Sit back and think of England

THE CRITICS
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I'VE been thinking about Princess Di, and it occurs to me that I too embarked on a love affair in the mid-1980s, having realised that my marriage was a fiasco. I too now live in lonely obscurity, so full of self-loathing that I sometimes feel bloated. By a curious coincidence I also have blonde (ish) hair (but not such a long neck), sometimes think my mail is being intercepted (possibly by a member of the Establishment) and, if the Queen required it of me, I would no doubt buckle down and produce heirs to the throne. It is from this position of profound empathy with the Princess that I have reached the conclusion that any woman in her right mind would have gone fairly nuts living with those Royals.

Princess Di's interview on Panorama (BBC1) was perfectly pitched to butter up the maximum number of people in just this way. She seemed to be one of us, not Them. I don't call this vengeful or manipulative. She simply harnessed the almost forgotten power of honesty. She praised Charles for his candour too. She says she doesn't want to sabotage the monarchy, but to revitalise it; she's made it seem both more glamorous and closer to the people. At least one Royal is earning her keep.

The audacity of the interview was much emphasised, but what did Diana have to lose? She's constantly peered at by the media anyway. The reasons for her readiness to confide in us are obvious. She's given herself an education: lunches with Clive James, therapy sessions with Susie Orbach, colonic irrigations with someone so far unnamed and frequent phone calls with Fergie. Diana's a New Woman and she wants it proclaimed from the rooftops.

She can certainly put on quite a show. It was high drama, a mixture of Di-alas and Dinasty; better than John le Carre, with her suggestion of MI5 machinations and malevolent PR men scuttling down palace corridors with tales of mental instability.

Who wouldn't fall for this heroine, flung into such an unwelcoming environment at the age of 19 and still able to conduct herself with aplomb in fancy evening dresses today? She disappeared into the royal sanctum a mere child and has come out a puny and vulnerable adult, proudly boasting of her strength. A beauty, who lies alone on her four-poster bed, thinking of England (or Wales), who wanders Kensington Palace in search of a fridge, who sets off for Argentina with her heart on her sleeve. I like her so much better than the dull creature in Lycra shorts zooming away from cameras in a sports car with blurry number plates, the coward who could only explain herself via her friends, the Sloane Ranger who fell for the whole Prince Charming bit like a fairytale fool. It turns out she's real. TV is rarely so elucidating.

Pity the people who didn't watch it! I know someone who went to an evening class. Perhaps a few nightworkers missed it as well. And of course Prince Charles who, in his capacity as "husband", would rather not know what his wife's thinking. While Di beguiled the nation with her sorrows, he drowned his with a huge flat fish - the people of Newlyn gave him a turbot. According to opinion polls, 93 per cent of his subjects would gladly have throttled him with it. Now the papers talk of divorce but still insist that he can't marry Camilla - "the people wouldn't stand for it". What the people won't stand for is any more sham. Why don't they marry whoever they bloody well like and leave us out of it? Give Di a slice of the money and let her get on with her state openings of the heart. She's great.

For days there has been fallout. First was Nicholas Soames, Minister of State for the Armed Forces, who on Newsnight (BBC2) attempted to discredit Di by saying she must be paranoid to think that anyone might wish to discredit her. Following this logic, you would be called arachnophobic if you objected to being covered in tarantulas. I never did trust a man who stores food for the winter in his cheeks. Portillo stood up for him, but he would, wouldn't he? They both need a crash course in diplomacy.

In fact the immediate response around the country, mainly gathered through interviews with people in pubs, seemed rather hardhearted. By the next day, the furore was all about the Constitutional Implications. So much anger, just because the silent woman finally spoke. But then on Channel 4 News a neurolinguistic psychologist discovered, by careful analysis of Princess Di's eye movements, that she was sincere, and by Wednesday it was clear from all the polls that Di was the only member of the Royal Family, besides the poor unvisited Queen Mother, with any charisma.

Fred West told his children he'd invented television. Proof came this week when he invaded all four channels at once. As soon as Rosemary West's trial was over, rival networks rushed to cobble together competing programmes which were then all broadcast simultaneously. Why did they frantically foist such unpolished stuff on us? They've had years to prepare. I expected details of the arrest and police investigation, excerpts from court transcripts and the Fred West tapes, prosecution witnesses lined up to tell all. Instead we got vague illustrations. In Dispatches (C4) we saw a car being driven fast through (presumably) Gloucester, the village sign of Much Marcle (that oddly comic name), a glimpse of a mobile home, and repeated footage of policemen carrying boxes of human remains to a van.

None the less, as in the Di interview, our impression of Rosemary changed overnight. No scapegoat she, tried in place of Fred, but a person who frothed at the mouth with rage and had to be told by Fred, "If you're going to hit the children, make sure it doesn't show." By the age of 17, she had been convicted of collaborating with him in a terrifying assault on a young woman.

Questions were asked in Public Eye (BBC2) about how it could have gone on so long, despite the fact that teachers, doctors, the police, social services and even the NSPCC were given indications of various forms of abuse in the West household. Some say we need a computer to help keep track of child abusers, and that not so much was known about such things in 1980. But you didn't need a computer to tell you the Wests were dangerous. Twenty years passed after that first assault before they were put out of action. The complacency of the police is beyond belief.

On Newsnight (BBC 2) Kirsty Wark tried to coax some information out of a few supposed experts, from Michael ("There was nothing we could have done") Honey of Gloucestershire County Council, to Chief Constable Tony Butler, ridiculous in his elaborate epaulettes, who accused Wark of asking "quiz questions" like "Did the police know that Anne Marie was being subjected to underage sex?". Then came Dr Eileen Vizard, a psychiatrist specialising in sexual abuse and hideous jewellery, who obviously hoped that her brooch (apparently a scoop of molten lava) would distract us from the emptiness of her argument. Meanwhile, Behind Closed Doors (ITV) had the miserable monologue of Anne Marie herself, who feels she survived because she was cowed and compliant. Perhaps the police were following the same formula.

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