A NATION TRANSFIGURED? DISCOURSE, MEMORY AND THE DEATH OF A PRINCESS

Chris Sinha (Aarhus University)
Andrew Lock (Massey University)

Paper presented to the Symposium
The constitution of subjectivity within social practices: Memory and change
Convened by Ana Luisa Smolka

4th Congress of the International Society for Cultural Research and Activity Theory
Aarhus, Denmark, June 1988


Men make their own history, said Karl Marx in the Theses on Feuerbach; but in circumstances, he added, which are not of their own choosing. Marx was referring, we can assume, to the history which is made by the actions of actors on what we call the 'stage' of history, to the doing of the deeds which make and unmake social orders. But we can also apply his dictum to the histories which are narrated, spoken, written, contested, and inhabited by human beings as their own 'versions' of the stage itself. These are the histories which constitute the life-worlds within which the projects of both individual and collective identity are made and unmade, the structures of understanding and feeling which provide the backdrop to acting, and to construing actions and events as significant against that backdrop. The 'stage' of history, and the construal in narrative of that stage, are not, of course, two independent orders. What we call 'history', the unfolding of actions and events, is inevitably a product of the blending, in thought, in action, and in telling, of the 'stuff' of history with the 'staging' of the stuff in storying. History occurs, as it were, not in a vacuum, but in history as construed. Conversely, the contingencies of events, from time to time, erupt into settled patterns of construal, foregrounding the backdrop even while wrenching it into new patterns, and forcing the re- evaluation of old stories and the creation of new ones, both mundane and mythic. It is in this sense that the contingency which Marx refers to as 'circumstances not of our own choosing', not only creates new conditions for possible action, but also, on occasion, creates new conditions for constructing our subjectivities and intersubjectivities as participants in histories. It is this irruption of contingency into our narrative constructions of identity which we refer to, when we say that some event brings us up short, or brings us face to face with ourselves and with our understandings of ourselves.

Such events, in what we call our private lives, are experienced variously as moments of crisis, of doubt, of revelation, of transcendence, of epiphany, or in some other way as existentially challenging. They are events whose experiencing is both cognitively and emotionally salient. Nothing, perhaps, is more contingent than death, particularly unexpected, violent or untimely death. Mortality is something we naturally enough prefer to background; its irruption into the foreground reminds us of our existential contingency and of the equal contingency, vanity perhaps, of all our strivings to act, to construct and to construe. Whatever the truth of the humanist understanding that any person's death diminishes me, not all deaths are equal, at least in their irruptive force in the narratives of whole cultures. Most deaths are but little earthquakes, profound in their impact on a small number of other people, while leaving few traces in the stories that larger collectives live by. A few deaths, however, occur 'on the stage of history', or at least, as we might nowadays put it, in the full glare of the spotlights of the media. Deaths that shock whole cultures -- like the murder of children by children, or assassinations of major public figures -- often, as we know, provoke a very public process of what we refer to as soul- searching: reflections on the state of a culture's moral or spiritual health, coupled with a questioning of, perhaps an attempt to re- fashion, the narrative and iconological structures of collective self-construal. The accidental and untimely death of Diana, Princess of Wales, was one such death: a tragic contingency with, as we shall see, most un-contingent (that's to say, highly motivated) reverberations.

The cognitive and emotional salience of such deaths is well recognised by psychologists of memory, which is probably why many, if not most, studies of 'flashbulb memories' for public events have deaths (the prototype being the assassination of President John F. Kennedy) as their occasioning event.

However, in this analysis of the collective remembering of Diana we attempt to address questions of a kind which psychology of memory usually leaves unasked. These questions have to do with the discursive and iconological construction (and contestation) of a canonical version of Diana's life and death; and with the grounding of discursive construals in ordinary people's personal and collective participation as ACTORS in a PERFORMANCE of remembering and mourning Diana. That is, we shall claim that the textual discourses which we use as resources for examining the remembering of Diana, can only be rightly understood against the background of an irruption of what we might call 'counter-staging': an active, popular iconological refusal to allow 'official' staging to recuperate the dramatic contingency of her death.

It need hardly be said that Diana's death gripped and moved millions across the world. Diana -- 'Princess Di' -- as has been repeated to the point of cliche, was the most photographed woman in the world, an 'icon'. Her story -- the drama of the inexperienced, unworldly girl who became a princess; the beautiful and youthful mother of two handsome princes; the spurned and wronged wife; the victim of cruel and unfeeling in-laws, subject to self-hatred and self-doubt manifested in an eating disorder; the outsider who dared to challenge the Establishment's derision of her and of her supposedly unsuitable, youthful taste; the 'queen of people's heart's' who claimed and enacted an un-monarchic sympathy with outsiders such as people with AIDS; the lonely divorcee whose misplaced loves were met with betrayal; the mature, stylish, sexually aware woman who finally found happiness in a relationship with a man who combined the exoticism of wealth with the exoticism of ethnic outsiderness; the ultimate, fated victim of media intrusion - - this story was one with apparently universal resonance. The narrative (at least this version of the narrative), of Diana's life and tragic death, was an attractor for identifications which simultaneously transcended ethnic, class and gender boundaries, and lent itself to very particular identifications on the part of people who either felt marginalised and excluded, or felt that their social/gender/ethnic positioning made them vulnerable to marginalisation, exclusion and oppression.

There is no necessary opposition between the 'universal' aspect of identification with Diana and her story, and the 'particular' identifications of the marginalised and less powerful. It is worth making the point that, in informally discussing the death of Diana in the days and weeks that followed it, both universalistic narrative identifications, of the form 'It's like a Greek tragedy', (spoken by a woman) and perspectivally specific identifications, for example 'Any woman knows what it must have been like for Diana' (also spoken by a woman), cropped up (in our own and we suppose other people's conversations) without any sense that they were in contradiction. Maybe there is a larger lesson here, that the universal and the perspectivally relative are complementary and not necessarily contrary modes of construal, but that is not the main point that we shall focus on here.

Perhaps more germane to the point that we shall try to develop, is an observation which was frequently made in the days leading up to, and including, the memorial service for Diana in Westminster Abbey, London. It seemed to many observers (we were not there) that there was a very salient physical presence of marginal and/or minority 'constituencies of mourners of Diana': in particular, black and Asian women and gay men. Not that these constituencies were the sole or even predominant presences: probably their numbers no more than reflected the demographic composition of the British capital city. The point is that these constituenciess imply and undeniably registered their presence, in a way which, at least potentially, contradicted and confused the (white-) ethnic, (ruling-) class and (male hetero-) sexual 'smoothing' or homogenization of the dominantly taken- for-granted 'stage' upon which 'Grand Deaths' (including, self- evidently, Royal Deaths) are supposed to be memorialized.

