By P. Kharel
Twenty years have passed, and how the West deals with an issue of the so-called “iconic” and the “good” recurs with presentations bordering on the farcical. On August 31, 1997, the former Princess of Wales, Diana, divorced from the British heir to the throne, was killed in a car accident in Paris. In the car was also her latest boyfriend. She had several previous romantic linkups, including that with her bodyguard.
It became a big story for the news media worldwide. But follow-up stories went on and on, as if it would not subside in media coverage. Multifarious aspects of the Paris incident were discussed and analysed threadbare. Conspiracy theories also figured in the resultant speculations. Diana’s boyfriend’s tragic end, however, got scant attention, as if the mega-icon’s choice of her constant companion was only a footnote to the tragic tale.
Five days after Diana’s death, Mother Teresa died (September 5). But the story lost appeal to the media within a couple days compared with the interest taken on the Diana tale. Mother Teresa worked lifelong in the slums of India’s Kolkatta city, looking after orphans. Her work made deep impressions on not only Indians but also millions elsewhere. But the media found her less “iconic” or and far from being “global celebrity” for showering on her the kind of coverage the former Princess Wales was accorded.
Ironically, much of the praise on Diana was related to her “social work”, as if it outshone all that Mother Teresa rendered for so many decades. The coverage of the two figures was a telling example of how the media set their agendas and exercised gate-keeping.
ONE-SIDED: Recalling the event that occurred 20 years ago, The New York Times recently carried an article by a contributor, which included a remark: “Diana was elected for the role with the same sort of attention that might have been paid to the purchase of a race horse, scrutinised purely for external qualities—looks, breeding, virginity and youth—and no thought for the fragile young woman beneath.”
Once divorced in 1996, Diana calculated for public attention, and what better way than to woo the press with her peccadilloes, as if to embarrass the British royalty. In fact, she haggled for a royal title for concluding the divorce settlement. The Buckingham Palace was initially reluctant to oblige while Diana feared that without such title, she could be deprived her of public attention. Finally, both parties agreed on “Diana, the Princess”, though not as “Princess Diana”, as the official recognition.
In a TV interview, Diana cast herself as a woman wronged by a heartless, uncaring royalty even when she led a loveless life enforced upon her by the British heir who made no secret about his love for childhood girl friend, Camilla Parker Bowles. “Three,” to her, was “too many”. Hers was a “deep unhappiness” over her union with Charles. When Diana, a mother of two princes, thus t/sold her story, she attracted considerable attention and sympathy as well.
All along, Prince Charles has refrained from washing his dirty linen in public or responding to the accusations his ex-wife made against him and his family. Diana spoke of her husband’s refusal to give up his lifelong mistress, though Diana herself had and admitted to having affairs of her own. He did not even scheme to plant critical stories whose detail he only could provide about Diana. Camilla, now Charles’s wife, too, has not gone public on what she knew and felt about the episode.
Charles and Bowles, herself a divorcee, waited for eight years after Diana’s death to finally tie the nuptial knots. The couple has been discreet rather than being guided by a desire to share with public their part of the story.
The BBC interview with Diana incurred the Buckingham Palace’s wrath, which led to a decision to break the BBC monopoly of recording the Queen special messages to the nation by announcing that ITV and BBC would alternate between them for such occasions.
DETRMINED DIGNITY: Loyalty is expected in royalty. How then are the other members of the British royalty adjusting themselves in a customs-ridden society where people still are expected to courtesy, a practice that would be seen as insulting to individual dignity in many societies? Queen Elizabeth, 91, and Charles, 68, have exercised immense restraint and discretion on matters with sensational potential for widespread public attention.
It is true that Diana was declared a virgin by none other than the British Lord Mountbatten, the man who, as the British representative, presided over the 1947 division and independence of India and Pakistan in 1947. Considering the conservatism the British society was steeped in, Charles broke with tradition by marrying a divorcee without dispensing with his royal duties as an heir to the throne.
Some of Diana’s romances were consummated and some not. The royalty could have made a sinister move to leak convenient lurid details through the many channels at its disposal. But it has not done so in order to maintain its dignity.