"People always die in car crashes don't they?" "Yes, always, and people who drive over the limit always crash"

With the endless whining about that worthless piece of trash Meghan Markle going on this week, there's now endless comparisons to Princess Diana: people are convinced that the Palace "chased" Diana away and now (due to "racism" because why not) they are doing the "same thing" to the Negprincress.

But since Lady Spencer (fun fact: I've been to Althorp, her ancestral home) is big in the news I figure why not take a couple old looks at her: one comical and one decidedly less so. Let's start with a chuckle and the classic Mitchell and Webb skit about the "painfully obvious" way they killed her:

Next, let's go a little more somber and look at the great Ted Byfield's September 1997 Alberta Report column about her death -- as always, lovingly OCR'd from my own copy of his anthology "The Book of Ted":
Is it yet safe to ask the unaskable: why exactly is Diana a heroine?
Talk about luckless timing. Somewhere in the week of August 17th to 23rd, The Globe and Mail's columnist Margaret Wente decided to do a modest hatchet job on one Dodi Al Fayed - on his collection of yachts and helicopters, his generous gifts to young women of jewels and cash, his bad debts, and (of course) his 262 ex-girlfriends, lately capped by Princess Diana of Wales as Number 263.

Ms. Wente offered other tidbits - how despite his voluminous experience, Mr. Fayed was reputed to be "very conservative in bed," how a photographer made one million pounds from a grainy long shot of Dodi and Di lip-locking, how girlfriend No. 262 was suing Dodi for failing to marry her as promised on August 9th and how the last time she had had sex with him was only three weeks ago, how Dodi and Di secretly helicoptered to a tiny village for advice from an internationally acclaimed psychic, how a seaman named Mohammed Sead who is a Dodi lookalike had jumped ship in Toronto and was arrested for impersonating Dodi and collecting assorted freebies such as numerous tickets to Phantom of the Opera (he frankly described his occupation on the police docket as "con man"), and finally how Dodi's arms-dealing uncle was once the boyfriend of Anne-Marie Sten, who is now the wife of Matthew Barrett, chairman of the board of the Bank of Montreal.

Columnist Wente is not above a little conning of her own, of course. She was quietly playing an old media game - deploring the publication of the sordid whilst spelling out every sordid detail (which is also exactly what I'm doing here myself). But unfortunately for her it rather backfired. Her exposé of Dodi inevitably left Princess Diana of Wales looking more of a flake than ever. Precisely seven days after her column appeared, Princess Diana perished with Dodi in a Paris tunnel while Dodi's thoroughly drunken chauffeur was hurtling them through city traffic at an estimated 197 kilometres an hour, dodging crazed motorbiking photographers who were out for another million-pound shot.

The circumstances of the death, one might conclude, would tend to affirm Ms. Wente's central thesis, notably that people like this are not exactly admirable. Unhappily, however, that is not at all how the world reacted. The world in fact went ape. For fully a week, Ms. Wente has had to watch aghast as most of the English-speaking populace plunged into an orgy of deep mourning. The woman she had just depicted as a flea-brained royal courtesan was suddenly transformed into a fairy princess of unparalleled charm, grace and virtue whose loss, said a headline in Ms. Wente's own newspaper, "leaves a legacy few will ever equal."

Now Ms. Wente will no doubt have spent much of the last week pondering what exactly is this legacy. What had Princess Diana done to earn such awesome devotion? "Diana, My Idol," said the sign above the cairn of flowers erected to her in downtown Vancouver. Idol? For what?

Ms. Wente could hardly ask this out loud, of course, not wanting to be publicly flogged, hanged or fired for callous insensitivity to calamitous tragedy. She must nevertheless have wondered, though. For she is herself a hybrid, raised and educated in the outlook of a vanished society but living in a new and radically different one. Her education seemingly encumbers her with a compulsive habit of rationality which increasingly renders her a pariah among her contemporaries. (I don't know Margaret Wente, have never met her, and probably never will, but I read her very carefully because she often seems to bridge the enormous gulf that separates her generation from mine.) This compulsion, Reason, insists upon an answer to the question which perhaps it is now safe to ask: why is Diana idolized? What did she do to deserve it?

I have talked to many people about this, and have had numerous answers. She was kind to AIDS patients, came one reply, and was photographed hugging them before it was considered safe to do so. Not quite true, of course. The Pope hugged them long before she did. Thousands of medical people took far greater health risks and far sooner than either princess or Pope and they will never be internationally memorialized. She was kind to landmine victims, said another, and was photographed hugging them too. This distinguished her from her Windsor in-laws, who make a point of never being photographed hugging anybody. Hugging showed her as a loving mother, and mother-love is something the royal family know nothing about. Again, said a fourth, she refused the role of royal family breeding cow, and courageously defied their overbearing authoritarianism.

None of this however, is altogether satisfying. After all, lending your name to various politically correct causes and being photographed in support of them does not really make you into a Joan of Arc. Dying in a booze-caused car wreck after dining at the Ritz with an international playboy lover does not quite equate with being burned at the stake. However addicted to hugging, she nevertheless walked out on her children, not exactly a certificate of maternal devotion. And if she didn't want the role of breeding cow, the time to courageously turn it down was when it was offered to her. Rejecting a responsibility after you have taken it on does not evidence the courageous, but a quality for which there are other less flattering adjectives There must be better explanations for the idolization of Diana, such as these:
  • People need heroes and the "me generation" isn't very good at producing them. So they have to settle for celebrities instead, a very different phenomenon. Diana is not another Madame Curie or Edith Cavell; she is another Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe, revered not for what they actually did but for what they stood for, chiefly defiance of convention and moral authority. "Wreckers," as one acid observer put it.
  • Diana was eminently qualified for victimhood - victimized by divorced and negligent parents, victimized by the royal family, victimized by her husband's infidelities, and finally victimized to death by the media. How could anybody so richly endowed with this cherished quality be anything but an international celebrity?
  • Most convincing of all; Diana legitimized our yen to escape responsibility. If the Princess of Wales can walk out on her kids so can kids, I. If the Princess of Wales can flaunt her adulteries, so can I. If the Princess of Wales can tell morality to go to hell, so can I. she liberates me and is therefore my idol.
But an idol only to those on the near side of that great societal gulf, those of whom she was so thoroughly representative - spoiled, naive, childish, foolish, pitiful. She was tragic indeed, both in how she died and how she lived.
Ted Byfield; September 15, 1997