Thursday, 17 January 2008

Diana Inquiry--Rewriting History & Subpoenaing Secrets

I am not following the Diana, Princess of Wales, inquest closely because I, unlike Mohammed Fayed, understand that even famous people can die in car crashes (see James Dean, Harry Chapin, Eddie Cochran, Albert Camus, Margaret Mitchell, Jayne Mansfield, Isadora Duncan, General George S Patton, Jackson Pollock, Bessie Smith,, Lisa Lopes, to name a few). Indeed, there is even a precedent for extremely famous princesses who are much admired icons to die in a car crash (see Princess Grace of Monaco aka Grace Kelly). I also understand that, when someone is not wearing a seatbelt AND they are in a speeding car AND the driver is known to drive recklessly AND he is drunk, the risk of death is, unfortunately, fairly high, even without your former father-in-law plotting your death, particularly when it was not he who chose to put you in that position.

However, disinterested as I am, two things occurred to me when reading the paper about the testimony of her butler, Paul Burrell. And these are not profound thoughts to offer great insight that will "solve the case." No, they are just observations and a hope that I never find myself in a similar situation as he is in now (not that that is a vote of sympathy; it is not.)

One thought is that an awful thing about this whole process is that a portrait could be painted of you after your death by people who may be mistaken or may just want to make pronouncements about you for various reasons—to make it look for their own benefit like they were closer to you than they really were, or to ‘set the record straight’, but rather than straight, set it however they choose. And whatever happens, you are not there to contradict them, to clarify the real situation or the reasons you really did things. Your whole history, your personality and true principles and thoughts could be rewritten by people who did not know you at all, merely hoped to or claim to have done or only saw one small part of you, perhaps from a distance. How horrid and unfair and, in some cases, irreversible.

For instance, Burrell can continue to tell the world that he had enormous influence over the princess, which I don’t fully buy but care too little about to tax my life with it. I can accept he might have suggested what dress she wear occasionally and that, as she suffered from depression at times, she might accept support from him of the "don’t worry, your Royal Highness, you look great and it will be all right" type of thing you would not normally accept from a servant. Maybe there was more; I clearly wouldn’t know nor do I intend to read his books to research the argument. But he can decide, in this case, to make it clear to the world, because he claims this closeness and inside knowledge, that she absolutely had no interest in Dodi Fayed other than to make her ex jealous, that she would never have been serious about him, not in such a short time and whilst on the rebound. I expect that’s true, but my point is that Burrell might not know for sure but decided to make that a formal proclamation as someone close to the driver’s seat (not Henri Paul’s seat, fortunately for Burrell), so it looks like fact. So can her other friends, all the people who dislike Mohamed Al Fayed and resent the fact that her life is being picked through like this at his insistence. (In much the same way, really, that Al Fayed has seized upon the fact that Dodi bought a ring right before the accident, but why is that a big deal? It doesn't mean she'd have accepted him; it seems likely she would have said "no".) In fact, someone who barely knew her could convince enough people that he or she did before dispensing fascinating "facts" about this stranger, or some close friend who fell out with her at the end could tell the court all about Diana's love for rolling on a bed of dill pickles smothered in Marmite and how she used to beat her pet goldfish when no one was around.

Burrell's comments about Dodi Al Fayed are, frankly, probably accurate, and certainly make more sense than anything Mohamed Al Fayed had come out with. Mohamed was probably just so thrilled when Diana started seeing Dodi, Dad Al Fayed finally saw his chance to be someone in England at last, to get the citizenship he had so craved, to be accepted in the slot in society that he’d thought buying Harrod’s would allow him to fill. Suddenly, this chance, this burgeoning potential hope, was dashed, on top of which he lost his son, and that never makes sense to a parent, so paranoia and bitterness can creep in. When you lose a loved one, you look for a reason for the tragic event but there generally isn’t a reason. We all die; when and how it happens doesn’t always make sense.

The other principal thought I had was how utterly horrible and seemingly wrong it is that your very private journals, something that in most cases you expected would always be guarded from human eyes other than your own at least until your death, and for that reason where you wrote your most private and often darkest thoughts, can be subpoenaed by a court and made public, even when you have committed no crime. I don’t just mean Diana’s but Burrell’s. The same with private letters to you from close friends (or employers you call close friends), which you should be entitled to save forever in the privacy of your home, but in this case, and if you hide either the letters or your journals, you are in contempt of court, or forced to be dishonest under oath by denying their existence or saying you are unsure where they are.