But perhaps we are getting ahead of the story here. For, in talking about Diana's memorial service, and despite the fact that, like much of her life, this enactment in death of her memorialization was viewed by millions across the world, we are zooming in to the meshing and clashing of the story of the individual, Diana Princesss of Wales, nee Diana Spencer, with the narrative and iconological structures underpinning the "Imagined Community" (to use Benedict Anderson's term) constituting Britishness, and more particularly Englishness. It may seem obvious that there should have been a particular poignancy for the English about the death of Diana; after all, she WAS not only, and very quintessentially English, she was also the mother of the heir to the English throne. There is, after all, we could say, a "simple" level of identification at which Diana "represented" or "embodied" the Imagined Community of Englishness. But simplicity deceives, since Englishness is not just Englishness: it has, for many centuries, had a tendency to spread itself around. Diana, in life, as mother of the royal heir, was irrevocably positioned, even if problematically, and irrespective of whether this was welcome either to her or to the British monarchy, within the constitutional construction which goes under the name of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This constitutional and representational construction, of the geographic territories of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, is historically and ideologically continuous with the "Britain" of the former British Empire: the great-grandfather of Diana's sons was, until just over half a century ago, Emperor of India. And the question which erupted with the contingency of her death was this: if Diana in life was problematically positioned within the regime of power and representation signified by the British monarchy, how was she going to be positioned and constructed in death?

To this question there was to be no simple answer, and it is the failure of an official narrative "memorialization of Diana" to emerge as canonical, upon which we want to concentrate. The first thing to be said is that the contested nature of Diana's memorialization was paradoxical. The kind of narrative that we might have expected, given Diana's supposed iconic status, is summed up in the cliche "a nation united in mourning". The paradox is this. Diana's death occasioned widespread collective grief, and this shared grief foregrounded, made almost tangible, an "imagined community" which was indeed united in mourning. Yet Diana's death, and the memorialization of her life, did not reinforce, but rather fractured, the higher order imagined community of the Nation, if by Nation is meant that which is imagined in the term "United Kingdom". As one of the texts we have read in preparing this presentation put it, in its title: "She may be at peace. The nation is not."

We shall call the official narrative of nation the 'Ukanian narrative', borrowing Tom Nairn's satiric term 'Ukania' (from UK, United Kingdom), which he in turn borrowed from Robert Musil's 'Kakania', which Musil used to denote the 'K&K', Keizerreich und Koenigreich, of the Austro-Hungarian Empire whose decline and collapse is the theme of his great novel 'The Man Without Qualities'. How did it come about that Diana's death, even while uniting the people, nevertheless fractured the Ukanian narrative? The representational fracturing which Diana's death provoked manifested itself at two different narrative levels. (Probably there are other levels too, which we have not analysed). Each level could be construed in a generic fashion (i.e. within a familiar genre). At the first level, however, the narrative departed from the canonical form of the genre; and at the second level, while preserving the canonical form, it did so in a way that contradicted the official (Ukanian) version of the national narrative. The intermeshing of these levels of narrativity yielded a complex tragedy structure, in which 're-imaginings' of community went hand in hand with disquiet and anxiety, bordering on repudiation, directed towards the Ukanian narrative and its monarchic representatives. In all of this, the biographic story of Diana herself, her life and death, was emblematic, in its contested status, of the unravelling of the Ukanian narrative. The first level of narrative is the story of family feuds and political power, pitted against, and ultimately crushing, young, romantic love. Here, the prototype is Romeo and Juliet. Some of the protagonists are instantly identifiable. The Windsors and the Spencers are the Montagues and the Capulets: two families at the heart of state power and enjoying time-consecrated wealth, joined in bitter feud. Diana, of course, is Juliet, the sacrificial victim. But, of course, it doesn't fit. Far from the tragedy of the death of the lovers leading to the reconciliation of the feuding families, it actually embitters and heightens the feud. The final scene is another duel, in Westminster Abbey, Juliet's brother verbally challenging the opposition (and winning). Worse, even, who is Romeo? Charles Windsor has disqualified himself, revealing himself to be a mere Lothario. Romeo, now united in death with Juliet, is an Egyptian. The citizens embrace his memory along with that of the fair Juliet. None of this, to put it mildly, is helpful to the ruling family of Ukania.

The second level of narrative, we suggest, is more complex, pitting Diana the Good Princess against the Evil Queen. It is complex because the Evil Queen is a Blend, rather than a single, identifiable character. The Evil Queen Blend is in fact a composite of Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher (ironically, given Elizabeth's known antipathy to Thatcher). It is crucial to recall that only months before Diana's death, the Conservative Party had been ignominiously ejected from government by the electorate. The Conservatives had long been identified by many people as the Party of the Evil Queen, and even many of those who had fallen under her spell in the previous decade, had become convinced that she and her corrupt and incompetent successors were responsible for destroying the fabric of that intangible, imagined thing called 'Community'.

Margaret Thatcher's earlier success was due in no small part to her ability to mobilize the people behind and within the Ukanian narrative of Greatness, epitomized by the triumphalism of her famous cry of victory in the Falklands war: "Rejoice!" Now, the people rejoiced no longer, and they sought a more communitarian and less confrontational narrative, which they believed to have found in the youthful Tony Blair and New Labour. Whether rightly or wrongly, Diana was identified (and we have ample textual evidence for this) with the imagining of a new, more humane, more caring and more feminine Britain. (The Evil Queen, remember, is not feminine). Tony Blair was widely praised for capturing the public mood after Diana's death by referring to her as "The People's Princess". Thereby, he not only cemented a two-way identification of Diana with Labour's "New Britain", he probably also contributed to the unpopularity of the Ukanian monarchy, damage which he later tried to repair. In this narrative, the death of the Good Princess was attributed to the agency of the forces unleashed and controlled by the Evil Queen. Here is an example of the Good Princess and Evil Queen narrative (we quote):

'The Princess of Wales was killed at night, underground, in darkness, in an event whose principal actors (apart from its innocent victims) were men in fierce contest one with another, armed in that pursuit with lethal machines. By contrast, what happened next was open, soft, organic, and -- as the candles lit up in London in the small hours of Saturday -- turned night into day. It was also, essentially, collective. ... The Princess of Wales died as a direct result of the play of market forces.' (end of quote).
The Evil Queen Blend may have owed most of her characteristics to Margaret Thatcher, but the real Queen was fatally compromised in the Blend: Evil Queens are also Bad Stepmothers or Bad Mothers-in-Law, holding beautiful princesses captive and plotting to kill them. Had not Diana reportedly bitterly referred to herself as 'The Prisoner of Wales'? And Elizabeth's perceived coldness did nothing to help her.

