28th August 1998
If only Diana had been a Jew
She was always the Fairytale Princess, and fairytales are vicious stories, full of curses and misery and bloodshed. Perhaps we should have expected her to die.
But when it happened, the world was so terribly shocked that our reactions became a bigger issue than her death.
I heard the news on CNN, very early on the Sunday morning, in the gym of a Berlin hotel. The previous night I had recorded a light-hearted TV show, and I was planning to take the family shopping on the Ku’damm after breakfast. I have to bicycle hard for 50 or 60 minutes, to damp down my energy levels, first thing in the day. At home, I write while I cycle, but in Berlin I didn’t have my specially adapted machine. So I watched TV.
I’m telling you this to emphasise the mundanity of it. I was in an anonymous hotel. I wasn’t doing anything special at that minute, and I wasn’t planning anything special for the whole day. But I can recall everything about 6.15am European Time on August 31, as if it happened an hour and not a year ago. The sports shirt I was wearing and the squeak in the right pedal of my bike and the wary, disbelieving tone in the newscaster’s voice as she relayed the first announcement, that Diana had been seriously injured in a car crash in Paris, and then the second – that Diana was dead.
The roomful of books published about her since then have interpreted the fairytale in every possible light. Andrew Morton made her death the tragically inevitable consequence of a royal soap opera, like the demise of Bobby Ewing in Dallas. One of the weird qualities of grief is to make everything unreal, and half the world believed with Morton for months that the twisting plotlines dreamed up by Buckingham Palace must eventually mean Diana would be written back into the story.
Internet conspiracists agreed – the crash was a mock-up, engineered by the super-rich Fayeds, to give the young lovers freedom from the ever-watching world. Or it was a secret service murder – the central character was being dropped because the actress had become too demanding.
As the soap washed off, the psychologists stepped in. Diana was claimed as an icon for the Freudians, the Jungians, the nihilists, the New Agers, the post-moderns, the post-feminists, the far Left, the far Right, the monarchists and the anarchists. Books with titles like Deconstructing Diana and The Id And Di claimed her as a sexual liberator, a victim of food fascism, a media manipulator and a paparazzi puppet. In the hands of her brother she became a weapon, as he stood in the Abbey and took arms against her estranged in-laws. In the eyes of mourners who laid 10,000 tons of flowers at Kensington Palace, she was simply a saviour.
In Britain, the predominately Christian media have struggled with this multi-faceted icon. A saviour who dies without absolving her own sins? The virgin mother of the future King, who has a succession of brutally painful love affairs? She is a muddle of sin and saintliness and sex and celibacy. Diana, even as a goddess, is a very different kind of goddess to Mary.
One year on, the world is much more confused about its fairytale princess than ever it was when she was alive.
And yet I don’t feel confused. All the talk of ritual significance and religious symbolism sounds like a foreign language. To me, Diana was a woman and a mother. To her children – to all children, in fact – she behaved as a good mother. To her husband, and her lovers (including the press), she behaved as a capricious woman. Is that hard to understand?
Perhaps this is a Jewish perspective. The Jews abandoned all worship of goddesses when Moses brought the tablets down from Mount Sinai. We don’t expect women to achieve transcendent holiness, just because they want to help sick youngsters. The God of the Jews is male. The women of the Jews are noble and inspiring – Judith and Ruth, Esther and Bathsheba. They are not icons or saviours. To make them into goddesses would be a sin against God.
This is the great strength of Jewishness – it’s simplicity. Men are men and women are women. There are good acts and bad deeds. There is love and family and faith and prayer. We are all equal, and the impossible is expected of no-one.
If Diana had been treated as a woman and not a myth, a girl and not a goddess, we would have understood her a great deal better. And perhaps hounded her less. If Diana had been Jewish…
But that, of course, would have been quite impossible.
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