A Perrier with the Princess

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A Perrier with the Princess

Postby bjr » Fri Jan 18, 2008 10:44 am

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/u ... 348440.ece


From the pavement where I was standing, in the covered pathway to the restaurant in Park Lane, there was not a paparazzo to be seen. Yet, according to the manager who had brought us the warning message, there was a pack of them out there.

Inside, sitting at the table where we had just finished lunch, was a worried waitress and the Princess of Wales. Outside, I was left looking through the haze of fumes to Marble Arch and back, unable to see the slightest bulge of Japanese plastic, the faintest glint of lens, the least sound of Italian-speaking, motorbike-driving paparazzo.

Somewhat shamefacedly, I returned to the table. Just as a precaution The Times driver was contacted and sent round to a side entrance. The Princess continued calmly to sip her bottled water and talk about herself, her husband, his family, her work, her problems and the complex cat's-cradle which the media wove between them all.

The date was May 18, 1994, not the worst of days for the then wife of the Prince of Wales but not a good day either. Even when she arrived at the restaurant, she had worn a quick smile and a bad-news frown. There was no preamble. Her face was stretched into the faintest pattern of lines and circles and her question was wholly rhetorical: "Well, do we know how this particular story got into the papers this morning?"

She did know. The subject of the day was the Princess's "grooming expenses" which, according to the Daily Mail and others, were higher than Pounds 3,000 a week. "My husband said it at a dinner party last week, where it got to Ross Benson and to Nigel Dempster and now there's all this stuff," she complained. Most of the "stuff" had been helpful hints from journalists about how much her various suits and shoes might have cost and how readers might replicate them at lower prices. "No one mentions all HIS stuff", she smiled dryly, "the bracelet at Christmas for me and the necklace, bought at the same time on the same bill from the same shop, which I never see."

I paused - in some surprise. We had spoken for barely five minutes. It was already clear that this was not to be a wide-ranging conversation. Whatever else is said about Diana, Princess of Wales, in this dreadful week, let it not be said that she lacked sophistication about the media, her use of it and its use of her. She could be as "on message" as the most disciplined determined New Labour apparatchik. She was as charming that day as everyone always says that she is. But she did not move outside the lines that she had most clearly defined.

Inside those lines were the very aspects of her life which most people keep outside in discussion with newspaper editors - her husband, his mistress, her in-laws, her own fragile sense of herself. Within minutes I felt I was talking to someone I knew. By the time that she had toyed her way through her foie gras and lamb, I knew things about her that I did not know about my closest friends.

I should admit now that, before this lunch, I had a very low level of interest in what I would have called at that time "our Royal soap opera". I assumed, wrongly, that a large amount of the journalism generated by the juvenile Windsors was misleading, false, fourth-hand, or worse. I did not immediately accept the analysis which she set out with such care. But this was long before the Panorama interview. To read what seemed like recycled gossip about iconic characters was one thing. To hear so directly from the central player was quite another. I presume that many others in our business had the same experience.

The Princess complained of how her husband's family divided the charity world between its long-established members - a Duchess for hospices, a Duke for animals, a Princess for children. Occasionally twisting the stem of an empty glass, she described how hard it was for her to enter where her real interests led and where the real demand for her was so high.

I had not expected her to be fond of the Dimbleby biography of her husband. But it was different again to hear her views directly. "Did you know that it originally was supposed to contain nothing about our relationship at all? How were readers supposed to think that the children came? By immaculate conception?"

"By divine right of kings," I ventured, trying with difficulty to enter into the spirit of this dialogue. "Oh great, by DI-vine right," she giggled. "That's just what did happen."

The speed with which she ran through her list of subjects would not have disgraced a bank chairman anxious to catch the Ascot train. One moment she was on the subject of John Major's allegedly feeble response to the "could Camilla be queen?" question: "Major and my husband are both very alike, quite BFs these days, always seeing each other." The next moment it was how photographers could help her to present her case to the people. Next it was how stuffiness and protocol prevented her from going to John Smith's funeral: "It may not have been a full state occasion but it became a powerful public event and no one from the Royal Family was there."

"Did you object or try and explain that to anyone?" I asked. "No, it would be awful to have been turned down twice," she said.

Underlying everything was her sense of her personal contact, through the media, with the British people and the family's fear of that. "My husband's father once sent me a long formal letter setting out the duties of the Princess of Wales. There was 'much more to it than being popular', he said. I sent him back a long letter in reply. He sent me a shorter one - and so on until I finally signed off with 'it's been so nice getting to know you like this'. One day those letters will all be found in the archives. So will the memos by which my husband and I communicate too. Can you believe it?"

She made it clear that she alone, she felt, could manage her image, her job and her family. She felt that her husband's friends were manipulating the press against her - as they had done on this very day - and that her only recourse was to fight like with like. And on this day too, she had a plan.

To my horror she began to set out a complicated story about how she had helped a tramp who had fallen into the Regent's Park canal and was going to see him in hospital that afternoon. This "Diana rescues tramp" story was new to me. But I had missed enough "royal exclusives" in my life to be far from sure that I had not just somehow missed this one too.

That prospect obviously worried her as well. I did not seem interested enough. Some bits of her story did not fit together as well as a true story should. Yet it seemed churlish to cross-examine a Princess who, in any case, had such a clear and crowded agenda of her own.

It was just at this moment that we were saved by the waitress and her warning that the newspaper paparazzi - with their special guides to pricing dresses, shoes and hats - were gathered outside the main restaurant door for her exit.

The Times car was at the side. We both slipped out of the door - and into the back seat. "University College Hospital," I said and we drove back across Park Lane. I began to explain to our passenger that this ruse was all rather pointless since no paparazzi were anywhere to be seen. Then she pointed to the wooded area in the central reservation of the road. First one lens caught the light. Then another behind a low branch, another on a thick trunk and others she said that she saw up in the trees. There was one man that she recognised, another that she began to wave to before the moment had passed and the car was on its way to the tramp.

There was then a sharp banging on the top of the car. I started with alarm. The Princess was much calmer. Sitting six feet above the road, holding no camera that either of us could see, a unicyclist was correcting his balance with a rest upon our roof.

Later that day a royal messenger delivered a thick cream letter, thanking me for the "rescue" in an airy open hand. "Today of all days it meant a great deal to me not to be photographed." The next day the newspapers carried full acounts of how the Princess had saved the tramp. The Times carried the story too, though without any briefing from me. It seemed perhaps the least interesting part of what the Princess had said.
To my critics
When I'm in a sober mood, I worry, work and think,
When I'm in a drunken mood, I gamble, play and drink,
But when my moods are over and my time has come to pass,
I hope I'm buried upside down, so the world may kiss my ar*e
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Re: A Perrier with the Princess

Postby Groom1 » Sat Jan 26, 2008 5:39 pm

The tramp story was typical of the way this woman led her Life In The Media - kidnap someone else's good deed and claim it for your own. :roll: She hijacked the Duchess of Kent's secret visits to people in hospices and thrust this into the media spotlight. Thus making public that which the Duchess preferred to remain private, and knowing now that the press will associate The Princess of Wales+hospices - forever in their hearts.... :roll: :roll:
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