Remember, now, that the Good Princess is also the Rightful Future Queen. But Queen of which country? 'People's Hearts' she herself had said. Ukania, however, was the realm of the Evil Queen, and the Evil Queen's spells no longer worked: people's hearts were just not in the Ukanian narrative any longer. What we suggest is that the Imagined Realm of Community, of which the Good Princess was Rightful Future Queen, was not Ukania, but England. Elton John's song said: 'Goodbye, England's Rose', not 'Goodbye Britain's Rose', and still less 'Goodbye Rose of the United Kingdom'. The imagined England over which the Good Princess should have ruled was the England of William Blake's 'Jerusalem', a green and pleasant land, of justice, compassion and social peace, far removed from the 'mind- forged manacles' of Ukania, and from the Evil Queen economics that Blake so hated and despised. This England of the radical, popular imagination has always lurked somewhere beneath the grandiose Ukanian narrative, and has historically helped to legitimate it in times of crisis, particularly in wartime. Now, however, 'England' broke from its blending with Ukania. A new blend of England, not with the UK, but with another imagined community, New Britain, emerged. What this 'New Britain' might turn out to be in reality, is the question we shall conclude with.

First, however, let's ask where this left the Ukanian Establishment, faced with the unwelcome but unavoidable task of memorializing Diana. It left them, of course, in a quandary. To endorse the emerging popular narrative would be to collude in their own symbolic, perhaps, at worst, literal, deconstruction. Two options were available. One would be to confront the popular narrative and attack it, by suggesting that Diana was not a victim, but had in fact engineered her own destruction. This was, in fact, rejected as too risky a strategy, threatening as it did to expose and widen the rift between rulers and ruled. Even so, at least one text can be taken as exemplary both of what the other narrative might have looked like, and of the bitter recognition that it had no chance of successfully gripping the popular imagination. We quote here the final sentences of the unsigned obituary in the Economist newspaper:

Still, in the public eye, Diana could do nothing mean. Indeed, her seeming lapses, her adulteries, her conspicuous extravagance, seemed only to support the view that she was a real person. The manner of her death, in a speeding car crashed by a drunken driver, with her latest lover at her side, could merely have been shocking. For millions it confirmed that Diana the goddess was a victim of 'fate', whatever that may mean.

This text, remarkable in its spitefulness, reveals not only the Establishment s hatred and fear of the popular memorialization of Diana, but also its rage at her for dying. The woman, barely containable within the Ukanian narrative when alive, had now done the very worst, she had gone and died and threatened to become FOREVER Diana the Good Princess. The 'could merely have been shocking' is a bitter reference to a wished-for narrative of 'Diana the Feckless', which might just have worked if Diana had lived longer, but was now, in death, impossible to sustain. (Reflection on this, incidentally, shows the utter implausibility of conspiracy theories that Diana was murdered by the British Secret Service. The British ruling class is just not that stupid.)

Instead of attempting to attack the popular narrative, the Ukanian Establishment fell back on the time-honoured ploy of hypocrisy. They attempted simply to pretend that the popular narrative was just a version of, and recuperable to, the canonical 'nation in mourning' narrative. The BBC's hushed state-funeral commentary style was wheeled out. Queen Elizabeth appeared on television to make a transparently insincere tribute to Diana. It didn't work.

Something happened at the memorial service for Diana that amazed everyone, something completely unscripted, something spontaneous and deeply symbolic, something which sealed the memorialization of Diana forever in the structure of the popular narrative, now canonical, but not official. It began when the crowd outside Westminster Abbey clapped Elton John's singing of his memorial song. No-one among the ranks of the Great and Good inside the Abbey clapped. You just don't do that kind of thing in church, in the middle of a funeral. Then the crowd outside clapped the memorial speech of Earl Spencer, Diana's brother, which contained a stinging rebuke to the Windsors. Juliet's brother had won his duel. This time, even some in the Abbey clapped. It reached its culmination as Diana's coffin was driven through the streets of London.

When the coffin had made its journey to the Abbey, the people had covered it with flowers. Now, as the remains of Diana slowly departed to their last resting place, the people clapped her, a continuous, rolling, emphatic applause, people clapping while remaining otherwise perfectly silent, an applause which went on and on as the hearse drove through the vast crowds. What London was witnessing was counter-staging. The stage that the Ukanian establishent had mounted, to enable them to recuperate Diana's memorialization to the official narrative, was refused and rejected by the people. The people claimed the stage as their own, by applauding the Diana of popular memory, the Good Princess, forever the Once and Future Queen of England.

Counter-staging is not a discourse: it is the iconological transformation of the backdrop to the discourse. Diana's death irrupted into the Ukanian narrative, disrupting its fixed (but already uneasy) texture. A new, popular narrative threatened to displace it. By trying to fix the backdrop, the Establishment hoped to create the conditions in which the narrative memorialization of Diana could be re-fitted into the Ukanian narrative. Counter-staging, the refusal of this backdrop, ensured that the popular narrative would be preserved as the canonical one.

In the weeks following Diana's death and memorialization, the popularity of the British monarchy plummeted. For the first time, a majority said they would prefer to live in a republic. Nearly a year later, the monarchy's popularity has recovered a bit, but the UK constitution struggles in a crisis of popular consent. A recent opinion poll showed that, also for the first time, a majority of Scotland's inhabitants would prefer to be independent from England, and not just enjoy greater autonomy within the present constitution. Maybe in "New Britain" people would prefer to have an English narrative and a Scottish narrative living side by side, instead of being welded implacably into the confines of the Empire-inflected "Great" British narrative. About the future, we can only speculate. One thing is clear, though: memory matters in change.


The question we now want to pursue concerns the dynamics underlying the apparent rejection of one narrative in favour of another. Why was the Ukanian narrative breached on this occasion? An answer to this, we will argue, is not to be found in attempting to elucidate what lead to one story seeming 'better', or more appropriate, than another. We will be arguing that it is not the case that one set of discursive resources were set aside and another set were adopted. Rather, we will argue that neither the Ukanian narrative, nor those defined in opposition to it, provided the resources with which to make sense of Diana's life. We are thus dealing with a truly ambiguous situation in which none of the discursive resources available were adequate for the task of making sense of this death, for formally marking a final 'rite of passage'. The response to Diana's death is thus an act of communal 'sense-making', an attempt to find and formulate an appropriate discourse to structure inchoate emotions that were rendered anchorless by the inapplicability of existing resources.

