intolerant of those whose opinions he doesn’t agree with. He is peevish and petulant, but also has a serious side that can be troublesome in a constitutional democracy. He is an intellectual striver who wants to improve the world and told us not long ago—in March 2009—that the world would end in 100 months, which is the end of June 2017, if we didn’t change our ways. He attributed this to climate change, but for a man who flies private and owns more cars than he has hairs on his head, it sounds more of a double standard than a serious prediction of doom.
Still, Britain is better off with a monarchy than with a president, so the best of luck to him. I only wish the Queen could live to be 110, which would make Prince Charles too old to take over. Twenty years have passed since Diana’s death, and they’ve passed much too quickly for us oldies. They should let her rest in peace.
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