Tuesday, 29 August 2017

What Would Princess Diana Be Doing Now?

Like most people, I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news (in bed on a Sunday morning when my radio alarm inexplicably went off at 5.30am to relay the surreal and shocking event while I sleepily tried to figure out who they were talking about whose 'boys were going to have to be very brave').

I have wondered many times since what Princess Di would be doing now if she were still alive and never more so than approaching the 20th anniversary of that fateful night

What we know about a surviving Princess Diana for certain:

  • Would have continued to be a proud and supportive mum to Wills and Harry
  • Would be a doting grandma to George and Charlotte
  • Would continue to play a pivotal role on the world's stage most probably through charitable work, ie becoming ambassador for UNICEF like late Audrey Hepburn. 
  • Would have continued to be a friend to HIV/AIDS sufferers.
  • Would remain a fashion icon and keep fit enthusiast.


  • Before she died Princess Di was denied a bolt hole house on the Althorpe family estate by her brother Earl Spencer. She then yearned to live abroad but was told in no uncertain terms that she couldn't take the princes with her if she did so. Her compromise was increasingly frequent holidays/mercy missions with regular calls and visits home to Wills and Harry. As they grew into men and forged lives of their own I think Diana would have emigrated, though possibly remaining in Europe.
  • Diana was due to fly home to see Wills and Harry the day after she was killed. She may have enjoyed her summer with Dodi, but she knew he was a playboy and the moment she found out he had another girlfriend on another yacht nearby, one he had promised to marry, that would have been the end of it!
  • Meanwhile the Royals (if they hadn't previously attempted to) might have apologised to her for her ill-contrived Royal marriage and tried to cut a deal with her to agree to live quietly and respectably (including no change of religion as mother of heirs to a C of E throne) in return for free lifetime tenancy, possibly of former Edward and Mrs Simpson pad in France, and a generous guaranteed lifetime income. Having a strong sense of destiny that she was meant to be out there making the world a better place, she would have declined but insisted on retaining a lifelong royal title. Nor would she have agreed to be publicly gagged in any OK magazine appearances etc. As she said of herself in a post-divorce interview 'She just wouldn't go quietly.'
  • Diana felt the need of a wealthy man to protect her, so in Jackie Kennedy fashion (one of her heroines whose style she often emulated) I believe she would have eventually found herself an Onassis figure or widowed nobleman to marry, based in Europe. She would subsequently have quickly tired of a 'safe' father figure who possibly first admired her charitable endeavours and then sought to persuade her to give them up one by one as she should give all of her attention to him. In truth, she needed all the attention focused on her and wasn't about to become anyone's trophy wife or bird in a gilded cage. So divorce no. 2 would follow, albeit leaving her well set up for life.
  • A couple of successive flings with wealthy arab playboys might have followed, who flattered her, cheered her and spoiled her for a while, but had no intention of seriousness.
  • Finally I think she might have settled for a wealthy Fortune 500 American and moved stateside to be publicly adored into her dotage, Skype and Facetime by now keeping her in touch with her nearest and dearest in addition to regular visits.
  • Charles would not have been able to marry Camilla, not just because Diana would have made a massive fuss, as would her thousands of loyal followers, but because the church wouldn't have allowed him while his former wife was still alive. Then again, once we had gay marriage, Charles could have always asked for a review of the situation!
  • After initially embracing Tony Blair and New Labour, she would have become appalled by the war he took the nation into, particularly when he offered her no major role as a peacemaker and contradicted her charitable and peaceful endeavours.
  • Diana would have made strenuous efforts to try and save her rock star friend George Michael from his demons when she realised his life was spiralling and make him get help. She may or may not have succeeded in extending his life but her efforts would have put his condition in the public domain and encouraged other of his loved ones and fans to stage interventions.
  • Diana would have encouraged the nation's women to dress better and not let fashion descend into anything goes. Tattoos and piercings would also be less prevalent under her influence.
  • We wouldn't be such an emotionally incontinent nation who cry at the slightest thing, which would not please the producers of BGT! Diana's death spelt the end of the stiff upper lip and any pretence of emotional resilience. She has also, for better or worse, made the cult of victimhood socially acceptable, and not necessarily as a curable condition.
For all her pros and cons Diana was an undeniably iconic figure and, Royalist or not, you could no more ignore her 'girl next door' luminescence with its cornflower blue rolling eyes and flicked blonde locks than you can walk past an image of Marilyn Monroe without being drawn like a magnet. What they shared was that elusive intangible known as star quality and the unshakeable belief (despite their myriad failings and insecurities) that they were born to play a major role on the world's stage. Like Marilyn, Diana was a flame which burned too brightly and she died at the same age as her movie star heroine - 36 - in the month of August - like a candle in the wind indeed.

