This time, I do feel sorry for her

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The Independent Online
I TAKE my text this week from TS Eliot's Four Quartets: 'Human kind cannot bear very much reality'. Taking it out of context, I believe the exact reverse is true. Most of us depend upon the routine of everyday life to keep us sane. We desperately need its familiar dramatis personae and trivial demands, however we may yearn for fantasy, or foreign lands, or tall, dark, handsome strangers.

Without the ballast of the safe and predictable, our stability is at risk. Most people cannot cope with too much change or too frequent extremes of emotion; as every behavioural scientist knows, the determining factor in our lives is inertia. Human kind, unless solidly grounded in reality, becomes unstable and eventually goes off its rocker.

Any of us may find ourselves thrown into a state of unreality, through drink or drug-addiction, imprisonment, exile or pain; most often by insecurity (homelessness, joblessness) but also by passionate or unrequited love. Whatever its origin, the consequences are much the same. Unless we are people of heroic stature, we start behaving oddly.

A few people are detached from reality for quite different reasons: too much money, fame or adulation. They are imprisoned by being treated as exceptional, above the ordinary rest of us. For them, no day can be banal, no excursion unnoticed. There is no one upon whose honesty and simplicity they can depend. They have become like gods, their every word and action minutely observed and analysed.

Such fame is unique to the modern world because the eye of the camera and the speed of communication have made certain faces universally familiar. Even so great and feared a conqueror as Alexander was unrecognisable to each new town he besieged. Julius Caesar, in Gaul or Britain, would have been just another Roman without the razzmatazz of chariots, slaves, conquered kings, purple togas and bay leaves. Nobody knew his face.

In our century, certain people would be recognised in the poorest South American favela and the tiniest Indian village, to say nothing of every shopping mall in the Western world. Make up your own list - mine would probably include Marilyn Monroe, Charles Chaplin, Elizabeth Taylor, President Kennedy, the Pope, the Queen, Pele, Jacqueline Onassis . . . but somewhere near the head of this bizarre queue most people would surely place the Princess of Wales.

Which brings me to the strange case of the silent phone calls. I have no idea whether the Princess did or did not make silent calls to an art dealer of her acquaintance. But if she did, it would not surprise me. For the first time since the day she got married, I find myself feeling sorry for Diana.

Here is a young woman placed in a situation of the most extreme unreality. For 13 years she has been trapped in a claustrophobic cage of eyes and long lenses, the object of a degree of adulation the penalty of which was that she was required to be perfect. She responded with the only perfection she could manage, that of being flawlessly honed and toned, made-up and coiffed, dressed and shod, handbagged and hatted. It was assumed that her mind and emotions were equally flawless, honed to compassion, trained to intelligence.

Then what happens to this icon of female beauty? Her own husband - the only man in the world who may touch her, sexually or in any other way - reveals that he does not love her and no longer wishes to sleep with her. Yet she is condemned by her fame to perpetual chastity. If she were a Russian princess she would be despatched humanely to a convent, there to find solace in religion. As it is, she must find her solace at Harrods or Browns, Italian restaurants and Fulham health clubs. Seldom can the emptiness of the contemporary garden of delights have been so chillingly exposed. Poor Diana discovers that it is not enough.

She can hardly be blamed if her situation has driven her to strange vagaries of behaviour - anorexia, bulimia, a dependence upon aromatherapists and other practitioners of the white arts - and now, just possibly, to silent phone calls.

Her predecessors were wiser than they knew. The Royal Family held themselves aloof for years, refusing to allow light to be shed upon the mystique of royalty lest they should be revealed for what they were: just human kind after all. Now it seems that this aloofness may have been more for their protection than ours. It enabled them to act out their private tragedies and disasters in private.

Now that we can spy on them invisibly and electronically their fallibility has been exposed. We have burst the bubble. We discover that, like the rest of us, the royals have rows, have love affairs, talk dirty, talk nonsense, and sometimes, perhaps, do not talk at all. They cannot stand these revelations - and nor can we.

Why should we care? Perhaps because Diana offered, briefly, a dazzling image of young womanhood: devoted to her husband and children, unselfish in caring for others. If even Diana could not sustain this, what hope is there for ordinary women? But ordinary women live in a real world that permits failure and compromise; we know we don't have to be perfect. Diana has no such escape.