A troublesome princess
On July 1, the estranged princes, William and Harry Windsor, together with members of the Spencer family, will gather in the grounds of Kensington Palace to unveil a statue in honour of Diana, Princess of Wales, by Ian Rank-Broadley. Commissioned in 2017 to mark the 20th anniversary of her death on August 31 1997, the unveiling coincides with what would have been her 60th birthday. Here we republish what Jack Conrad wrote for this paper on September 4 1997
For the hypocritical ‘royal family’ and its equally hypocritical Church of England, the living Diana Windsor was an embarrassment and a disgrace. And yet because of popular opinion and pressure the same establishment institutions feel compelled to go along with her secular canonisation.
The inhumanity, the alienation, the sickness at the heart of official British society was suddenly and starkly revealed by the accident beneath the Pont de l’Alma, which killed Diana Windsor, Dodi Al Fayed and Henri Paul, the hapless - and initially unnamed - driver of their armour-plated Mercedes.
There is little point discussing here the facts of the case. That has been done in nauseating and seemingly never-ending detail by the mass media. However, as Lenin famously argued in What is to be done?, our politics are concerned with every class, every stratum, every issue. Only syndicalists and strikists imagine working class politics are confined to the terms and conditions whereby wage slaves are forced to sell their labour-power. We communists can and must provide a working class response to what was beyond doubt a major social and cultural event.
Diana Windsor, nee Spencer, is not merely a divorced, semi-detached and now dead royal. Her brief 36 years epitomise the struggle and fate of a 20th century personality, who by chance and/or design has been iconised and thus commodified and sold by the uncontrollable, all-pervasive power of capital.
The life of Diana Windsor has typically been likened to that of a modern fairy-tale. But her story was no Mills and Boon romance. It was a tragedy which saw a young woman mirror, suffer from and help create the dominant values of her time.
This she did not so much because in herself she was an outstanding, let alone historic, personality. On the contrary, Diana Windsor was very ordinary. True, she was born into the aristocracy, married into royalty and consorted with the mega-famous and mega-rich; and yet in many ways she had something in common with the atomised, apolitical ‘little people’, who, given the opportunity, would flock to see her and who daily paid their 30p in order to read about her scandalous doings and admire her unconventionally beautiful image. In death a sort of cross between Eva Peron and Marilyn Monroe, she is still lapped by the same sentimental adulation.
In the crowd Diana Windsor found surrogate love, affection and acceptance - emotions denied her first during childhood and then in her adopted official family. In her the crowd detected what it interpreted as genuine warmth and empathy. For many millions she represented a soul in a soulless world.
Academically no high flyer, she failed all her O levels - twice! In other words, in terms of formal educational achievement she was well below the national average. For the haute aristocracy she was fit only for breeding. After a year at the Institut Alpin Videmanette, a Swiss finishing school, she bided her time helping out at the Young England nursery in Pimlico. It was then that she came to the attention of Charles Windsor. He was in need of a virgin bride and an heir (and a spare). The spineless creep was bullied by a domineering father into courting and then wedding the naive, shy and slightly gawkish teenager.
As painfully detailed in Andrew Morton’s book, Diana: her true story, the marriage was a sham. Any ability to feel and give love Charles Windsor possessed after his crippling upbringing was concentrated on his old girlfriend, Camilla Parker Bowles - with whom he kept in constant touch, even while on honeymoon on the royal yacht, Britannia. There were indeed three in the marriage. Diana had found her prince, but he turned out to be a cold-blooded, unfaithful toad. The suggestion that this pompous and profoundly stupid individual found his wife intellectually inferior is laughable. Charles Windsor is a stuffed shirt who talks to plants, worships an illusory past and butchers helpless wildlife simply for fun.
Not surprisingly, union with such a dishonest and dysfunctional man saw her fragile and complex personality drift into crisis. After the birth of her second son she suffered from post-natal depression and then bulimia. In an age when official religion carries no conviction, solace was sought in the alternative religion of mystical gurus, clairvoyants, magic crystals, intestine-cleaning sessions, counselling and shopping.
Nevertheless, the woman discovered an inner strength and developed a certain intuitive guile and intelligence. Instead of fading away into obscurity and oblivion, she found the courage and means to fight back - first, against her estranged husband and then, in the aftermath of their legal separation and final divorce, the whole royal establishment. It was not for nothing that she branded them the ‘enemy’.
Her main weapon was to build, sustain and flaunt a popularity rating far above any member of the fuddy-duddy ‘firm’. Here we find the source of the ‘love-hate’ relationship with the tabloid press and the paparazzi. Diana Windsor had to market herself. She did so, on the one hand, as a member of the international jet-set, leader of fashion and friend of the famously famous. On the other hand, there was - for a swathe of reactionary opinion - controversial charity work. Instead of spreading herself oil-thin with hundreds of ‘good causes’, she concentrated on what was or could be made high-profile - Aids, landmines, the young homeless. But philanthropy and prostitution are both inherently alienating and must in due course warp one’s perceptions.
The eye of the camera always had to be on her. She gorged on publicity, but at the same time needed to believe she hated it. Keeping a commodity in short supply is the best way to ensure a high price. So on the early morning of August 31 1997, instead of travelling slowly in the ubiquitous limousine with the anonymous black-tinted windows - like most diplomats, dictators and film stars - she and her playboy companion chose to play a 120mph cat-and-mouse game through the streets of Paris.
When I heard the news of her death, I frankly admit my initial suspicion was that MI5 - or some other shadowy arm of the state - had bumped off what Buckingham Palace evidently regarded as a loose cannon. Who will rid me of this troublesome princess?
Of course, a conspiracy was highly improbable. Nevertheless, stranger things have happened. Certainly for the ‘royal family’ and its Church of England, the living Diana Windsor was an embarrassment and a disgrace - her relaxed style, her Martin Bashir confessional interview, her sexual liaisons, her semi-political damnation of the “hopeless” John Major government. And yet, because of popular opinion and pressure, the same establishment institutions were reluctantly compelled to go along with her secular canonisation.
In the days following the crash there was a desperate search for the guilty. Who could be blamed? Was it the BMW riding wolves who sped after Di and Dodi, the intoxicated driver, the tabloid buying public, the cult of royalty?
In my view even a bourgeois republic is preferable to the anti-democratic monarchy. But, in aiming to abolish the monarchy, communists do not lose sight of their main aim - positively superseding a capitalist system that commodifies everything and every relationship. We programmatically link ending the present political system with ending the present socio-economic system.
Mario Brenna made a cool £3 million from selling the first pictures of Diana kissing Dodi on board the Fayeds’ luxury yacht to the Sunday Mirror and then the Daily Mail and The Sun. Reports of the paparazzi setting a starting price of £200,000 for film of Diana Windsor, trapped, unconscious and dying in the mangled wreckage of her Mercedes speaks volumes about the perverted, alienated values of this inhuman system.