Absence of Palace

This column is about the death of a 36-year-old woman, white, divorced, with two kids and no financial problems but plenty of emotional ones.

She was also a member of the British Royal Family, and so it's necessary to define my own vantage point. I am 31 years old. I've lived in the United States for two years, but I was born and grew up in Glasgow, a city in Scotland. More specifically, and more important to the context of this column, I was born and grew up in Maryhill, one of the city's ghettos. By birth and upbringing, I'm white trash.

In the late '70s through the late '80s, Great Britain was in a state of economic recession worse than any American of my generation has experienced. In Maryhill, people grew up without any hope of ever having a job. I don't mean a good job--I mean a job of any kind. There were people in their teens and 20s who had never known their parents to work. For the poor and badly educated, jobs didn't exist. The only income was the government dole.

In the summer of 1981, the talk of the people as they waited in line at the dole office or the housing-benefit department was of an impending wedding. The heir to the throne was getting married, and the poorest people in the country were preoccupied with guessing what kind of wedding dress his bride would wear.

The British monarchy has long been notorious for its incestuous past. But, for all the enthusiasm kings and queens have shown for boinking their relatives, it was a long time before there were any tangible consequences. Although the Royal Family no longer indulges in such depravity in these modern times, it's easy to see that Prince Charles is the result of a few centuries of inbreeding. A weak-chinned, glassy-eyed, big-eared simpleton with a nervous smile and a perpetual look of puzzlement on his face, he always seemed better suited for a straw hat than a crown. If his mother the Queen ever had any plans to abdicate, she abandoned them when her son's shortcomings became obvious. As Charles hunted and fished and went parachute-jumping and made ignorant political comments and talked to his dead uncle, the Royal Family seemed to be in denial, while the right-wing, royalist tabloids tried to convince the public that His Royal Highness was a dynamic, high-spirited, glamorous playboy, not an amiable fool.

The propaganda worked. But, as Charles turned 30, he still wasn't married, as the person in waiting for the throne is supposed to be by that age, and so he hadn't sired any little heirs-of-the-future. Although there were rumors of entanglements with various women, nothing was ever proven and there were murmurs that he might be gay.

Then he announced his engagement to a pretty, 19-year-old airhead named Lady Diana Spencer. No one had heard of her. She had left high school with mediocre qualifications and, for something to do, was working as a kindergarten assistant when she met her future husband.

The transition from Lady Diana to Princess of Wales was pure media creation. The most famous woman in Britain, and perhaps the English-speaking world, didn't sing, play an instrument, act in films, play a sport, paint pictures, write books or kill people. She didn't do anything. The media did it all. The wedding was broadcast on TV. Ghetto kids were told by their teachers to write essays describing the event. Teenage girls got "Princess Di" hair styles. They'd bought the hype about the commoner, the working girl who became a princess. Everyone seemed to overlook the bothersome reality that it couldn't have happened to just anyone--that she was already an aristocrat.

By the early '90s, the couple had produced two boys. Mercifully, neither resembled Charles. But the marriage was in trouble. It was reported that Charles had only married Diana to fulfill his Royal obligations, to convince the media of his masculinity and to produce the required kids, and now he wanted out. Diana suffered from an eating disorder and had attempted suicide a number of times.

Keith Mackie, poet and satirist, wrote:
So Princess Diana unsuccessfully tried to kill herself . . . Give me a gun and I'll do it for her--and while I'm at it, I'll kill the other parasites like we should have done 200 years ago.

Mackie's poem reflected a shift in the public's attitude toward the Royal Family. After years of hardship as the gap between rich and poor was widened by the Thatcher administration, people were waking up to the reality that an unremarkable family was being paid fabulous amounts of public money just to exist.

But if any member of the Royal Family didn't deserve Mackie's spite, it was Diana. She helped destroy the Royals' traditional austerity. When she and Charles split up, and a vicious mudslinging battle started between her and his family, she remained the most popular Royal with the public. A large part of this was undoubtedly because of her vulnerability, real or contrived--she was never afraid to cry or show anger in public.

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