Car­crash­inParis ...Dodi dead... Di in hospi­tal... This is not a joke.

20 YEARS ON Alas­tair Camp­bell re­veals the mo­ment he learned of tragedy

The Sunday Post (Newcastle) - - FRONT PAGE -

THOUGH there had been thou­sands, mil­lions of pic­tures of her, noth­ing quite pre­pared you for meet­ing Princess Diana.

To this day, friends and fam­ily mer­rily take the mickey out of the en­tries in my pub­lished di­aries, where I record the “mes­meric” im­pact.

“Ab­so­lutely, spell­bind­ingly gor­geous ... her eyes locked on to you ... per­fect skin ... there were mo­ments when I had to fight to hear the words be­cause I was just lost in the beauty.”

But it was true. For once, some­one de­scribed as “the most beau­ti­ful woman in the world” re­ally did live up to that la­bel.

And the im­pact she had on the world is felt to this day.

Since her death, it is re­mark­able how in an era of greater cyn­i­cism, and less def­er­ence, most ma­jor in­sti­tu­tions in pol­i­tics, busi­ness, so­ci­ety more gen­er­ally, have seen their rep­u­ta­tions fall but the monar­chy, and es­pe­cially the Queen, have seen theirs rise.

The com­bi­na­tion of her fa­mous “an­nus hor­ri­bilis” and Diana’s death rep­re­sented low points from which they have care­fully and cleverly re­built.

I re­mem­ber once Diana say­ing, on the ques­tion of Prince Charles’ fu­ture, and the ques­tion of whether he would be­come king, whether he would marry Camilla: “I am with the pub­lic on that one.”

She was fas­ci­nated by how events would un­fold.

The first meet­ing was in the

It wasn’t un­til the morn­ing that it hit me. I started cry­ing

most un­usual cir­cum­stances, when I was wait­ing in a car for Tony Blair, then Leader of the Op­po­si­tion, to fin­ish a “get­ting to know you” din­ner with her in Chelsea.

To his dis­may, and my de­light, she had asked what I was like and when he said I was in the car out­side, wait­ing to go to a lo­cal elec­tion re­sults count with him, she asked to see me.

So there we were, in the mid­dle of the road, cars flash­ing by, and she said: “Wouldn’t this make a great pic­ture?”

She thought a lot about pic­tures, as we know.

“They can take away ev­ery­thing, but they can never take away your pic­tures,” she said at a sub­se­quent meet­ing.

She thought a lot about what peo­ple wrote about her too, and I was gen­uinely shocked that she re­mem­bered un­flat­ter­ing things I had writ­ten about her as a jour­nal­ist.

It had never crossed my mind she might have read them, or been af­fected by them. It got me think­ing, whether she was one of those rare peo­ple whose pro­file gets so big that we stop to think of them as hu­man be­ings.

It was im­pos­si­ble not to see her as a hu­man be­ing once you met her. Yes, I am sure she could and did ma­nip­u­late parts of the me­dia, and I am sure the Royal es­tab­lish­ment found her tricky once the mar­riage with Charles started to dis­in­te­grate. But she had real hu­man­ity flow­ing through her.

She was a cu­ri­ous mix of fun and vul­ner­a­bil­ity, clever if not highly ed­u­cated, aware of her soft power, and de­ter­mined to use it to make real ad­vances in what were then deeply un­fash­ion­able causes, like HIV- Aids, home­less­ness, land­mines, lep­rosy.

And when she died, surely it was the hu­man­ity peo­ple sensed in her, and its loss, that was to a large ex­tent re­spon­si­ble for the ex­tra­or­di­nary re­sponse across the globe.

Tony Blair had a sense of that re­sponse im­me­di­ately, and again I have the di­aries to thank for an ob­ser­va­tion I would oth­er­wise doubt­less have for­got­ten amid the mid­dle- of- the- night drama that was un­fold­ing. He said it was go­ing to pro­duce an out­pour­ing of grief the likes of which we had never seen.

I heard the news via a mes­sage on my pager which lay on my bed­side ta­ble and woke me up. “Car crash in Paris. Dodi dead. Di in hospi­tal. This is not a joke.”

Within the hour, we were told she was dead. We were deal­ing with it as hu­man be­ings who had grown to know her a lit­tle, and like her a lot.

But also Tony was now Prime Min­is­ter, and peo­ple would be look­ing to hear his voice amid it all.

As to who came up with “the Peo­ple’s Princess”? The hon­est an­swer is, I can’t re­mem­ber.

Tony and I had sev­eral con­ver­sa­tions through the night, and the only ref­er­ence in my di­aries was: “We agreed it was OK to call her the Peo­ple’s Princess”. I have no mem­ory of that dis­cus­sion at all.

Within hours, it came partly to de­fine events as they un­folded.

