THE PRESS WAS NOT TO BLAME for the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, twenty years ago today.
Reports filed in the hours after her death hinted strongly that foreign paparazzi were being blamed for hounding her chauffeur-driven car through the Paris streets that night.
British journalists arriving on the scene determined to report what was being said even at the cost of their own newspapers’ reputations filed the allegation and their editors, working through the small hours, duly produced the damning headlines.
I know. I was editing the Sunday Mirror that night and the banner headline across pages 4&5 was something along the lines of ‘POLICE BLAME PAPARAZZI WHO CHASED HER CAR’
I wrote the headline myself.
It was based on the earliest explanations coming out of Paris in those first, chaotic hours.
It proved, months later, to have been untrue??
Endless police investigations and a much-reported inquest discounted the ‘chase’ theory absolutely. So the media, thank God, was cleared of any part in her death.
But the press was culpable in helping to create and then sustain the appalling royal soap opera that trailed an unhappily-married, beautiful but disturbed mother of two wherever she went.
Sometimes, only satire can deliver the message.
The sadness of Australian cartoonist Warren Brown’s farewell depiction (and the recreation and recollection of that illustration, above, which appeared in newspapers around the world) contrasts with the wickedly satirical front pages of the long-brilliant magazine Private Eye published then and now, plus their unvarnished criticism of the press the week after Diana’s death.
But the magazine did not turn a ‘blind Eye’ to what it portrayed in a series of press clippings as the two-faced position of the media:
Twenty years later, the Eye still catches the mood, this time mocking the royal family.
The following conversation, primarily among journalists, started with journalist Fiona Wingett’s impressions of Princess Diana , Seven Days, the TV documentary commemorating the 20th anniversary of her death. Fiona worked for me on the Sydney Daily Telegraph and went on to edit magazines and write for the Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Mirror. Now based in Hampshire, she is European correspondent for Australia’s ABC News
**APOLOGY:The conversation that follows was taken from a public source (Facebook) but without gaining permission from any of the correspondents. If any of the writers is embarrassed or objects www.voiceofthenorth.net will immediately remove the comments and apologises for any embarrassment cause
I’VE JUST WATCHED Princess Diana, Seven Days and was deeply moved. The extraordinary outpouring of emotion [following her death] took me back to the events I recall on the day she died.
BEING on the first plane from Heathrow to Paris with some of the press pack;
WAITING outside L’Hopital Salpetriere and watching Charles and Diana’s sisters arrive and leave shortly afterwards with the coffin draped in the royal standard;
WEEPING in my room at L’hotel d’Alma, overwrought and exhausted having been awake and working for 36 hours;
And more: memories of travelling to Kensington Palace, of everyone on The Tube carrying flowers, of flying over London in a helicopter on the afternoon before the funeral and seeing from the air the astonishing amount of flowers, not just in front of Kensington Palace but lining like lace threads the boundaries of each of the royal palaces.
Then, on the day of her funeral, standing outside the gates of KP from 3am, the clatter of the horses’ hooves was the only sound t break the silence until it was shattered by wailing as the cortege emerged.
I could go on about that day, that whole week. It was extraordinary. I wish she had lived.
NICELY said, Fiona. I lived through every minute of every hour of every day of those seven days. It was one of the most memorable and most emotional stories I ever worked on. Incredible times and like you I wish she had lived. It is still hard to believe, 20 years later, that she lost her life in such a way. I thought the memorial doco was excellent.
CHARLES RAE For many years royal correspondent for The Sun, and a reporter who had close contact with Diana
I thought so, too. But you knew her properly. You must have been even more devastated than most.
I, TOO, dearly wish that she had lived I remember so much about that week, especially the crowd’s wailing breaking the silence. Wow! You were immersed in it, Fiona, that experience must have stayed in your thoughts for years.
ANGIE KELLY Sydney reporter famed for obtaining an exclusive interview with Mick Jagger and an even more exclusive ‘singing autograph’ when he recorded Keith Richards’ song ‘Angie’ on her voice recorder
IT WAS A WEEK I remember like yesterday. I was at Windsor Theatre Royal smack opposite the Castle, the outpouring there was unreal. I was working on the Roy Orbison Story and of course there is a crash in that when his son gets killed..it was beyond dramatic and emotional all round, but you were embroiled in Diana: that is one experience beyond most.