Diana's untimely death also plunged the monarchy into a crisis not seen since Edward VIII's abdication. The Royal Family simply did not know how to respond to the event or to the extraordinary outpouring of public grief, while simultaneously trying to comfort and protect the princes.

Strangely the thought of Diana being alive today is almost unthinkable. I wonder why that should be.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Reclaiming the Middle Class

My grandparents didn't claw their way up from working class families of 12 on one side and 15 on the other with scarcely enough to eat and at least half the family lost in infancy and in two world wars for me to pretend to be ashamed of the class they aspired to and eventually achieved - middle. And I'm not.

I therefore find myself growing increasingly tired of middle class people pretending to be anything but, meanwhile enjoying all the luxuries and privileges (and in many cases financial buffering) of their education and class. Champagne socialists, I suppose.

It is particularly galling when you meet someone who benefited from grammar school and a free university education themselves but who is more than happy to see the drawbridge pulled up against all other bright working class kids who may seek to better themselves and who now openly mocks and speaks against the grammar school system as 'outmoded' and 'unfair'. Often the same people indeed
who purposely move house to ensure their children are in the best possible school catchment area and have private tutors to cram any subjects they are shaky on as 'young Bryony is definitely OxBridge material'. Those who harp on and on about immigrants but would never dream of turning over their spare room to one, let alone indefinitely, and for no rent. When they are not harping on about how green they are with a bespoke kitchen island recycling unit, whilst taking four long haul holiday flights a year and popping five Boden-clad sprogs, that is.

As a keen reader of social history, I find we actually had more visionary educationalists even in the 1920s than we do now. And if kids left school without knowing the three R's inside out, it tended to be because they had had to leave school at 14 to earn a wage to help put food on the table for their impoverished family.

My grandmother won a grammar school place in 1913, but could not take it as her family could 'not afford the uniform' with 12 children to feed (and presumably on the basis that females in those days had very limited job prospects anyway so they may as well go out to work at the earliest opportunity).

Wind forward and social mobility was the big thing twenty years ago, but tellingly, it is  hardly mentioned now.  It's all about treating all kids equal and making sure they all win prizes.  In politically correct lip service if not in actuality that is. Those with money still pay for privilege and special treatment for their darlings to ensure they will be life's winners.

Reading 'The Middle Classes - their Rise and Sprawl' by Simon Gunn the other day really brought home the noble intentions of many of the original Victorian middle class who devoted their lives to innovating and building industries and cities to make Britain great, using their newfound wealth for all kinds of philanthropic projects including the social and educational betterment of their communities, however prescriptive, by today's standards. We have them to thank for universal free education and public libraries and toilets, among other things. They brought in trains and a postal system not much slower than the internet! The middle classes were known for getting things done and often on a grand scale.

What has happened to that 'can do' spirit? That pride in our country and determination to make it centre stage with justification?

We now have a middle class which continues to insist on playing a centre stage role in the world and interfering in the affairs of other peoples and nations but without the excuse and welt of Empire or a significant economic/manufacturing base to justify such a stance and without any weight left to throw around if we did but admit it.

We are left with a nation we constantly mock, undermine and apologise for in every way, even selling off the family silver, with many of our bridges, utilities and banks sold off to other countries, leaving us in a perilous national position, yet we continue to grant ourselves the right to tell the rest of the world what to do, a hangover of empire, if you will.

Former Prime Minister John Major promised the coming of a 'classless society'. What he and subsequent governments have actually facilitated are two additional classes in Britain - the underclass - where we are now seeing second or third generation benefit dependents, some of whom have never worked in their lives and - the super rich - whose job it seems to be to hoover up and trouser enormous amounts of wealth, occasionally for doing very little or providing only parasitical services to society, before depositing them into offshore bank accounts and funds to dodge tax.

So do I hate my class? No. Not at all. I just want us all to be honest about what we are and stop pretending to be ardent lefties, with all that would bring if the leftie utopia ever became a reality. Even Jeremy Corbyn went to public school and grew up in a substantial property, for goodness' sake! Up the workers - my a**e. I just want us to make our forbears, those strugglers who fought in two world wars, proud.

But on the other hand we need educated people to run the country properly and like it or not, these do tend to come from the middle or upper class, even if they often do it improperly. All the more reason to reclaim the middle class loudly and proudly. Or at least the best parts of what it used to embody. If we need an enemy, let it be those leeching super-rich who now control over 90% of the world's wealth keeping untold millions in poverty. Let it be the realisation that political correction has replaced national direction. 

The other day I overheard a forty-something white trustafarian woman boast loudly to her young Turkish companion in a trendy Brighton vegetarian restaurant that she was a campaigner for 'no borders'. 'Yeah, right.' I thought. 'I bet you are. As long as it doesn't impact on your comfortable lifestyle in any way and gives you a ready supply of exotic young paramours.' 

On a less cynical note here is - The Emperor of Lancashire - George Formby's sublime comedic take on being promoted to emperor from a working class perspective!