The account we offer here is that major changes in the level of representation of 'everyday life' had been occuring in Britain during the entire period of Diana's life. Not only were the 'certainties' inherited from prior to this time becoming increasingly problematic, but at the same time the very domain of which they were a mapping was itself being brought slowly into awareness as an 'object of contemplation' or 'topic of discourse'. We will argue that this breakdown in the appropriateness of inherited categories disabled an apparent certainty of 'how to be British', and played a central role in the enactment of Diana's life. Further, that the closure of this life brought the problematic issues she was an embodiment of to the fore in a temporal focussing of 'collective incomprehension' at the fact that no ready made resources were available to make sense of her death and thereby 'put her to rest'.

The central plank in our account concerns the breakdown of a traditional divide between the realms of the public and the private, the formal and informal in British life. Our analysis is rooted in the communicative sociology of Basil Bernstein who theorises these oppositional categories as the locus of the communicative codes wherein the discursive resources of a society are constructed and maintained. In addition, our claim is that Diana's life was an acting out of the dilemmatic position she found herself in between these foundational discursive dimensions. We will not be arguing that she lived a life of 'role strain', and that many of her actions can be interpreted as acts of 'leakage' (cf. Goffman, 196?) in which the required 'mask' occasionally slipped so as to mark a breach of a category boundary. Instead, we will be arguing that those breaches of tradition that she did perform were deliberate and self conscious, not accidental and 'natural': that Diana became a self-conscious 'boundary slider' who thereby defined her performances in many situations in breach of the traditional dichotomies, thereby implicitly foregrounding a new and unarticulated domain for 'sense-making', the domain of personal authenticity. In understanding the events following her death, those who allied themselves to this domain allied themselves to the act of articulating this new ground for sense-making, and thus became included in the newly emerging 'collectivity'. Those who missed their footing and clung to the traditional resources increased their semantic distance from the collectivity they believed they represented, thus further fuelling the breakdown of the canonical Ukanian discourse.


Since last Sunday's dreadful news we have seen, throughout Britain and around the world, an overwhelming expression of sadness at Diana's death. We have all been trying in our different ways to cope. It is not easy to express a sense of loss, since the initial shock is often succeeded by a mixture of other feelings: disbelief, incomprehension, anger - and concern for those who remain. We have all felt those emotions in these last few days. So what I say to you now, as your Queen and as a grandmother, I say from my heart..

H.R.H Queen Elizabeth II, speaking live on BBC television at 6.00 p.m. on Friday, 5 September, from the Chinese Dining Room at Buckingham Palace (emphasis added).


Bernstein's sociology of communication is founded on an analysis of the relation between social structure and the communicative resources available for the expression of nuance. Its main outlining was accomplished in the period from the mid 1950's to the late 1970's. Since then there has been a general 'sea-change' in the theorisation of social life. Where Bernstein's original formulation was centrally located within the structuralist paradigm, we have since seen a shift into the murkier waters of 'post-structralism' and the like. Our brief outline here of the core of Bernstein's conceptual apparatus is infected by that shift, and should in no way be taken as a canonical outline of his work.

The core of Bernstein's approach is that social groups are structured along two lines. First, groups may be structured by the roles people play in the overall narrative the group subscribes to. In such groups, the discursive resources available to people are constrained by this role structure, as it delineates the framework within which meanings are defined. Discourse is constrained within the shared presuppositions of those within the group. Certainty is manufactured by tying symbolic meanings to a socially constrained horizon of certain meaning. It is not just a social organization within which the role of any member is clear - theirs not to wonder why; theirs but to do and die - but in which the discursive resources mitigate against uncertainty and the expression of individual opinion or the questioning of the status quo. Social relations, in this form of social structure, are not an object for contemplative scrutiny and hence not a topic for discourse. Consequently, the resources do not exist to enable the nature of the group to be scrutinised, analysed or talked about. When these resources do become available, their deployment is taboo: it would be inappropriate to discuss the Emporer's new clothes, even if the resources were available to do this, which by-and-large in such groups they are not. The expression of individual differences - if you like, the idiosyncracies embodied in the perfomance of assigned roles by those who fill them - are marked, where they are recognised, non-verbally: medals, insignia, dress, regalia; such emblems convey and mark out semiotic nuances as well as semiotic solidarity. There is a division of labour within the roles of such groups that is encompassed by a shared, though implicit, understanding of the totality to which the group subscribes. Duties are defined implicitly, and the qualities required to discharge these duties are 'grasped' by all involved. Solidarity exists, and the resources for questioning that solidarity in public do not. To question the solidarity of purpose so defined- either verbally or by dint of lacking the required character for a successful performance of what solidarity requires - is likely to incur explosions of incomprehension and exclusion.

Contrasted with this are social groups in which there may be a shared commonality of purpose, but in which there is little commanilty in the discursive resources required to realise those shared goals. A clear example is given by interactions that occur within a General Practitioner's surgery. There is a shared ground that a problem exists that needs to be solved - the patient needs to be cured - but the knowledge brought to bear by the Doctor is articulated in terms unavailable to the patient. In such situations, the precise communication of individual issues is of paramount importance. In this particular situation, communication can be difficult. But by-and-large, where the preparation and delivery of individual meanings is an essentail component of the social structure within which the participants are operating, then the discursive resources will be available to faciltate this. Individuality of expression is no longer confined to the non-verbal realm of insignia and emblems, but can be articulated through speech. In fact, within such a group, the verbal expression of individuality, and individual accounting for actions, is a requirement. The process of communication itself can likewise become a legitimate topic of communication.

Historically, Bernstein delineates an alignment between the two implicit domains running through his account. That is, in a social group where relations are defined by clear roles, then the linguistic resources for the verbal formulation of abstract, personal views will not be available. By contrast, where relations between individuals are defined by a celebration and legitimation of individuality, the discursive resources of vocabulary will be available, and their mastery and appropriate deployment will be encouraged. Problematic situations thus arise when the verbal resources are available for the expression of individuality but the social structure mitigates against their deployment (and vice versa). In such situations two tactics are employed to contain the problem of potential social breaches. The first is to delineate the realms of 'public' and 'private' in such a way that a social actor can make a stab at the codes of acceptability in any particular situation, and can thus 'police' the boundaries of their performance. The second is to transcend the dichotomy by a re-definition of what the goal of an acceptable and legitimate performance is.

