Socialist Worker

Diana's death was used for cynical ends

Issue No. 2570

Princess Diana, who died 20 years ago

Princess Diana, who died 20 years ago (Pic: Nick Parfjonov/Wikimedia Commons)

Much of the media has spent the past month or more fawning over a rich royal, princess Diana, who died 20 years ago today.

The mainstream coverage has made much of how Diana was apparently “different” to other members of the Royal family in order to justify its adulation.

Below we republish what Socialist Worker wrote following Diana’s death in 1997:

A death is used for cynical ends

“The media has been utterly dominated by coverage of the death of princess Diana.

Prime minister Tony Blair called her the “people’s princess" and said the whole nation would be in mourning.

Certainly many people felt sympathetic when Diana exposed her terrible treatment at the hands of Prince Charles and the rest of the royal family.

She had unwittingly revealed the hypocrisy and callous behaviour of the royal family. Her visits to AIDS patients and her campaign against land mines upset some of the establishment and made many ordinary people feel she was much better than the rest of the royals.

But the propaganda since her death is being used in an attempt to rehabilitate the battered institution of the royal family.

So it is necessary to look squarely at some basic truths.

Diana was brought up in an extremely privileged upper class family. She was always surrounded by immense wealth and she went on to revel in the fame and fortune her position gave her.

She occasionally clashed with the rest of the royals but she happily shared their life of privilege.

She spent an average £10,000 a month on clothes after her marriage to Prince Charles in 1981. Her walk-in wardrobe at her Kensington Palace home spanned the width of ten terraced houses.


The “grooming bill” for her hair and makeup came to over £3,500 a week. Diana’s visits to the sick and dying were an occasional exception to her “normal” luxurious jetsetting life.

Even her supposedly secret visits to view hospital operations in the middle of the night made it to the front pages of the tabloids.

There are six million people in Britain who care full time for elderly, sick and disabled relatives, yet they are rewarded with miserly benefits and don’t even get the chance of a break.

They receive no publicity and no reward for their compassion.

Similarly Di is said to have been besotted with her children.

But she had nothing in common with millions of mothers who bring up their children lovingly despite having to contend with poverty and hardship.

Di had nannies, servants and later public schools to bring up William and Harry.

She had no worries about leaving them for months on end while she gallivanted round the world on her shopping and sunbathing trips.

She has been praised for opposing land mines.

But the man she chose to go out with, the fabulously wealthy Dodi Al Fayed, raked in money from the arms dealing business of his uncle Adnan Khashoggi.

He has been involved in almost every dirty arms deal during the last 30 years.

The worship of an icon

Flowers left for princess Diana at Kensington Palace shortly after her death

Flowers left for princess Diana at Kensington Palace shortly after her death (Pic: Maxwell Hamilton/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Western media had a field day when Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran, died a few years ago.

The huge crowds fighting to get near the coffin were, we were told, an example of medieval mysticism replacing rational behaviour. It was the culmination of the derangement that had overtaken the country since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979.

This week the derangement has been nearer home. All the high and mighty in Britain have joined together to encourage a mood of irrational hysteria over the death through excessively fast driving of a woman in her thirties whose achievements in life amounted to very little.

The heads of the TV and radio channels chose to stop all normal coverage. Political leaders decreed a week of “non-politics”. The supermarket chains’ bosses decreed that their shops would shut on Saturday morning.

Richard Branson, ever keen to publicise himself, has called for a new national charity.

Allegedly serious newspapers were not to be left out. The Guardian gave over no fewer than 16 pages on Monday’s paper to the death. Allegedly serious columnists joined in the tear jerking.

Suzanne Moore of the Independent told us, “Things will never be the same again.” Ben Pimlott in the Guardian claimed, “You cannot be a sentient being and not feel grief and horror.” Hugo Young claims, “You cannot argue with the tumult and the weeping.”

The medieval attitude was to regard royalty as having miraculous properties. They believed that merely touching the king’s cloak could cure the disease of scrofula.

What we have been witnessing this week have been modern renditions of the same belief.

Of course, it is not only the high and mighty and their journalist hangers on who have been caught up in the frenzy.

So have millions of ordinary people. In every factory and every office there are people who somehow feel they should be saddened. Their feelings are real feelings. But they are no more rational than those of the medieval scrofula victims.


Back in the 1830s the German philosopher Feurbach, attempting to explain the power of religion, hit upon the notion of “alienation”. In believing in the superhuman power of a god, he said, people were really bowing down before an imaginary being they themselves had created.

The roots of the “magic” of royalty have always been very similar to the roots of religion. Archaeologists teach us that monarchies and priesthoods alike arose in what were previously egalitarian societies.

Individuals or groups who carried out certain organising functions for society as a whole—for instance, supervising the collection and distribution of food—began to use their powers to live off the wealth created by others.

Their “magic” came from being able to dispose of the life blood of society as a whole. But that was never the end of the story. As Karl Marx pointed out, you could not understand why people worshipped the “alienated” products of their own activity unless you also saw how humdrum and miserable their own lives were.

The secret of the biblical “holy family”, he wrote, lay in the “earthly family”. Religion was “the heart of the heartless world”.

In the same way, the magical aura which for so many people surrounds the royals is an inverted reflection of the cramped nature of their own existence.

Unable to live their own lives to the full, they try to live them vicariously through identification with the most “glamorous” of those who live off their backs.

This is of great consolation to the ruling class as a whole, even if an object of adulation sometimes does things that annoys them.

Religion, Marx concluded, was “the opium of the people”. So too is the monarchy. And nothing gives media magnates, big businessmen and mainstream politicians more pleasure than to dish it out in large quantities.

Chris Harman

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Thu 31 Aug 2017, 13:09 BST
Issue No. 2570
Share this article

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.