We had been so busy through the night that it was not un­til the morn­ing, when the rest of my fam­ily was up and ab­sorb­ing the news, that it re­ally hit me.

And in com­mon with so many other peo­ple all over the world, I started cry­ing. When a car came to

take me to RAF Northolt, Tony hav­ing been asked to be part of the group meet­ing the body af­ter its flight from Paris, the driver was cry­ing.

It was at Northolt that the head of the Royal House­hold, The Lord Cham­ber­lain, said to Tony that they would need help in plan­ning what they knew would need to be a dif­fer­ent kind of Royal funeral, and by the next morn­ing I had been sec­onded as part of a small Down­ing Street team to help the Palace with the prepa­ra­tions.

It was a strange but fas­ci­nat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence – es­pe­cially for some­one whose col­umns for years had ex­pressed sup­port for the repub­li­can cause!

One of the first de­ci­sions they

THE death of Princess Diana was one of the defin­ing mo­ments of the 20th Cen­tury.

And al­though there have been mil­lions of words writ­ten and count­less hours of TV made about her, few were at the heart of it. She had hu­man­ity flow­ing through her Alas­tair Camp­bell was there. As Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair’s spokesman, press sec­re­tary and di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and strat­egy, he was sec­onded to Buck­ing­ham Palace to help with funeral ar­range­ments.

But how does he view it all now, with 20 years of hind­sight?

Here, he re­mem­bers the events of those Au­gust days – and re­veals how he be­lieves Diana’s pass­ing trig­gered a change in so­ci­ety still felt to­day.

made was that the theme of the funeral should be “the Peo­ple’s Princess”.

And con­trary to parts of the por­trayal in the movie, the Queen, our two teams worked well to­gether.

Re­cent re­ports that we were press­ing for the young Princes to walk be­hind their mother’s cof­fin, and that at one point Prince Philip swore down the con­fer­ence call phone from Bal­moral, are so wide of the mark as to be fan­tasy.

It is true that the is­sue of who should walk was a live, dif­fi­cult one, dis­cussed of­ten and not re­solved un­til the end of the week.

Charles Spencer was al­ways go­ing to do so. Prince Charles felt he should, but with emo­tions so raw there were con­cerns he would be shouted at, even phys­i­cally at­tacked, by peo­ple in the crowds lin­ing the route.

Prince Philip felt he should be there. As to whether the boys were, that was very much re­solved up there, in Bal­moral, and as I learned from an in­ter­view I did re­cently with Prince Wil­liam, he and his brother Harry knew noth­ing about what was go­ing on in Lon­don, and were shocked to see the crowds af­ter they flew south.

It is true we had been rais­ing the is­sue of the ris­ing anger over the Buck­ing­ham Palace flag not fly­ing at half-mast, and the need at some point for the Queen and other se­nior Roy­als to be seen and to say some­thing.

When the de­ci­sion was made for them to fly back and do a se­ries of walk­a­bouts, and for the Queen to ad­dress the na­tion, it was taken at Bal­moral, not Down­ing Street.

And as I say in tonight’s BBC doc­u­men­tary on that re­mark­able week, as the Queen went to speak to peo­ple out­side the Palace, you could feel the ten­sion lift­ing imme-

It’s true we raised the is­sue of the Palace flag

di­ately. I have never fully un­der­stood the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the monar­chy and the peo­ple, and I’m not sure I do now. But that was an im­por­tant mo­ment within it.

One thing that was clear to any­one hear­ing Diana talk about her sons then, and hear­ing them talk about her now, was the real love be­tween them.

“One thing I can al­ways say about my mother,” Prince Wil­liam told me, “is that she smoth­ered Harry and me in love. Twenty years on I still feel the love she gave us and that is tes­ta­ment to her mas­sive heart and her amaz­ing abil­ity to be a great mother.”

He is still an­gry at the role the press played in her life and death, and his mother’s ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing her life in the pub­lic eye has shaped how he is bring­ing up his own chil­dren.

His big­gest re­gret is that she never met Kate or their chil­dren. Had she lived, he be­lieves she would still have been in­volved with what he calls “the tough ar­eas”, causes oth­ers tend to shy away from.

He also said, and I think he is right, that her death changed the way we grieve. That we have be­come much more open about our emo­tions, less stiff up­per lip, and that is a good thing.

The work he, Kate and Harry are do­ing on men­tal health, via the Heads To­gether cam­paign, is all part of that, and as such a part of their mother’s legacy too.

As Tony Blair put it 20 years ago this weekend, the Peo­ple’s Princess lives on “in our hearts, and in our mem­o­ries”.

Alas­tair Camp­bell’s Di­aries: Vol­ume 6, From Blair To Brown, is out next month.

Diana’s cruel death stunned the na­tion – and broke the hearts of her young chil­dren.

Pic­ture credit: CAM­ERA PRESS/ Kim Knott

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