With respect to the first tactic: individuality and commonality of purpose are somewhat orthoganal to each other. Consequently, codes of etiquette arise that regulate the boundaries of appropriateness for the public and private domains of life, as well as contributing to the demarcation of these boundaries. The breaking of such boundaries puts the breaker of them into a semiotic limbo of ambiguity, for a 'mistake' can be recognised as having been made. Very often, such a mistake is recognised in the act of making it by the person who makes it, simultaneously with the recognition of this breach by the audience. Two forms of 'cover-up' or retrieval are available to an individual who perpetrates such a breach. The first is the spontaneous emotional 'leak' that indexes the performative monitoring of the breach: blushing as a reaction to a faux pas is a paradigmatic example. The second is a metaperformative comment on the breach that marks its occurrence and defuses it. A personal example of this is given by the occasion when one of us was asked in a formal interview for a Chair in a University as to their view on the role senior staff should play in first year undergraduate courses, to which the reply given - 'I think all senior staff should expose themselves to first-year students' - required a little reformulation in clarification of it not quite having come out as intended.

The second tactic is to reformulate the implicit goal of social action. In a role defined group the actor's purpose is to perform the role. In the individually oriented group, the actors purpose is to deploy their linguistic resources and hence state their particular arguments. What 'purpose' is available for someone possessing the resources to state precise individual meanings but who is hemmed in in a status-defining system of obligations that prevents the legitimate delivery of individuality? Bernstein indicates, but does not pursue one answer: the goal of social action in this situation will tend to the performance of personal authenticity.

Authenticity is a tricky subject, made more so in an age when the notion of a person having a 'core' self that they could be sincere or authentic about is neither an epistemological or ontological certainty. We will approach the topic as follows. We suggest that a number of deep changes occured in the way in which British public life operated from at least the early 1960's. On the one hand, these precipitated a fundamental re-articulation of the Ukanian narrative such that 'authenticity' comes to the fore. On the other, the public arena became an increasing site for the enactment of ostranenie that similarly required a shift to 'authenticity' to redeem a morality that had otherwise become lacking as a social 'glue'.


'The War Minister had an affair with a call girl, the call girl had an affiar with a Russian spy, the Russian spy was set up by MI5 and nobody told the Prime Minister.....
1963 was an amazing year. President Kennedy's assassination. The Great Train Robbery. Beatlemania. The Profumo Affair.
Life was changing. Britain was becoming a different place. To many people, Harold Macmillian, the Prime Minister, seemed outdated and irrelevant - an Edwardian grandee lingering uncomfortably in the world of E-type Jaguars, Carnaby Street and That Was The Week That Was.'

Blurb for 'A Letter of Resignation', by Hugh Whitemore at the Savoy Theatre, London, April 1998.


First, then let us characterize changes in public life. Consider the following information on the backgrounds of British Prime Ministers since the ending of the Second World War (from James Barber, Prime Ministers since 1945)

Education

Prime Minister       School                   University

Attlee Haileybury (Private) Oxford
Churchill Harrow (Private) Oxford
Eden Eton (Private) Oxford
MacMillan Eton (Private) Oxford
Home Eton (Private) Oxford
Wilson Wirral (State) Oxford
Heath Chatham (State) Oxford
Callaghan Portsmouth (State) n/a
Thatcher Kesteven (State) Oxford
Major Rutlish (State) n/a

Social Class

Prime Minister---------Father's Work-------Social Category

Attlee Solicitor Professional
Churchill Politican Aristocrat
Eden Landowner Aristocrat
MacMillan Publisher Aristocrat
Home Landowner Aristocrat
Wilson Chemist Skilled Artisan
Heath Builder Skilled Artisan
Callaghan Naval Officer Skilled Artisan
Thatcher Grocer Shopkeeper
Major Vaudeville Artist Skilled Artisan

A clear break from the past is evident with the election of Harold Wilson as Prime Minister in 1964. No longer were Prime Ministers to be the sons of aristocrats who received their education in expensive and establishment oriented private schools. No longer does the Monarch's first minister come from the same social group as the Monarch herself. A meritocracy arose to replace an aristocracy. The values of Governments headed by these men and one woman increasingly distanced themselves from the truly conservative nature of previous times. The 'right thing to do' became increasingly explicit rather than implicit in the mores of a formally designated hereditary group. The 'natural rights' of the traditional group became increasingly curtailed, with the Queen herself eventually becoming subject to Income Tax. The final vestiges of Empire met their metaphoric Waterloo with the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Ian Smith's Government in Rhodesia, which none of the King's horses and none of the King's men could either prevent or put back together again. The bases and the means of exercise of power was no longer traditional. The monarchy moved more towards being an institution for reflecting and satisfying, by association, the vanity of an increasingly economically-mobile citizenry, and away from being the embodiment of the State. However, those within it retain a life's-training for the conduct of a well-defined role, with its attendant requirements for the appropriate way of handling one's own emotions, and they continue to frame the conduct of their lives withing these constraints: witness Her Majesty's words quoted above, when she addresses her Nation as 'as your Queen and as a grandmother'. The option is not easily available for talking as an individual when so positioned, as the then Lady Diana Spencer was to discover.

We want to suggest that as a result of her 'discovering' this, Diana contributed to the dissolution of many of the binary distinctions that enable sensible and canonical narratives to be told. She did this through enacting a history that made her unclassifiable in readily available categories. Diana did not 'leak', to use Goffman's term, in her role as Princess: to begin with, she might have done, but what she became was a conscious 'boundary slider'. As such, she brought into focus the oppositional resources that common sense is founded on so as to create inconsistencies that could not be successfully resolved by anyone with a grasp of 'being English'. She was an enigma across many dimensions, a constitutionally embodied outsider of a different order to her Sister-in-Law, the Duchess of York, whose own 'lack of perceived fit' could be seen as just 'inappropriate' within an otherwise unchallenged order.

