August 29, 2007

St. Di of the Tabloids

Mark Steyn marks the 10th anniversary this week of the death of "the People's Princess" by reprinting a piece he wrote at the time:

When Tony Blair, with his usual brilliant opportunism, dubbed her “the people’s princess”, it was by implication a rebuke to those other, chillier, remoter princesses. I wonder whom he had in mind. The Princess Royal? She’s worked for years for the Red Cross and Save the Children, earned herself a place on the British Olympic team, and yet never gets into People or National Enquirer. Or the Duchess of Gloucester? Princess Alexandra? These women preside over dozens of charities, many of them unfashionable ones without photogenic moppets or cadaverous young men; they serve as colonels-in-chief of regiments in boring places far from the paparazzi’s lenses, like Saskatchewan; and in return receive nothing very much apart from the Solomon Islands Independence Medal (the Duchess of Gloucester) or the Canadian Forces Decoration (Princess Alexandra).

You can blame the photographers or the drunk driver or an irresponsible lover; you can even blame the French, under whose aegis Diana is not the only Royal (Aly Khan, Princess Grace) to die in a spectacular crash. But the Princess chose the life she led.

As a means of modernizing the monarchy, did it work? At the time of her death, the Princess of Wales was the most recognizable woman in the world and especially popular on this side of the Atlantic. One newspaper crowed that she was the “Queen of America”, but, of course, she wasn’t: America is a Republic. In the countries over which she had once hoped to reign as Queen - everywhere from Jamaica to New Zealand - the Diana years coincided with an astonishing rise in republican sentiment. The real story of her legacy is that the week before her death, support for the monarchy in Britain fell for the first time below 50 per cent; the week before that, Australia announced the start of a process to examine options to become a republic by the year 2000. A pin-up, even a saintly one, isn’t enough. Indeed, Diana’s tabloid popularity and tabloid life made serious discussion of the merits of monarchical government almost impossible. It will be the same in death.

“The English people need a light in their dark little tunnels,” the Princess said, with exquisite condescension. “I’ll be that light.” But monarchy is not supposed to be a “Candle In The Wind”. As the winds of change swirl all around, it’s supposed to be a rock, not a rock song; it represents the deep, ancient roots of society - something all the more important in a present-tense media culture. Far from taking the monarchy into the 21st century, the Princess was on course to kill it in the 20th. If we must canonize her, make her Patron Saint of Republicanism.

Read the whole thing. He updated the column a year later, suggesting the Monarchy would weather the storm better than he had feared, but I continue to have strong doubts that it will last that much longer.

Posted by Robert at August 29, 2007 11:48 AM | TrackBack