She will not grow old, as we that are left grew old. We will never see her with grey hair, facial pouches, crepey neck or cellulite.
We fell in love with Di in 1981. We found out more – masses more – later. In fact, we found out too much information. But in the days before Palace workers were on the payrolls of gossip columnists, we knew hardly anything about Lady Diana Spencer before her wedding, a great set piece of national pride-swelling pageantry at St Paul’s Cathedral in July of that year.
By the end of her wedding day, a nation of cynics and softies, believers and atheists, skinheads and old Colonels was united. We were all in love with Princess Diana. – Mary Killen
However, we did know that she was shy. How we all empathised as she walked down the aisle under the gaze of an alleged worldwide audience of 750 million, wondering, as she extruded herself from the carriage, if she had any idea that her meringue dress had been catastrophically crushed on the journey. We didn’t care about that. We were excited. Diana had morphed from a faintly frumpy, mousy-haired, red-faced Sloane into a slender but shapely blond, and a world class beauty. Suddenly the Royals were glamorous.
By the end of that day, a nation of cynics and softies, believers and atheists, skinheads and old Colonels was united. We were all in love with Princess Diana – a near child bride at just twenty but a traditional chaste bride marrying a Prince and we were in the mood for an old fashioned story.
The timing was key. My generation had been shocked to the core by the murder, in December 1980 of John Lennon. We had worshipped the False Idols of The Beatles and now it was clear, not only was Lennon mortal, he was one dead rock star too many. We felt, now, a bit insecure about rackety lifestyles and drug-taking and adultery.
The emotion inspired by the Royal Wedding caused us to brood – maybe we were secretly stuffier than we had thought we were, and, although we had rejected our parents’ values (people forget about the once famous Generation Gap) and rejected steadiness, formality and conventionality, (all things our parents craved after the insecurity of the war) the concept of wholesomeness with its attendant attractions, country living, dogs, tweed clothes, eating at tables, set piece weddings and funerals and, above all, reliability, suddenly appealed.
The fact that we all bought into Diana’s fairytale shows that, at heart, we value love and wholesomeness, duty and goodness. – Mary Killen
It is no coincidence that the best selling book of 1981, which had Princess Diana on the cover, was the Sloane Ranger Handbook. It sold more than any other book during that year, even though the entire Sloane Ranger population of the British Isles could not be any more than 20,000.
I often think of Princess Diana’s Royal Wedding as exemplifying the “eternal verities”. It prompts the same emotions as the crowd scene at the end of the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life where all the townspeople flood into the house of George Bailey (who had wished he had never been born) to tell him how much his quiet acts of kindness have improved their lives. It prompts the same emotions as when Captain von Trapp suddenly sees the point of his children in the Sound of Music as they line up to sing to him.
Yes: the marriage went wrong eventually, but the fact that we all bought into Diana’s fairytale shows that, at heart, whatever our pose, we value love and wholesomeness, duty and goodness.
But have we lost all that love of wholesomeness now in a seedier world nearly forty years on? On the contrary, it is an eternal verity. In 2011, erotic novel series Fifty Shades of Grey topped the best selling list. What a shock. Who were all these new women perverts who had come out of the woodwork and were allegedly using Kindles to read the novel by stealth? And, more to the point, why would they want to?
Then it turned out that at Kindle HQ (it’s sinister this), they spy on readers so they can see which passages of a book they linger over and which they race through with high excitement. It’s a form of Artificial Intelligence that seems to identify the formula for gripping reads and, obviously, a way of getting robots to write our books eventually.
What Kindle found – phew – was that most women readers of Fifty Shades were actually skipping the unsavoury passages. What they liked was that the author had used the traditional format that works so well for Mills & Boon. Chaste young girl falls in love with sophisticated older man … etc. The readers just wanted the romantic bits.
I was sad when it turned out poor Princess Di was unhappy in her fairytale life and even though I knew she could be trouble, I still loved the dream I had projected onto her, and brought a bouquet to Kensington Palace upon hearing of her tragic – and untimely – death in 1997.
Mary Killen is a writer and contributor to Channel 4’s Gogglebox. She is the Spectator’s social dilemmas expert in her column, Dear Mary.
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