Diana 1961-1997: The age of duty and the stiff upper lip is over

Diana symbolised openness and that's why we mourn her. By Catherine Pepinster

The gathering of sorrowing crowds mourning Diana this past week came but a few short months after another great gathering in London: that moment when a joyous, jubilant people cheered Tony Blair as he and his wife swung past the gates of Downing Street to walk hand in hand to Number 10 on a sunny May afternoon.

But these two moments in the history of this nation, which seem at first so diverse, so conflicting, belong together, for they were turning points for Britain's psyche. They were the moments when a younger generation claimed Britain as its own. The present is another country. We do things differently now.

Tony Blair and Diana belong to a post-war generation, who speak a language far removed from that of the previous ruling class. The Queen and Lady Thatcher are of a similar age: just as the baroness kept the gates of Downing Street firmly shut against the people, so those of Buckingham Palace stayed closed, until last Friday anyway when they were forced open by public demand. Both women, now in their seventies, hardly ever dally with emotions. They are resolute, seemingly unshakeable, part of a generation brought up to believe in duty rather than rights.

Diana and the Prime Minister belong to a different generation, who have affirmed a need for something new - people values, if you like. The time for duty and the stiff upper lip has passed. Nothing could have told us more about how we feel about children and their upbringing than the anger felt by the public at this picture of the two young princes being driven to church last Sunday by a silent and apparently uncaring father. The days when a bereaved child, like JFK junior, should stand to attention like a little soldier, saluting his father's coffin, are gone for good.

And what of Prince Charles? He, like John Major, was born on the cusp of two very different eras, as the Second World War came to an end, but the mores of a time still lingered. Both are men who can show signs of a mawkish sentimentality - John Major with his yearning for warm beer, cricket on the green, and old maids on bicycles, and Prince Charles with his desire to revive classical architecture and the Book of Common Prayer. In attempting to construct the present, they hark back to a mythical golden age

Diana had no need of the past. Her own past (with her parents) had served her badly; how ironic that she was Charles's virginal bride because she was a Woman Without a Past. The Princess of Wales embodied her time, and made it her own by way of her influence on her generation's thinking. The way she brought up her boys, for instance, shared and shaped fellow parents' thinking on the need to provide time for children, to talk to them, help them enjoy life.

Women were reassured that their desire to find a fulfilling role for themselves was as valid as their care for their children. Diana more than anybody else made it clear that a woman could be both feminist and feminine. And in choosing her wardrobe and that of her sons, she showed that there was a time for formality and a time for themselves. Lady Thatcher and the Queen, on the other hand, never looked off-duty. Their very regality denies it. John Major and Prince Charles, as ever, typify a strangulated compromise. They might put on a woolly jumper but they just look ridiculous. What Diana realised but also reaffirmed was that in this age, a look, a soundbite, a gesture, are what have meaning.

"She made it okay to be human," said one mourner last week. Pain today is no longer something hidden away. The great communicator, Diana, allowed the British to admit to imperfections. She put them at ease with fallibility, and so they came to be at ease together last week outside the palace gates. Again, the connection between the election crowds in May and last week are there for all to see. Diana has been mourned by a similar crowd - predominantly youthful and multicultural.

But it is in death that she has shown how truly different this nation has become. The buttoned-up British, prompted by a woman of the therapy age, have let loose their feelings and felt it entirely natural to do so. Not that this has been an Oprah-style experience, but a quiet means of expressing loss.

Until now the British way of dealing with death has been to shy away from it. People often want to spare children its traumas, but it is impossible to keep them from the intense emotions of grief. The rituals of a funeral can be a means of allowing children a terrible but necessary realisation of their parent's demise.

Even more important is the need for a child to see the body of their mother and father, or other close relative, for it is the ultimate acknowledgement of death. Without it, a child cannot be absolutely sure that such a profound event has taken place. Taking my young cousin to see my grandmother was frowned on by many, but in seeing her she knew, absolutely, that she was no more, and in that uncanny, utter stillness, she knew death was terrible, but the dead are at peace at last. Diana's passing has taught us all of the rightness of grief.

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

    Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

    Early Years Educator

    £68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

    Nursery Nurse

    £69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

    Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam