Sunday, August 31, 2003

Diana ! Diana !

Lo, all our media pomp of yesterday
Is one with Ninevah and Tyre !

On the sixth anniversary of Diana's death there is no BBC Online story, and an admittedly cursory trawl through the Sundays only finds this from Mary Riddell in the Observer.

And pretty dreadful it is too - taking several hundred words of not-very-much to conclude that "personal tragedy is too frail a foundation to bear the weight of public recrimination. That was the lesson of Diana's death. Britain has failed to learn it." What ? Eh ? Come again ? Pardon ? Me no understand.

Let us go back in time. It's almost impossible to overstate the hysteria that gripped a fair proportion of the population and the entire mass media after Di's crash. The Today programme's Sue MacGregor trawling the crowds outside Buckingham Palace for mourners willing to attack the Queen on air. The wailing and cries of 'Diana ! Diana!' as her coffin was taken out. I remember wondering if I was living in Buenos Aires or Tel Aviv – we English just don't (or didn't) go in for that sort of thing. Weren't there some suicides ?

A shameful anecdote follows.

On the funeral morning my children were due in the nearest (small) town for their swimming lessons. It had been announced in the local paper that all leisure facilities in the large town some thirty miles away would be closed that day, out of respect to the deceased. And already there had been criticism on local radio levelled at institutions staying open. The funeral was starting to take on some of the attributes of a high-profile funeral in the West Bank or the Falls Road - staying open was potentially bad for your health.

Now Daddy wanted to stay in and watch the funeral that morning, anticipating a spectacle - but he didn't want the kids to miss a lesson.

Pick up the phone to the local council's Leisure Department.
"Will you be cancelling and rescheduling swimming due to the funeral ?".
"Are you sure ? Bigtown have cancelled theirs."
"No, we'll be opening as usual".
"Who took that decision - can I have his name ?"
"Well xxxx is Head of Leisure Services - here's his number."

Phone to the paper.
"Evening Gazette ? - do you know Smalltown council are keeping all their leisure facilities open on Saturday ? Bigtown have shut all theirs. I think it's shameful. No respect at all."
"Have you got the name of someone there we could speak to ?"
"Well xxxx is Head of Leisure Services - here's his number."

The council rang back within an hour to tell me all the swimming pools would be closing and the lessons rescheduled.