It is useful to recall Basil Bernstein's distinction between formal and informal codes of communication, and the role he credited them with in what we would call 'positions' and the 'expression of individuality'. In a formal structure, people occupy positions that define their relations, and any expression of individuality is shifted to the non-verbal realm. A soldier's job is not to question why, but to do and die. Soldiers who are equivalent in rank are equivalent in function, - they are truly 'regimented' - and individuality can only be expressed non-verbally via medals and other insignia. The same is true of monarchy: it is the embodiment and performance of formally defined ritual. Within these confines, any particular individual royal personage may experience 'role strain', and from this may arise natural, unstaged 'leaks' of evident unease, such as blushing, or stammering. But a different situation holds when a leak is 'staged'. A wink, a glance, a hand movement, a hemline: all can stage a slide from the certainty of the known expectancies of a public position into the uncertainty of the private, unique individual.

Di at fashion event/Reuter
1995: A slicked-back, subtly sexy look at a New York fashion awards event.(File Photo/Reuter)
'Diana often wore dresses that left a lasting impression, and winked at royal tradition. There was a black taffeta dress that she wore on her first official evening engagement with Prince Charles. Its low-cut neckline that revealed more royal bosom than had ever been seen before left tongues wagging. Later, there was the white beaded "Elvis" dress with its standing collar that screamed Hollywood. She appeared in New York in 1995 at a gala sponsored by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Her usually bouffantlike hair had been slicked back into a style that was faintly masculine, subtly sexy and certainly not what was expected from a conservative royal.' Washington Post, Tuesday, September 2, 1997; Page C01
We will say more on this later.

The second change we identify is one we term a pervasive ostranenie, a notion introduced by the Russian formalist Viktor Sklovskij in his essay Art as Process (1916). Sklovskij wrote with respect to art that,

...and precisely in order to rediscover the sense of life, so as to feel things, so as make stone stones again, there exists that which one terms art. The aim of art is to mediate a sense of the object as vision and not as recognizing: the procedure of art is the procedure of alienation [ostranenie] of things and the procedure of the more complicated form, a procedure that increases the difficulty and duration of perception since in art the process of perception is an end in itself and must be prolonged: Art is a means by which it is possible to experience the making of the thing; the made in art is on the other hand unimportant...(1916/1969: p.25)
We want to take his point further, for life, as it has been said, often imitates art.


'Well, he would, wouldn't he?'

Response in court by Mandy Rice-Davis to being told by Counsel that Lord Astor had denied any impropriety in his relationship with her, Profumo Affair, 1963


Ms. Rice-Davis's reply here represents one example of the beginning of a shift in the level of discourse that became a staple of British life. The said or the done no longer could be taken at face-value, but, as Deridda has argued, the actual gains its value in relation to the unspoken alternatives it exists against. Satire and irony became common tactics in various media around this time, with magazines such as Private Eye, and television programmes such as That was the week that was existing on their ability to place a 'spin' on events that focussed on the unspoken motives underlying claims and justifications for actions offered by almost anyone. The process of communication itself becomes an object that can be discussed, and in that move discourse shifts into a reflexive mode in which personal authenticity is massively problematized, as statements come to be seen as the products of interests rather than necessarily factual accounts. What was the truth? How could one judge whether such-and-such a person was making a genuine statement?

These dilemmas are greatest where one deals with statements that emanate from the position of a formal role, be it politician or advertizing industry. The 'hidden agenda' becomes the surmised agenda, and colours the evaluation of a statement. Authenticity is difficult to establish within the frame of any traditional category, but appears to be manageable outside that frame, which was filled by non-traditional 'forms of life' that could not be other than the were on the surface, as there was no semantic deep structure against which the non-traditional performance could be judged. The 'Fab Four' fitted into this indeterminable slot: non-standard accents; non-standard appearance; and non-standard decorum, which rapidly became a new standard, acting back upon the judgement of the authenticity of those who created the parameters for their own evaluation:

'You see, the worst thing about doing this, that we're doing something like this, is that I think that, at first, people are sort of ... a bit suspicious ... I mean, you know 'What are you up to?''
Paul McCartney, 1967, on the Beatle's song A Day in the Life

However, it was not until the end of that decade that the nature of discourse and the process of communication itself became fully elevated as objects of communal awareness. It was the TV programme Monty Python that took the legacy of previous comedy shows such as The Goons, the threads of such writers of the Theatre of the Absurd as Eugene Ionescu, and the marginal writings of people like Beachcomber in the Express newspaper, and constructed a perspective of ostranenie that came to pervade the narrative consciousness of Britain. It was an ostranenie of strangeness that resulted from the processes of communication and 'norms of behaviour' becoming objects of attention rather than processes of acting. Appropriateness was made strange by a number of techniques, and the authenticity of social actors was continuously called into question by shifts of context that made the otherwise private enter the realm of the public, and the speaking of the unsaid 'glue' that otherwise holds social life together. Consider the 'trial by media' in the sketch 'Blackmail':


BLACKMAIL!!!!!

Announcer: Hello! Hello! Hello! Thank you,thank you. Hello good evening and welcome, to BLACKMAIL! Yes, it's another edition of the game in which you can play with *yourself*. (applause)

And to start tonight's show, let's see our first contestant, all the way from Manchester, on the big screen please: MRS. BETTY TEAL! (applause, which suddenly stops when the clap track tape breaks)

'Ello, Mrs. Teal, lovely to have you on the show. Now Mrs. Teal, if you're looking in tonight, this is for 15 pounds: and is to stop us from revealing the name of your LOVER IN BOLTON!! So, Mrs. Teal, send us 15 pounds, by return of post please, and your husband Trevor, and your lovely children Diane, Janice, and Juliet, need never know the name... of your LOVER IN BOLTON!

(applause; organ music. Shot of the organist, who has an afro and is stark naked.)

Thank you Onan! And now: a letter, a hotel registration book, and a series of photographs, which could add up to divorce, premature retirement, and possible criminal proceedings for a company director in Bromsgrove. He's a freemason, and a conservative M.P., so that's 3,000 pounds please Mr. S... thank you... to stop us from revealing: Your name, The name of the three other people involved, The youth organization to which they belonged, and The shop where you bought the equipment!

(organ music)

But right now, yes everyone is the moment you've all been waiting for; it's time for our Stop the Film spots! As you know, the rules are very simple. We have taken a film which contains compromising scenes and unpleasant details which could wreck a man's career. (gasp) But, the victim may 'phone me at any moment, and stop the film. But remember the money increases as the film goes on, so-o-o-o: the longer you leave it, the *more* you have to pay! Tonight, Stop the Film visits the little Thames-side village of Thames Ditton.