LEZLEY M HANNIBAL Wardrobe mistress, Theatre Royal, Windsor
SPOOF POST? Has somebody hacked your FB account, Fiona? Arguably there was very little to admire about the woman, or her relationship with the royal family. [It is] perpetuated by her children publishing their feelings. Really. . . most people don’t care.
DAVE WILLIAMS Friend of Fiona’s
NO, I AM SERIOUS, Dave. It was the most extraordinary time to be living in London. I think there was quite a lot to admire about her. She was the first high profile person to hold the hand of an AIDS victim without gloves; she used her star power to raise the profile of charities and issues; she had to cope, as a teenager, with overwhelming interest in her and later, with [in-laws] and The Establishment against her, she had to marry a man she found out too late was in love with someone else.
WELL, if you put it like that. . .
BLEARY SUNDAY MORNING in middle of holiday. Phone rings. Wife answers. Milky Bar kid is on the line saying ‘Bill has to come into work’. “Why?” she asks. ‘Diana’s dead,’ he says. “Diana who?” quoth she. Ah, memories!
BILL MOULAND Former colleague of Charles Rae at now-defunct Today newspaper
RAY HAD A CALL from the desk at about 2am and he swore out loud at the Picture Editor, which had never happened before! He raced out of the house and as he left, I handed him a black tie as I had a terrible feeling of dread.
I watched the news unfold all night and then drove straight into the paper despite being on holiday. She was part of our lives at the time and a remarkable woman – an icon the like of whom we have never seen since.
Working on the Sun’s pullout this week – like you did, Charlie – was such an honour.
AMANDA CABLE Sun journalist, husband of photographer Ray
I WATCHED IT, TOO, Fiona. By the time she died I was a foreign correspondent in Asia, but I covered many of the stories after her marriage. I have also interviewed some of the last people to see her alive including the doctor who went to the crash scene.
But the most impactful point of the whole thing was the clarity with which her sons spoke of how they, who had lost more than anyone else, held it together and grieved in private while everyone else broke down.
To grieve is one thing but to deal with this was quite another.
Very insightful programme on a number of levels.
LINDA DUBERLEY Writer and TV presenter
I GENUINELY miss not having Diana around. Loved her. Still do. There’s a doco on TV tonight that I’m hanging out for.
GLEN WILLIAMS Editor/Publisher, The Australian Williams Weekly
IT REMAINS only for me, DAVID BANKS, to recall that dreadful Saturday night/Sunday morning when Diana’s world ended and journalists across the globe – some of whom wrongly bore the opprobrium of blame for causing her death – set tearfully, fearfully, to reporting the dreadful news.
I HAD BEEN EDITING the Sunday Mirror; not long before midnight, my driver dropped me home before parking my office limo and driving himself home in his own car.
The phone rang as I raised a relaxing glass to my lips. “Sorry to bother you, Banksy,” said Mike Ryder, the late-stop night editor. “There’s a report that Diana’s car has been in some sort of accident in Paris.”
“Okay, Mike, I’m on my way back.”
“No need yet, Banksy” he replied. “We’re not even certain yet that she was in the car.”
“Doesn’t matter, Mike,” I said, remembering that the front page we were running wasn’t the strongest selling story I had ever produced. ‘DI’S CAR IN PARIS CRASH’ had a much more saleable ring to it.
As I drove, the news via my car phone worsened.
“There are at least two casualties. . .” Followed by “We think her chauffeur is dead. . .”
Finally, the words that took me way over the speed limit as I raced to return to Canary Wharf: “It’s major. . . Diana was in the car!”
Still driving, I called the Circulation Manager and made what was my first and only utterance of the words editors are popularly supposed to spit out at the drop of a hat but which, in these straitened times when cost-saving is all-important, are rarely heard.
“Tell the Machine Room Manager to stop the presses!” I spoke quickly to quell the circulation man’s confused protest. By midnight , tens of thousands of papers were coming off the presses every hour. Soon, there would not be enough print capacity left to get even a world-beating story onto the newsstands.
As the night wore on the enormity of the story grew. Diana, Dodi Fayed and the driver dead; the bodyguard fighting for his life and a millionaire’s broken limo littering the fateful Paris underpass.
By dawn we had replated the presses with a dozen updated editions. The final edition of the breakfast-time Sunday Mirror was published, almost unbelievably, at Sunday midday
Unsurprisingly, it sold out.
And as I and my skeleton crew of colleagues left the newsroom for the second time in twelve hours, there were tears. Of course there were.
Tears and a gnawing, grieving feeling of unbelievable emptiness.