Around 1986, one of my best friends at the time showed me her “Diana collection”. I was 15, and, I recall, found it a little odd; my friend’s obsession with the Princess of Wales, and her box of photos, books, newspaper cuttings.
I was no Royalist. I was already a bit of a deep thinker; my subscription to U2’s fan club magazine Propaganda was high on my agenda of collectable things – not photos of a privileged Princess. And my style owed more to the pop Princess, Madonna, than the Windsor version.
By 1997, I was working as a football reporter, writing my own words, and my interest in Princess Diana, was neither here nor there. Her story was fascinating. The drama of her love life – and that’s what it was, let’s not pretend – fitted with my twentysomething mind, full of love, and heartbreak, and, of course,the all-important drama.
Her death, for me, was perfect timing. People often ask why so many wept so loudly, and so openly, over someone they didn’t know. I wonder myself when I see the images on my TV today of adult (and by that I mean well out of their 20s) men and women sobbing on the streets. I can’t answer for them, but I can for myself, and perhaps some may identify.
In my messed-up twentysomething head, Diana’s death was the perfect drama to add to my own drama. On the day she died, I lay in my bed, in my own flat, and cried. I was beside myself. ‘How could this beautiful woman be dead,’ I proclaimed, to no-one in particular. ‘She was just starting out again; she looked the best she’d ever looked; she was IN LOVE.’ I sobbed and wailed, and probably phoned my mum and my friends and did much of the same.
I, too, was in love. Or at least I thought I was. I was in the middle of a pointless affair, that would take another few years to work its way out of my system, when my thirst for drama was finally done. I saw him that night. He was a footballer, and all games had been postponed on the day of Diana’s death.
He came to my flat, a little tipsy, as I recall, and I was thrilled. He had chosen to mourn with me, to comfort me in this awful hour, he must love me, right? Of course he didn’t. He was at a loose end, and thought he’d have some fun on an unexpected day off was the reality.
But in my head the scenario was much more dramatic, much more romantic, and I lapped up the attention like a cartoon cat with a saucer of milk.
‘How could this beautiful woman be dead,” I proclaimed, to no-one in particular. She was just starting out again; she looked the best she’d ever looked; she was IN LOVE.
In the week that followed, in the lead-up to Diana’s funeral, I took flowers to Holyrood Palace, and I immersed myself in every single word that was written. I can’t remember if I wrote anything myself. I haven’t had the courage to look in my diary of the time – can you imagine the wailing words in there?!
I did collect every newspaper that week – I have every black masthead version of The Sun from the week leading up to her funeral, and many more. They’re packed in the attic in a box marked ‘Lady Princess Di’ – my preferred name for her when my twentysomething dramatic angst had passed.
I’m 46 now, ten years older than Diana was when she passed away. By 36 I was happy, finally, in the early days of relationship with my now husband. We’ve had a few ‘dramas’ over the years, but real, actual, tangible things, not of our own creating, like my twentysomething life traumas that largely were, as I tried to work out exactly where my place was in the world.
Of course I wonder where Diana’s place in the world would be now, but she still has one really, does she not? Of course her death mattered. She was a sister, a daughter, a mother, a lover, an ex-wife. She was young, and she died in a brutal, and violent way. It was sad, it is sad. But if I had been 46 then, I reckon I would have dealt with it in a very different way. Diana’s death affected me in no way at all, if the truth be told. I carried on with my life, she was buried and gone, and the Royals carried on regardless.
And twenty years on, whilst some may still weep and wail for her loss in the streets, I’ll take a moment to toast her, and the twentysomething Merle, with a cup of tea in a vintage Royal wedding mug.
I wonder if either of them would see the humour in that…