The Windsors still don't understand us

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The Independent Online
No one is bothering to ask each other what they are doing at the weekend. No one needs to. If we are not going to line the route of Diana's funeral we will be watching it on TV. A unique funeral for a unique person maybe, but already there are mutterings that it will not be unique enough. What kind of public ritual, you might ask, could possibly satisfy everyone? What has been striking about the so-called "ordinary" members of the public who have displayed their overwhelming sense of loss is that so many of them are those who otherwise feel under-represented in society. Those who loved Diana truly were that prized political entity, a rainbow coalition of diverse groups - old and young, black and white, gay and straight.

Reporters in America have been remarking on the numbers of black and Hispanic mourners there are. Diana, it seems, spoke to everyone who has at one time or another felt marginalised. Diana the drama-queen was obviously a big gay icon, and not simply because of her work with people with Aids. She spoke somehow to life's losers while cavorting with its winners. How on earth can a state occasion, which of course this is, whether acknowledged or not, possibly represent such a diversity?

More to the point, how can the Royal Family, an institution that represents the antithesis of democracy, organise the funeral of a young woman whom people felt in their hearts to be instinctively full of democratic impulses, who consistently broke down the barriers between "us" and "them"?

The signs are already there that the other Royals have not, unfortunately, learnt a thing from this tragedy. Their apologists have informed us that the Royals just do things differently from normal people. Normal people think they just do things badly. The question the firm asked of Diana when she was alive, "Why can't she be more like us?" was always the wrong one. It should, of course, have been: "Why can't we be more like her?"

We are now experiencing the peculiar spectacle of a Labour government gently nudging the Royal Family into the 20th century, urging it to take notice of the people's wishes. The image of royalty since the death is that they are closeted away somewhere in their cold castle, unable or uninterested in judging the public mood. One can't help wondering whose advice they are taking, for it is the wrong advice. So concerned are they with keeping up appearances, they seem to have forgotten just who those appearances are for. If the public is no longer impressed by stiff upper lips, by pushing grief-stricken boys into suits and sending them off to a church service where their mother is not even mentioned; if the future king cannot even put his arm around his young sons, then what and whom is it all for? The horrible truth is that they are further isolating themselves. Charles is keeping up appearances for his parents, just as he has always done. Is he still, after everything that has happened, too weak to stand up to them?

Diana was the princess of a young country. Both she and "Call me Tony" Blair signalled a new informality, the end of the age of deference. Blair may do it through language and lifestyle; Diana did it physically, grabbing and hugging and touching. She literally held people to her. The establishment refuses to recognise that it is possible to be informal and still maintain dignity. Yet Nelson Mandela has done it, and Clinton has done it. Blair has done it and in many ways in their mourning for Diana, the great British public has done it.

Both Blair and Diana share a fairly middle-brow rather than high cultural taste. Diana liked Elton John and Wayne Sleep, Phil Collins and Prokofiev. If that is what she liked, then this is what she should have. That is, the funeral has both to capture the person she was as well as symbolise her huge importance. In order to do this, surely some of the protocol has to be cut through. It is already rumoured that Clinton wanted to come, but was stopped because such an honour is reserved for heads of state. The idea of putting her coffin on a gun carriage also jars. A militaristic operation seems entirely inappropriate for a woman who campaigned against land mines.

The Royal Family cannot reclaim her as one of them in death when in life they stripped her of her title. Public feeling is already running high at this hypocrisy. The Palace looks increasingly ill-equipped to deal with the desires of the people. In opening only five books in which people could give their condolences, they severely underestimated the demand. People were having to queue for up to eight hours and it was only after Richard Branson's plea on Newsnight that more books were fetched. Similarly, there are many who say that the route of the funeral procession is nowhere near long enough to accommodate all those who will wish to turn out to see it.

The terrible shock of Diana's death might, one would have thought, have finally catapulted the rest of the Royals into the 1990s. Yet there is little evidence of this. Instead they are desperately clinging on to old habits and old protocols in a manner that, whatever their intention, appears entirely dismissive of the public mood. Having lost its most popular member, the firm has made the kamikaze decision to distance itself further.

There has been much talk about what a fitting memorial to Diana might be. There have been suggestions ranging from scrapping the Millennium Dome, to putting her in it, to naming hospitals, to making fires and fountains throughout the land. A fitting memorial would be a funeral that truly included the dispossessed rather than merely the great and the good. We are promised that every effort is being made to do this. Yet whatever public rituals achieve, Diana's legacy, one hopes, is also personal.

One desperately wishes that her sons will be brought up in a more open and affectionate way than their bewildered father. There are few indications that this is even possible. To say emotional literacy is not the forte of the Windsors is a gross understatement. Modernity of the most everyday kind appears beyond their reach.

Constitutional experts inform us that all is well, that the reputation of the monarchy waxes and wanes, and that that is to be expected. To that, I simply say that the life and the death of Diana was not what we expected at all; that that was then and this is now. Right now the tremendous closeness that people felt to Diana only serves to underline the enormous gulf between "them" and "us". Whatever country the monarchy thinks it is ruling, it is becoming clear it is not the one that most of us actually live in.