HERE’S what I won’t be doing at 9pm today – watching Diana: Our Mother, Her Life and Legacy on ITV. Documentaries about the royals have never been my thing, and besides the edited highlights on the BBC news last night were more than sufficient for this royal-weary observer.
It is fair enough that William and Harry – or the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, as they now are – should wish to talk about Diana, Princess of Wales, and recall the mother they loved.
Fair enough that they should remember her as the “best mother ever” who “brought a breath of fresh air to everything she did”. Fair enough that they should chuckle over how she once surprised the 12 or 13-year-old William by inviting three models to meet him at home, leaving him tongue-tied and blushing (bit weird that, but there you go, mothers can be embarrassing at times).
Fair enough that these lost boys turned to men should, as Harry says in the film, have heard their mother’s motto: “You can be as naughty as you want – just don’t get caught”.
There are different narratives going on here, and the one in which two young men try to reclaim their mother for themselves is only one strand of the story. Harry – or maybe William, I wasn’t paying full attention – may well reveal that her smile could reach across the room, or whatever form of words are used in the documentary. But that motherly smile couldn’t reach across the world. For she was a mother much absent at the time.
It seems reasonable to argue that those lost little boys we saw on the news were semi-abandoned by their mother, who was off having an affair in Paris when she died in a crash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel while the car she was in was being pursued by paparazzi.
This morning’s newspapers mine the documentary for snippets and stories, with the Daily Mail offering on its front page: “Harry and Wills hadn’t seen their mother for a MONTH before her death.”
Judgemental as ever, but the Mail has a point if this is true. Most mothers I know would not go more than a day or so without seeing their boys, who were 12 and 15 at the time.
William and Harry may well wish to remember their mother by talking to ITV journalists, but their mother stepped away from them to live the high life. The other narrative of this story is one of abandonment and doing what you want – being as naughty as you like until you get caught in a car crash.
On August 31, it will be 20 years since Diana died; 20 years since our youngest woke us up on the morning after we returned from holiday, complaining that the usual programmes weren’t on the television “because the Queen died”; 20 years since I rang the office too late to offer my services, the ‘special edition’ already having been done; 20 years since the royal family wobbled, only to find queenly stability again.
Documentaries about the royals usually buy in plenty of soft soap, and any wider perspective is lost in the bubbles. That’s why I won’t be watching tonight: an aversion royal soap. Anyway, Nicholas Witchell is on hand usually on the BBC news to do a solemn summary, while conveying the expression of a man confined to the seventh circle of hell and condemned forever to pass on empty platitudes about the royal family.
As William and Kate’s visit to Poland has just shown, the royals do sterling duty in papering over embarrassing cracks, in that case helping Poland to forget inconvenient truths from the war. And the flag-waving newspapers are always on side to polish up the story, especially when young Prince George can be coaxed to supply a shy smile.
So much guff is written about the royals, isn’t it? And now my guff for the day has reached its end.