Diana's dismal fate: to dress up and go out

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The Independent Online
I WAS there when the Princess of Wales made her famous Joke, the one about how she was supposed to be spending the day with her head down the loo. It was received with thunderous applause: the room was practically vibrating with sympathy for her. I've now seen the Princess in the flesh twice, and the most striking thing about her is that she is much taller than anyone else. But last week she also came across as funny, grown up (eight years ago, when I last saw her, she hardly lifted her eyes from the floor) and gritty.

She was doing well to joke last week. Her sons had gone back to boarding school. She arrived red- eyed at the theatre, and, as is the way with red eyes, looking a bit ugly. Barbara Cartland claimed she was vomiting again. She came face-to-face with Camilla Parker Bowles, and lost her detective, the former provider of useful services like winning the Father's Day race at school. The Daily Mail said her clothes were old-fashioned. And she had to unveil the new Birthright logo.

For most of us, the reason to get dressed up in our best jackets and sit in a packed room was not primarily to admire Birthright's new name. The videos of its work, interesting though they were, hadn't brought the many glossy women with Alice bands, expensive clothes and good legs together. (I trailed back to the Tube behind Gail Ronson though I don't think she was going by Underground.) Everyone wanted to see whether Diana really did need a fashion update, or looked as if she had spent the morning throwing up. My views on these important questions are that her jacket was intensely covetable, though her hair has got rather mumsy, a bit like Vivienne Westwood's. There were no visible signs of bulimia.

Poor Diana herself never has this sort of exciting incentive to dress up and go out. For her, it was just a logo-unveiling. Nor does she have a man to admire and fuss her when she looks special - nor indeed, any foreseeable chance of being allowed one. The only person she has to dress up for is herself; her own glory, her own pictures in the papers. This is a dismally solipsistic way of carrying on, and if, as she says, she is not about to be taken away by men in white coats, she is doing very well. In her position I would never have my head out of the lavatory.

MY WHOLE family developed colds last week, and trailed off to bed in shifts, sniffling and looking helpless. It is when people get sick that you realise that family life really is breaking down. I can shrug off suggestions that we have a mum deficit when we are all fit, but when the family retires to bed ill, I realise that quite a lot of the time I am just not there.

Childhood illness used to mean being wrapped in a lovely cocoon-world of grapes, comics, and padding downstairs in the afternoon to lie on the sofa. There was a ritual to being ill, which everyone understood, and which was itself part of getting better. But it all crucially depended on the presence of a mum.

Last week I left my red-nosed son in bed in the care of a nanny, who is a different nanny from the one who looked after him when he was last ill. He needed motherly tucking-up and warm Ribena, but I had meetings, deadlines, and all those other things which I tell myself are so self-fulfilling.

My sister had a cold too, and lay grumbling that illness always used to mean getting a bag of satsumas, but nowadays her husband was too busy to leave work and buy them. What she really craved, she said, was a home-made chicken casserole with mushy carrots. What she got was some yukky yuppie ready-made dish called courgette boats. And this was after a day of Weetabix, because they don't keep any other food in the house, lurching as they do from work to takeaways and chill-cook. Never mind the numbers of single mothers or the divorce statistics, colds are the leading index of the breakdown of family life.

FLIPPING through the Penguin Book of Interviews, I have been struck by the long history of controversy surrounding the interview. Rudyard Kipling regarded them as a crime against the person - as did Marlon Brando, after he'd been done over by Truman Capote: 'The little bastard spent half the night telling me all his problems,' Brando said. 'I figured the least I could do was tell him a few of mine.'

This reminds me of what I like to think of as the Howard Jacobson theory (though I suspect Jacobson may well have made it up on the spot and forgotten it now): that you can tell in advance how vicious the copy is likely to be by the degree of chaos of the in terviewer. Really cruel copy - I think this is the theory - is subliminal revenge for the disorgani sation of the journalist's life. The solution, he said, would be to offer the interviewee a few hundred words printed in a box alongside to give his or her version of the encounter.

As a reader, I think this is a brilliant idea. As an occasional interviewer - as indeed, someone who has turned up sopping wet because it's raining and I've lost my umbrella, and discovered that the batteries for my tape recorder aren't working, and contrived to make my pen leak all over my hands and my interviewee's carpet - I am less sure.

I HAVE long suspected that Michael Winner's women are not wholly human. How else to account for the unstoppable series of gorgeous-looking girls who are prepared to put up with all that shouting in restaurants, or the apparent restless need to have his attractiveness confirmed by young blondes? Could he have access to some inexhaustible supply of Stepford Girlfriends?

If so, the robots appear to be flawed, because Winner revealed last week that two of them had had abortions, so denying him the chance of fatherhood. Might they have concluded that Winner - who picked up Jenny Seagrove ('much older than the girls I usually go out with') in Israel while juggling the two other girlfriends who were flying out to join him - would not be a great father?

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