(music--announcer's voice over)

Well, here we go, here we go now, let's see...where's our man. Oh yes, there he is behind the tree now.... Mm, boy, this is fun, this is good fun.... He looks respectable, so we should be in for some real...real chucks here.... A member of the government, could be a brain surgeon, they're the worst.... WHOW! Look at the *size* of that.....briefcase. Aah, yes, he's, he's up to the door, rung the doorbell now.... O-oh, who's the little number with the nightie and the whip, eh? Heh-heh. Doesn't look like his mother....could be his sister.... If it is he's in real trouble.... And just look at that, they're upstairs already... whoah, boy, this is fun! A very brave man, our contestant tonight. Who-ho-ho!! This is no Tupperware party! Very brave man, they don't usually get this far... What's--what's that, what's she's doing to his.....is that a CHICKEN up there? No, no, it's just the way she's holding the grapefruit... Whoah, ho ho...

('Phone rings; buzzer goes off; film stops. Applause)

(picking up 'phone)

Hello sir...yes...aha-ha-ha...yes, just in time, sir, that was...what? No, no, sir, it's alright, we don't morally censor, we just want the money. Thank you sir, yes,....what? You.....okay....Thank you for playing the game, sir, very nice indeed, okay....okay, see you tonight, Dad, bye-bye.

Well, that's all from this edition of Blackmail. Join me next week, same time, same channel....Join me, two dogs, and a vicar, when we'll be playing "Pederasto", the game for all the family. Thank you, thank you, thank you....


All this and more, on public television, less than 10 years after the Lord Chancellor's ruling that D.H.Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterly's Lover was obsence had been challenged in court. Private domain becomes public domain; breaches of moral codes are not serious, for when re-contextualized and thereby made strange, they become ... funny? A form of life is revealed as ... a game? And how, in this shifting morass, does one recognise the authenticity of the social actor, the person?


'Well, of course, this is just the sort of blinkered philistine pig-ignorance I've come to expect from you non-creative garbage. You sit there on your loathsome spotty behinds squeezing blackheads, not caring a tinker's cuss for the struggling artist. You excrement, you whining hypocritical toadies with your colour TV sets and your Tony Jacklin golf clubs and your bleeding masonic secret handshakes. You wouldn't let me join, would you, you blackballing bastards. Well I wouldn't become a Freemason now if you went down on your lousy stinking knees and begged me.' Excerpt from The Architects' Sketch, Monty Python


Well, they would say that, wouldn't they? We are worlds away from that of the peasant character Karataer whom Tolstoy describes in his novel War and Peace as a man who 'did not, and could not, understand the meaning of words apart from their context. Every word and every action of his was a manifestation of an activity unknown to him, which was his life. But his life, as he regarded it, had no meaning as a separate thing. It had a meaning only as a part of a whole of which he was always unconscious'. His not to reason why; his not to stand apart and reflect on the grounds of his positioning and subsequent being. The discursive field and resources to articulate a ground for such a reflexive stance became massively available during the 1960's in the UK.

However, such ground is inherently shaky, for it is not one ground that enables one perspective, but a diversity of grounds that yields a kaleidoscope in which the unity of a securely anchored self is shattered.

Marcel Duchamp Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 1912
Oil on canvas 58 x 35 ins
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection

We come close to the fractured positions from which Duchamp serially paints a movement through time, except our positions are linguistically-fractured, made strange to us, as what was previously the background of our life becomes available to us as the frames of our lives. We move from social epistemology and security to social ontology and insecurity.

Yet, in fact, our ability to take multiple perspectives into account is very ancient. Consider this stone artefact dated around 300,000 years ago. It was created by a series of individual blows that chipped it into shape. But that final shape is symmetrical in three dimensions, while we can, in fact, only directly perceive from one position - our embodied own - at any one time. Whomever made this artefact could transcend that perceptual limitation, and direct their next blow to remove a chip that met with some plan conceived from a viewpoint other than that given to them: a viewpoint constructed in their imagination.

What we want to point out here can be put in the context of one of Piaget's theoretical notions: décalage. However, we want to use this notion in a very un-Piagetian way. On the one hand, we want to point out that a basic human ability, one we have had for at least 300,000 years, is continuously acting to reconfigure our 'knowledge' in different domains. This is what Piaget used his formulation of 'décalage' to represent. Thus a child might achieve conservation of mass well before they achieve conservation of length, or volume, for example; but the same structural principle, or ability, can be invoked as responsible for each achievement. And recall, Piaget used the notion of décalage in two ways. 'Horizontal décalage' refers to reconstructions at a level; 'vertical décalage' refers to the way in which analogous structural reformulations of knowledge occur when the 'nature' of knowledge is itself restructured. Hence, the structural refiguring of sensori-motor schemes evidenced during infancy recurs, following the same pattern, as 'knowledge' is reconfigured at the symbolic level, until a coherent new structure is created at this new level.

We want to take this notion and suggest it enables us to get a handle on the impact of Diana's death. Our point is that there are three factors that conspired to prevent any coherent stance to be taken toward the event. First, as a 'boundary-slider', Diana provoked a confused awareness of herself in others perceptions. She was an enigma because she simultaneously made available a kaleidoscope of contradictory narratives and positions that allowed no easy integration in 'common sense'. She, and her death, were 'senseless' within the landscapes of late 20th century social consciousness. Second, the reflexivity of her boundary-sliding performances brought her 'senseless' contradictions to focal awareness. She did this by bringing forward the grounds against which her life could be sensibly interpreted as topics to be considered in their own right, rather than leaving them as the interpretive resources that framed her actions. And third, despite all this confusion, yet also contributing to it, she radiated an indefinable 'presence' that needed a coherent narrative for her 'sincerity' to be authenticated: a coherence that was absent because of her boundary-sliding. We will briefly consider each of these points.

Boundary-sliding

Diana's life allowed multiple narratives:

The traditional fairy tale and the modern fairy tale: the Princess and the pop-star.
The public role - the Princess, the future Queen, defined by ceremony - and the confessional individual, admitting to bulimia and post-natal depression
The virgin bride, the betrayed wife, the betraying wife, the virtuous mother, Shy Di, the Queen of Hearts, the Prisoner of Wales.

It is not, though, the bewildering number of narratives that is at the root of the confusion. Nor is it solely the continual way in which matters of the private and public spheres became confused. What is of prime importance was the sliding between spheres and narratives in the performance and portrayal of her life.

