Depressive Diana and the Prince of Wimps

Virginia Ironside can see only more misery ahead for all concerned
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The Independent Online
If any one of the 160,000 people who will probably get divorced next year wants a textbook example of how not to handle their break-up, they need look no further than the Royal Family.

It has been one long saga of unpleasantness. No doubt the Queen feels, like a vet faced with an animal in agony, that it would be kindest to put this marriage out of its misery.

But if they divorce, what will happen to Diana? She must have known divorce was in the air when she was interviewed on Panorama, making a last attempt to get public sympathy on her side. For the more she has the public in the palm of her hand, the more she can demand in a divorce. She has dreamt up a role for herself as a non-royal personage - the Queen of Hearts. But the truth is that, divorced from Charles, she won't be of as much interest to the public. If she's living with a banker boyfriend in a country house in Bucks, who will listen, riveted, to her every word on television? Who will long, in the watches of the night on the cancer ward, for a visit from the fairy princess herself?

Once divorced, she will almost certainly experience double depression. For she will be losing a title and an identity as well as a marriage. Nearly everyone feels depressed on getting divorced. They may feel delighted to be free of their partners, but they still feel miserably unhappy that all the hopes they had have officially died. In the same way as being married - a public act endorsed by law - is nothing like living together, so divorce is nothing like separation. The day the decree nisi comes is often a day of grieving even for couples who still loathe each other.

As a self-confessed depressive with self-esteem about as tall as a blade of recently mown grass, Diana will almost certainly slump into despair again. Like many people with a wobbly sense of themselves, she thrives on drama, and it won't be so easy to be dramatic when she's Mrs Nobody.

The divorce will be a relief to Charles. His pleasure can only be dimmed, however, by the fact that the idea has been initiated, as always, by his mother, rather than himself - another humiliation that will serve to fuel his image as prince of wimps.

And the children? Perhaps they will be relieved at the idea of a divorce, which will at least end the constant sniping between their parents, and, in particular, the sexual revelations, which embarrass all children (no child ever wants to imagine their parents having sex with anyone, even each other).

But more likely they will be extremely unhappy, for however much their parents gripe about each other, nearly every child harbours a fantasy that one day warring parents might finally be united to give them a secure and loving family. The spectre of stepmothers and stepfathers will start to haunt their dreams and their mother's male friends will cease to be jolly uncles and more like threats.

These anxieties can only be compounded by the fact that the Queen confirmed that she had broached the subject to their parents just before Christmas - another sign of how incredibly insensitive the Royal Family is towards children. The Queen delivered the news only five days before a day when Harry and William should be peacefully opening their stockings and singing carols, untroubled by their parents' tempestuous relationship.

And how will their divorce affect us, the people? The Charles and Di affair has been as revolting and compulsive as the Roman Circus. Our better selves will be glad that the spectacle of two dangerous and damaged people tearing each other to shreds is coming to an end; our worse selves will be baying for more blood, more revelation, but only partly because we thrill to the sight of blood. There has been, and still is, something quite instructive about their appallingly human and often archetypal behaviour. And one of the reasons we find it fascinating is because theirs is a ghastly morality tale from which we should all do well to learn.