A new and controversial film about Princess Diana’s death is about to open in the Venice Film Festival this September, nine years and a few days after the car accident that was heard around the world. One thing is for sure: the movie will reopen the bitter wounds caused by Diana’s death. According to director Stephen Frears, the royal wedding was a barbaric occasion because “the girl was being sacrificed in a very, very primitive way. We couldn’t have known what would happen to her, but I wasn’t surprised when the fairytale didn’t work out.”
The movie shows the queen to be unfeeling and cold, and she joins the public display of grief only at the behest of Tony Blair, who realizes that the future of the monarchy is in jeopardy. In another scene, Prince Charles asks his mother, “Why do the public hate us so much?” Frears is obviously a republican, because if there were a referendum on the British monarchy, it would win it by a very large margin—in my opinion close to 75 percent—despite such ludicrous figures as Princess Michael of Kent and other royal hangers-on. But let’s take it from the top.
People are already jockeying for position in order to cash in on the tenth anniversary of Diana’s death next year. First out of the blocks is Tina Brown, a lady who never met Diana but is considered a Diana expert by people who decide such matters. I, too, am guilty of cashing in. I am a contributor to the Larry King book on Diana coming out next year. I met King while on a book tour in 1990, and when I appeared on his program I let it drop that Chuck and Di were finished. Larry got all excited, forgot all about some minor celebrities waiting to go on, and pumped me non-stop. After the breakup, I was told that Larry remembered what I had said and when the time came for the book asked for me to be included.
I first met Diana in 1987, at a grand English wedding in the country. I was in my cups and she mistook my slurring for a speech impediment. So she took my hand and slowly enunciated, “Take your time.” She was already starting her queen of hearts period. When a friend of mine told her I was drunk, she burst out in laughter. Years later, when I was writing the Atticus column for the Sunday Times of London, she asked to meet me during yet another ball. By then she had separated from Charles and was holding a court of her own of sorts. I had written that she was unstable and was a threat to the monarchy. Alas, when I approached her table I was yet again under the influence, and when she asked me to sit down I missed my chair and ended up under the table. She shrieked with laughter, bent down, and asked me, “Do you really think I’m crazy?” For once I came up with a good one: “All I know is that I’m crazy about you.”
It was the start of a beautiful friendship, and that’s all it was. I gave dinners in my house for her—I had told her that the last thing I needed was to have paparazzi camped outside my door, and the manner she managed to avoid them was worthy of a spy novel—and she had me for lunch and dinner at Kensington Palace. Needless to say, I changed my tune, in no time becoming her greatest champion—so much so that a major royal asked me whether I was having an affair with her. When I said no, he wondered how I could switch sides so quickly.
Ironically, I was among the last to speak to her on that fateful day of Aug. 31. I rang her around six in the evening and asked her what was going on with Dodi Fayed. “Will you be wearing a chador any time soon?” “You know better than that,” came her answer. I have always insisted that the romance with Dodi was a sham, a publicity stunt. She wanted to annoy the royals; he needed good publicity. I already knew she was seeing a Pakistani doctor who kept a very low profile. We all know the rest.
Diana died for a blurred picture. If Helen of Troy’s face launched a thousand ships, Diana’s launched a million tabloid front pages. She never once uttered, at least in my presence, a word against her in-laws or ex-husband and tried hard to live a useful life and to be a good mother. But it’s a sad day indeed when publicity-seeking conspiracy theorists like Mohamed Fayed involve the queen and Prince Philip in their ludicrous conjectures. Conspiracy theories are almost as bad as the crime they profess to uncover.