The alternative seems to be to burn them all upon that person’s death, as Diana’s mother apparently began doing in terms of Diana’s private papers, but that seems so very wrong and it is so final. But she must have been protecting her daughter from all this—or herself, who knows. Really, what right do we have to see the private papers and letters of this woman or, for that matter, her butler? I understand that we are trying to piece things together and these are parts of the puzzle. But I would be mortified if asked to disclose my personal papers or journals, and I barely have any and I certainly have much less to worry about. This struggle for some sort of justice seems in this way to go against the laws of natural justice.

Though maybe, in the current climate of blogging and Facebook where people put their thoughts (and foolishly, their personal contact details) out there for anyone to see, and sharing personal photos and videos online, and where we have too many reality shows where we watch caged humans every second of the day and night for several weeks, and we (well, not I) rush to buy the bazillion weekly magazines there are to show you photos of celebrities stepping out of cars and shops and bikinis (the latter no doubt through a mega-zoom lens unless it’s someone like Courtney Love), no one much minds about secrets anymore, and maybe privacy is passé. Hence the encouragement for the paparazzi, who chased the Princess into the tunnel for some dull shot through a speeding car's window of her beside her new boyfriend, no doubt with their faces covered, a photo that should have been worth very little.

I guess it’s not trendy to want to live quietly in the shadows of the corner of the room anymore. But I’ve never been trendy.

Thursday, 10 January 2008


If you’re near the South Bank in London this week, or if you are looking for an unusual gift of jewellery, it would be worth popping into the Dazzle exhibition at the National Theatre, but you must hurry as it ends on Saturday, 12 January. I believe it will open in Glasgow in April.

I meant to go last year but missed it, but yesterday managed to get there at lunchtime and found my mother’s birthday present, an interesting bracelet made by Alena Asenbryl from Manchester, who uses textiles, plastics and mixed metals for her creations. According to the brochure, director Tim Burton has apparently commissioned her to do work for him—lucky Helena Bonham-Carter. Timely link, in a way, as his film Sweeney Todd opens at Leicester Square today.

The artistic creations—more than 3,000 works for sale by 76 designers--are worth viewing even if you have no intention of buying anything, and there is no entry fee. The exhibition is a rather small, quiet affair, but not the least bit intimidating. I pictured some large trade fair set-up with the artists eyeballing you as you nervously glanced over or guiltily walked past their goods, but it consists of several glass cases on the first floor of the National Theatre in the Olivier Foyer in a peaceful, uncrowded atmosphere. As I went on a weekday afternoon, there were few others there but the woman minding ‘the shop’ was not intrusive and instead just very bubbly, enthusiastic and helpful when I did make my purchase. I had the bonus of listening to the actors and frequent laughter through the walls of the matinee of Much Ado About Nothing starring Simon Russell Beale (is this man never out of work?) and Zoe Wanamaker.

There were several items available for just under £30, quite a few temptations for around £50-60, and the most interesting necklaces cost over £100. The materials used vary, there are a few more precious gems but mostly they consist of metal, textiles, magnets and even fish skin. The bracelet I chose had a matching necklace and earrings that were far beyond what I intended to spend, but also a bit too OTT artsy to picture on my mother’s head, so I felt less guilty breaking up the set. I had found several different things that I almost bought, although admittedly a few of the earrings I nearly chose had me worried that, although they were clearly impressive unique specimens of art by true talent, she might not realise when opening the box that they weren’t something I picked up from Accessorize, and I wanted to ensure she could tell it was special (but in most cases, that was obvious). I’ll send her the brochure as well, to help….

If you are not fond of necklaces, earrings, and bracelets, there are numerous impressive cufflinks, including asymmetrical ones, as well as some little boxes, small wall hangings, mirrors, vases and embroidered images….all sorts of things to grab your interest. Everything is available to take away with you, which then kind of diminishes the exhibition for those who follow--it is good the National Gallery doesn't operate the same policy--but there is plenty to keep them enthralled.

This is no Victoria & Albert Museum day trip that will have you gasping at the wonder of it, but it’s worth stopping by to have a look or even consider a purchase, particularly if you have any gift to buy in the coming year….then you can stroll by the river afterwards, take in one of the many things to do on the South Bank, wander through the NT bookshop or nearby Foyle’s, or eat at nearby Wagamamas.

But go soon or you’ll miss the fine opportunity. It’s open Monday through Saturday, 9.30am to 11pm. Visit the website. (The photos on this page are of works by, from top to bottom, Alenda Asenbryl, Elizabeth Bone, Gail Klevan and Julie Allison.)

On the way back, I passed comedian Tony Hawks jogging down Cheapside with a blonde woman who reminded me of the actress in Elling, which I meant to report on some time ago, along with a million other topics in my head….and I hope to find more time soon!