The Press Saturday, September 5th 1998
So far as the press is concerned, the essential difference between Diana's and other cults is that that journalists feel guilty that they don't understand Diana worship. This is especially true of those papers whose relationship with her was one of mutually acknowledged exploitation, like the Daily Mail. Some things about her they do know: I am reliably informed that she told the editor over a lunch that Dr Carey was "a shit" for what she saw as his cravenness. But they never understood her popularity. The people who ran the paper did not really like her or trust her — to that extent they treated her as one of their own — and they were bewildered, as I think any journalist must be, by the conviction of so many readers that they knew her. If there's one thing we know, it's that no one is themselves in print.
The Mail did celebrate her in traditional style, with grainy long-lens shots of her children going to church: "Sadness of Diana's boys". It was a flashback to the days when this kind of thing seemed no more intrusive than gossip; a resumption of the collective intimacy with a dream. But inside the main piece, by Richard Kay, who had been her main confidant among the press when she was alive, was low-key, balanced and sympathetic to all the participants at Balmoral. Anyone would have thought he was writing about human beings.
Most of the papers had sent colour writers to Kensington Gardens. Ross Benson, in the Mail did his best with what was clearly unpromising material. "there were a few tears, as there were bound to be. There were poignant soties to be shared. And if you closed your eyes and allowed your imagination to be borne away by the emotion and the soft breeze that leavened the afternoon heat and stirred the first fallen leaves of autumn you could sense her presence."
For the broadsheets, what proved the religious quality of the event was the hounding of heretics. David Starkey, the don who made his name on the Moral Maze, had to be hustled out of the park after going there to be filmed for an American television company saying that Charles was in fact a good father. Of course, this was no more an observation on the prince's real character than was the outrage of the protesters who had him led from the park. It may perfectly well be true that Charles is a good father, but it is hardly a judgement which either Starkey or his enemies are qualified to make.
Through all the coverage, though, there is a sense that no one really understands what is happening. The only truly confident accounts come from those who are determined not to cloud their opinions with thought. The most reasoned are also the most confused. This slippery, dreamlike quality of the whole phenomenon is important, though. It represents precisely what the press normally gets wrong about all religions: the way in which they obey their own logic, surreal and boring as anyone else's dream, but at the same time inescapable and all-enmeshing to the dreamer. Most of the things that popular culture calls dreams are in fact daydreams, which are almost the opposite phenomenon. In a day-dream we are in control of the action: we allow in just enough variety to surprise us but never enough to frighten us. More importantly, we are in control of the animation. The emotions actuating us in daydreams are those we readily admit to daylight. In dreams, by contrast, we stand on the edge of the action, balancing by constantly tumbling forward into the unexpected, like a surfer.
A.N. Wilson, got his retaliation in early when he described her as being famous for "shopping, fornicating and vomiting", and for those who share this view, the week has at least supplied the inestimable fittingness of the shrine erected by Mohammed al Fayed at the foot of the escalator in Harrods'. It is so far beyond anything that is ordinarily meant by "bad taste" that when I first saw photographs of it the breath turned to snakes in my throat. The centrepiece is two large photographs of Diana and Dodi inside gold interlinked cursive "D's", surrounded by swags and flounces of gilt, fresh flowers, and the whole thing resting, to judge from the photographs, on a grand piano. You would have to have a heart of stone not to feel some pity for a woman thus memorialised.
Cardinal Giordano, the Archbishop of Naples is in trouble for loving his brother. No, not like that. Literally. His brother Mario has been running a loan sharking operation of the sort that poor Mark Thatcher seems to have got mixed up in. But whereas Thatcher was lending to underpaid South African police officers, continuing his family's tradition of solicitude for them, the Cardinal's brother was lending to all the poor of Naples, at the usual rates of up to 400% interest. According to the Daily Telegraph, investigators have traced back to the curial administration cheques for more than £250,000. The Cardinal claims to have given his brother, a builder, "a series of blank cheques from his personal bank account" to help him get himself out of debt.
Presumably it was one of those unusual current accounts from which £250,000 can disappear without too much commotion. And in South Africa, Dr Allan Boesak has gone on trial for allegedly embezzling £100,000 of the Danish government's money from a fund he had set up to help the poor. His treasurer has already been jailed for six years in connection with the missing money, but Dr Boesak left for America when charges against him were brought, and has only now returned to face trial, after a long wrangle about the quality of lawyer that legal aid should procure for him. He is expected to call around 120 character witnesses, among them Nelson Mandela.