Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

12th September 1997

Copyright © 1997 Russell Brown

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well, I'm back. Anything happen while I was away?

I'll answer my own question there; of course it did. And I confess to being as gobsmacked by the news of Diana's death as by anything I've ever heard. On the Sunday afternoon, I joined the migration to CNN, where half a dozen starled correspondents were making a poor job of interviewing each other.

Of course, what seemed to be a big, sad story and a welcome relief from the already agonising rabbit calicivirus scandal, was even then becoming something more. Something which quite quickly ceased to be about the death of a human being. By the middle of the week the grieving over Diana in her home country had turned nasty. Some amazingly arbitrary judgements became emotionally-loaded truths with which no one could argue.

The press, running scared lest the ugly mood turn back on it, insisted that these beliefs had arisen spontaneously from the masses of grieving British subjects. Actually, so far as I can tell, the received truth was quite seriously influenced by the willingness of one of the "quality" English papers, the Independent, to massage opinion in pursuit of sales. Its editor, Polly Toynbee, declared a mutinous mood among the British people and then gave as many interviews as possible to affirm that it was so.

The phenomenal British tendency to pull together in a crisis developed into a kind of mass hysteria, and while I don't deny it was remarkable and produced some touching moments, the mere fact of numbers doesn't mean people are right. After all, the masses loved and supported royal rebel Edward Windsor in the 1930s - and he, of course, was a vile little Nazi who later tried to sell them out to Hitler.

The "good-Diana-bad-Royal-family" diktat kicked in within hours of the death. The Windsors were ogres, it was declared, for taking their boys to church on the morning they received the bad news. Absolutely everyone - including Paul Holmes, who suddenly popped gnomishly up in the English countryside -fell in behind this one. Why? Because William and Harry had to "run the gauntlet" of the media to get there.

Oh, right. The media, of course, absolutely had to travel en masse to a village in rural Scotland to form said gauntlet. Well they did, actually, because all the people mourning the boys' dead mother needed to see it on the telly and they needed to see the photographs and they needed to intrude on the privacy of a family on the morning of its loss. Somehow, this became the family's fault, symbolic of their cold, aloof ways. And through it all, through the bemoaning of the press invasion of Diana's life, not a single voice was raised to suggest that perhaps this too, was an invasion.

By Monday morning, of course, the family were being berated for *not* going out. People didn't so much want to see them as demand the right to consume them. It was characteristic of the exquisitely indulgent nature of this mourning. It still doesn't occur to the self-bereaved that their hysteria has prevented Diana from being buried in her family chapel. Or that they will surely turn her ancestral village into some sort of Olde English Gracelands.

These, after all are the same people who mainlined a diet of media Diana for years; who made her such a premium product. Out of one side of their mouths they bayed for paparazzi blood and lamented her death at their hands. Out of the other, they said yes please to more papers stacked with pictures from the same agencies and probably the same photographers as pursued her car on the fateful night. They fancied themselves to have lost someone they knew, when in fact they no more knew Diana than they "knew" the cast of EastEnders.

It's ironic that the selfsame public which allegedly wants the royal boys to lead a "normal life" also overwhelmingly wants Prince William to be made King as soon as possible. This would, of course, be completely abnormal and a disaster for him, but it'd make for a better soap opera, wouldn't it?

I'm not saying Diana was a bad person - no worse than any of us, anyway. But , how many times did you hear it claimed that she was, variously, an angel, a saint or, best of all "the Mother Teresa of her generation"? Reality check. Yes, she spent some of her time on charity work - but so do most English aristocrats. It gives them something to do.

She did not break the mould by doing meet and greets in hospitals, although she did do so by lending her celebrity to AIDS charities, and leprosy causes, and to the fight against the wicked scourge of land mines. These were all significant and important and different from what royals had done before. But Diana did personal appearances; that was the whole of her contribution. Helping people never once meant she slept in a bad bed, or missed meals or even worked up a sweat.

Gay men, I think, could justfiably feel loss at her passing, both for the way she brought the AIDS cause to the mainstream, and for her personal style. She was, and I mean this in the nicest possible sense, quite a fag hag. By all appearances, most of the first visitors to the palace gates after her death were indeed young gay men - yet no news organisation could quite bring itself to say so.

Another collective belief held that while Diana was the fount of all maternal goodness, Charles treated his sons like members of staff. No mention of course of the nanny, Tiggy Legge-Bourke, who did most of the grunt work,when the boys weren't off at boarding school, and who was apparently grievously insulted by Di for her troubles.

She was not, either, some girl-next-door who ascended to the palace and taught everybody there how to feel. She was born the daughter of the Earl Spencer, grew up with privilege and died one of the richest women in Britain. She could spend a beneficiary's annual income on a dress.

She was not some rag doll to be tossed about by the dogs of the press. Leaving aside the extraordinary Panorama interview, consider the fact that after Hello! magazine ran an interview this year with her mother which displeased her, she retaliated by pulling the plug on two exclusives she had promised the magazine.

Indeed, it's the royal family itself which is the media waif. The Windors were punished for being historically uptight and having crap PR. How ironic that they should be partially rescued by the embrace of Tony Blair, the first British Prime Minister to appoint his unelected spin doctor to a cabinet position.

And, finally, consider the arrogance of Diana's final car ride. She and Dodi al Fayed allowed themselves to be hurled through the streets of Paris by a drunk, downered-out driver at nearly 200km an hour. And they weren't even wearing their seat belts. Sure, it must be unpleasant to be chased by photographers, but did they not value the life of anyone else on the road? According to royal correspondent James Whittaker, such sport was not unsual for Di - she liked high-speed escapades through London traffic too. How different might the sentiments have been if the rich couple had killed some French citizens?

It probably wouldn't have made much odds to our our own Minister of Youth Affairs, Deborah Morris, who sobbed openly through the speeches of tribute in Parliament, then went outside to tell journalists what a symbol Diana had been to young people in New Zealand. What bollocks. God, she's weird. And now she's Associate Minister of Women's Affairs, thanks to another dizzy blonde, Christine Fletcher, who resigned her ministerial posts this week over a slight involving voting and consultation.

As I understand it, Fletcher has suffered the worst of Tory male behaviour over seven years - including circumstances tantamount to harassment. She never received a call of congratulations from Bolger after she notched up the biggest electoral majority in the country last year, and she's still remarkably short of support from her party colleagues, who consider her behaviour self-serving. Women on the other side of the house think she's a wimp for not standing up to it all. Poor love.

Still, at least with Jenny Shipley in the job, Women's Affairs is in Cabinet. It's no accident that it wasn't before - there are plenty of people in the National Party and ACT who'd like to do away with it altogether. Fletcher is right about one thing - anybody who tries to blame all this on MMP is talking crap.

Anyway, getcha referendum form in; and I'll let you guess which way I'm voting.


    ==  ==      Russell Brown
  [ @ / @  ]                      
     /        ________________________________________
    (_)         "The views expressed on this programme
    ____)       are bloody good ones." Fred Dagg, 197?

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