First in the media, as summed up by Campbell (1998:189)

What was enacted in the twentieth century was a historic struggle over seeing and knowing. The technology of mass spectatorship expanded the audience. But in the late twentieth century the tabloids - unlike television and the broadsheet press - exposed the tension between coverage as reverence and as reportage. Robust reporting by the tabloids, unconstarined by the decorum of deference by which the respectable media continued to cooperate with the royal family, inaugurated a historic battle over rights which were not reciprocal. What the tabloids implicitly asserted was the people's right not only to watch but to know, to know everything. The tabloid agenda tested the boundary between public and private which had, in any case, been breached by the royal family in their celebration of Diana's virginity.

But this was not just a testing of boundaries. The media continuously slid from one position to another. Earlier in the piece, shock had been registered in many quarters when the Sun had published beach photos of a heavily pregnant Princess on holiday in the Carribean. The broadcast of these images had an ambiguity attached to them. On the one hand, it is an invasion of privacy; on the other, a celebration of the fairy tale of hereditary monarchy, recently legitimised in a fairy tale public ceremony. But later, motivations appeared less ambiguous. For example, in annus horribilis 1992 the newspaper transcripts of telephone conversations between Diana and James Gilbey, and invited the public to dial in to listen to them. In October 1996 the Sun falsely reported they had 'sex' video tapes of Diana and James Hewitt, and while later they had to retract, initially took a prurient delight in publishing their scoop.

Given this history of antagonistic delight, what sense might anyone make of the Sun front page on the day after her death? A black-bordered sheet proclaiming 'Goodnight our Sweet Princess. We'll never forget you.' Why not? Are 'we' the people mourning the loss of our Queen of Hearts, or the Sun mourning the loss of 'our' target? Is anyone unaware of the role of 'the quest for pictures' in her death and the hypocrisy of these statements? What sense might anyone make of this sliding around?

Second, and compounding the above, was Diana's own sliding. She slid around in her relations with the media, offering and revoking imaging opportunities with caprice. Her language and actions spoke of love and suffering, her body reacted with violence and bulimia. She displayed affection to her children in public when she 'should' have been defering to them as Princes. She touched AIDS sufferers, lepers and untouchables, but not her husband. She broke ranks and 'authorised' her private story via Andrew Morton. She publically confessed her privacy to Martin Bashir and a worldwide audience of millions. She loved a Muslim, an infidel, a foreigner; but had been married in an Abbey to the future head of the Anglican Church, the 'Defender of the Faith'-in-waiting. To have been called 'two-faced' is a bit of an understatement..

Moving the focus

Yet what was more important than her contradictory positionings were the reflective public displays of her sliding. She was aware of the tensions in her life:

QUESTION: Were you able to admit that you were in fact unwell, or did you feel compelled simply to carry on performing as the Princess of Wales?

DIANA: I felt compelled to perform. Well, when I say perform, I was compelled to go out and do my engagements and not let people down and support them and love them. Panorama Interview, BBC, 20 November, 1995

She was clearly aware of the tensions of the public vs. private sphere's of her life:

QUESTION: You're effectively living separate lives, yet in public there's this appearance of this happily married royal couple. How was this regarded by the Royal Family?

DIANA: I think everybody was very anxious because they could see there were complications but didn't want to interfere, but were there, made it known that they were there if required.

QUESTION: Do you think it was accepted that one could live effectively two lives - one in private and one in public?

DIANA: No, because again the media was very interested about our set-up, inverted commas; when we went abroad we had separate apartments, albeit we were on the same floor, so of course that was leaked, and that caused complications.

But Charles and I had our duty to perform, and that was paramount.

QUESTION: So in a sense you coped with this, these two lives, because of your duty?

DIANA: Uh,uh. And we were a very good team in public; albeit what was going on in private, we were a good team.

QUESTION: Some people would find that difficult to reconcile.

DIANA: Well, that's their problem. I know what it felt like. Panorama Interview, BBC, 20 November, 1995

And she was aware of the contradictory positions created by, for example, her bulimia:

It was a symptom of what was going on in my marriage. I was crying out for help, but giving the wrong signals, and people were using my bulimia as a coat on a hanger: they decided that was the problem - Diana was unstable. Panorama Interview, BBC, 20 November, 1995

Her real 'gift' was in the ways she performed these contradictions, to slide between and above categories, thus, as an agent of ostranenie, disrupting the flow of everyday life by bringing the conditions of its existence into focus. Royals are, for example, used to 'opening' buildings, organizations; addressing their public, an audience, and the like. When they do, they are constrained to act as functionaries and performatively embody their 'Royalness'. Not so Diana.

'Ladies and Gentlemen, you are lucky to have your patron here today. I was supposed to have my head down the loo for most of the day. I was supposed to be dragged off in a minute by men in white coats. If it's all right with you I thought I might postpone my nervous breakdown.' The launch of Wellbeing, November, 1993.
Her performance belies her words, and so her words act to bring forward a hitherto unsayable, unthinkable, unsaid that begins a slide. She deconstructs her Royal function by her topic, which she creates her topic out of her breathed air right in front of her audience, creates it as something that can be talked about. And she does not take the option of taking the spotlight off herself, prefacing her words with 'You may have heard that (I was supposed to...). Rather, she comes to personify the position she holds between many narratives: who is this person who was supposed to do these things?

Presence

It's funny but when I met her I could swear she had come into the room even though my back was turned. The first thing that struck me was her glamour. She had the most beautiful skin. The other thing was she seemed genuinely interested. She said different things to different people. She wasn't one of those important people who goes around saying the same thing to everyone. She tailored the conversation to suit. She was introduced to ambassadors, authors and journalists and every man in the place was turned to jelly. But she was also very funny - using humour against herself.
Sarah Lincoln, the Observer, September 7, 1997.

I wasn't the first person in my family to encounter Diana. My mother shook her hand many years ago, back in the days when she was still Shy Di. Long before she began grooming herself to become the Queen of Hearts, Diana came to my home town in South Wales to open a new children's wing at the hospital where my mother works. I remember my mother arriving home, gushing about how lovely and sweet and kind and caring Princess Di really was. And I remember my reaction - totally unimpressed. How times change. In my own defence I have to say that the Diana I encountered at the London Lighthouse last year was a different model. [...] I remeber thinking how thin her legs were, and how clipped her voice was. It was only when she finished speaking, and got down to shaking hands that the real value of her visit became apparent. The Di effect was remarkable to behold. Faces flushed with excitement. Eyes lit up. And, corny as it sounds, a feeling of genuine love pervaded the room. For the next three days, I went around telling everyone how lovely and sweet and kind and caring Princess Di really was.
Paul Burston, Time Out, September 3-10, 1997.