Summer of '97. How was it for you?

You win some, you lose some... Kim Sengupta on the vicissitudes of the season
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The Independent Online
It was the best of times, and the worst of times. For many the sun shone brightly all the way, but others, and their egos, took public drenchings. As Tony Blair surveys the state of the nation on his first day back from a three week holiday, The Independent takes a look at the winners and losers over the summer months.

As the silly season draws to a close one woman has been dominating the headlines. The dalliance of Princess Diana with Dodi, the son of Harrod's owner Mohamed Al Fayed, has occupied acres of newspaper space, and made some of the paparazzi very wealthy indeed.

In between her repeated holidays with playboy Dodi, the princess found time to visit victims of landmines in Bosnia, where to show her compassion, she cried a lot and hugged perfect strangers. All these were terrific photo opportunities, and confirmed her as the " Queen of Hearts".She was, as the tabloids would say " a right Royal winner".

Also a winner is Mohamed Al Fayed. He and his brother Ali may not have succeeded in getting British passports, but the Egyptian-born tycoon has a good chance of seeing his son end up as the stepfather of the future king.

This is not his only triumph of the summer. His anger with the establishment led to the public humiliation of former minister Jonathan Aitken after the loss of his High Court libel case. A number of other prominent Tories had already disappeared from public life thanks to information supplied by Mr Al Fayed. Among them was Neil Hamilton, who is now trying to carve out a new life with his formidable wife Christine.

Perhaps Mr and Mrs Hamilton have been influenced by the cult series This Life, about a group of twentysomethings leading a hedonistic lifestyle in London. Many of the cast are now household names with glittering futures ahead.

Not everyone has been so lucky. Even in space you can have a bummer of a summer. When British-born astronaut Michael Foale arrived at the Mir space station he could not have possibly known it was going to turn into the first extra-terrestrial soap opera.

And if one cannot get away from misfortune even up there, what chance did the earthbound Peter Mandelson have? On 2 May he was the great architect of the most comprehensive electoral victory this century, arguably the second most powerful man in Britain. Then came The Dome.

The minister without portfolio has been facing his own personal millenium meltdown. The saga of The Dome, with the contract first going to a German company and then an American one after a public row has shown a chink in Mr Mandelson's urbane armour.

The dome was also a thread which bound another bright young star expected to be launched into the Blair firmament, and now left spluttering in the cold. Bob Ayling, the chief executive of British Airways, is fronting the New Millenium Experience. He is also the man whose proposed reforms of his airline led to strikes, with public sympathy seemingly on the side of the employees.

His consolation is that he was instrumental in introducing a new form of industrial action, workers going sick in droves. The battle cry is no longer "one out, all out", but "sorry, can't work today, got a headache".

The Mandelson factor is also present in a group whose reputation lost out, MI5. The James Bonds targeted the minister himself as a suspected communist fellow traveller. When not eavesdropping on civil liberties groups the master spies were allegedly drunkenly telling their friends outside the service about the most secret operations.

One thing the blundering agents did stumble across was a deficiency in the banking system. Allegedly hundreds of thousands of pounds were paid into the bank account of Guardian journalist Victoria Brittain by Libyan sources for the head of security of the Ghanaian military regime to take libel action against The Independent. Ms Brittain never discovered the source of the money.

The Secretary of State for International Development took a singular approach about the leaders of Montserrat, the Caribbean island suffering from a volcanic eruption, accusing them of treating Britain like a " milch cow" and falling into the dependency culture. Her comments caused outrage on Montserrat.

This was not, of course the first time Ms Short's statements had caused controversy. Just a few months previously earlier in the summer she had criticised the millenium dome, claiming it was a waste of money. This would not have endeared her to Mr Mandelson.

Good season...

bad season


Diana, Princess of Wales

Cast of This Life

British tourists abroad

Wine drinkers

Mike Atherton

Mark Taylor

Mohamed Al Fayed


Clare Short

Peter Mandelson

British farmers

Apple growers

Bob Ayling

Jonathan Aitken