The official commemoration ceremony of the 10th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death is at least something unique in Britain’s long and colorful history.
Sir Winston Churchill was not considered worthy of such a ritual a decade on from his death, nor were Nelson, Wellington, Pitt, Newton, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Kipling, Scott, Queen Victoria, Shackleton or any of the heroes that British colleges or battleships used to be named after.
Of course, unlike Princess Diana, none of them had committed treason, in the full, technical, legal sense of the term, nor died during, and as a result of, what Geoffrey Wheatcroft described (very bravely at the time) as “a liaison with a coke-snorting, starlet-bonking playboy.”
I was in Singapore on my way to London when I read the first reports of Princess Diana’s death. Singapore has its shortcomings, but it a practical, down-to-earth place. I felt curiously embarrassed for my heritage to read reports in the Straits Times of the British press demanding that the Royal Family should “show grief’” and the Queen and Prince Charles should “break down, cry, and hug one another on the steps of Westminster Abbey.”
This, I thought, is crazy. If true, it is evil. But surely it is too crazy; it implies too gross a violation of ordinary human behavior, to be true. If it was true, there was something totalitarian there, something like the atmosphere of a Stalinist show-trial, the demand that privacy and dignity be ripped away to appease the apparent emotional derangement of “the people.” And as far as the media went, it seemed like a killer railing at the lack of public grief shown by the victim’s family.
I didn’t know the half of it.
MY WIFE AND I ARRIVED in Britain a few hours before The Funeral. It is probably the ambition of every provincial writer to be present at a world-historical event in the ancient capital of his mother-civilization. It was the fifth time I had disembarked there and none of those four earlier visits had given me any preparation for the madness we plunged into.
That it was happening in England, the country of the traditional stiff-upper lip, made it more unreal. It was a carnival of ghoulish madness reminiscent of what I have read of the medieval plagues and the Chiliastic panics at the end of the first Millennium. Not that here was much to see on the streets that morning. We walked through a London as weirdly deserted as in The Day of the Triffids or some similar piece of apocalyptic science-fiction. The public-address system of the train we took announced silence would be observed. We finally found a little church in Richmond, where kind people served us tea and biscuits and comforted the grieving as The Funeral was relayed on banks of TV screens.
“Show us you care!” screamed the front-page headline of the Express, alongside a file-picture of the Queen looking cold and remote (six months later there would be no rebuke for the Queen continuing her official duties the day her sister, Princess Margaret, had a stroke). The Sun, a major contributor to the paparazzi culture and celebrity sleaze-mongering which had caused the fatal car wreck, demanded “Where is the Queen when the country needs her?” and claimed that it was “the final insult” that there should not be any half-mast flag over Buckingham Palace (although flags are never flown there when the Queen is not in residence).
There were odious moral assumptions here: that the Royal Family’s grief should be public property, to be displayed for the entertainment of the crowd, that the Queen, an elderly woman with an immense record of public service and ceaseless devotion to duty, had, along with Diana’s ex-husband and children, no right to privacy even at such a moment, and even that the grief of the public for a celebrity they had never met was somehow greater and more valid than that of her own family. It was more than odious. It was insane. To judge from the media, the country was suffering from a national mental breakdown. Some other paper claimed that: “a nation is crying for its mother.”
The Rita Skeeter-type prose of sickly, manipulative sentiment poured on like a Tsunami of vomit. The Sunday Mirror shrieked in a tirade against the Queen that “[t]he people of Britain are suffering grievously.” The media then claimed a victory in forcing the Queen to emerge and go on public mournabout and to display her bereaved grandsons to the ghoulish gaze of The People. This was headlined, not in the trash-tabloids but the Times, as “Diana’s Army Cheers Victory,” the story going on to claim that the Royal Family “bows to public pressure to show its grief.” The conservative Daily Telegraph’s version was “The Queen bows to her people.” The Sunday Times claimed in a huge double-page spread that the “Palace bows to People’s will,” and continued in pseudo-totalitarian language that: “Britain’s collective grief turned to anger last week as the royal family clung to their Scottish fastness â€¦” The Evening Standard claimed on dubious evidence that “[t]he People of Paris are weighed down by guilt.”p>My favorite quote, however, came not from the British tabloids but the U.S.’s National Enquirer : br>
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?