Is it me or is there a distinct emotional shift in the new series of The Crown?
Suddenly I am engrossed. Until now I had been impressed by glossy interiors, entertaining cameos and interesting snippets of history. But nothing pierced my psyche or caused a sleepless night, not even Aberfan.
So what is it about Diana’s story that gets under my skin? It is more than fascinators and fancy dresses – those big troubling eyes penetrate my dreams.
Excavating my feelings, I am uncomfortably reminded of the little girl, watching the Royal Wedding in 1981. Even in a West Country backwater with a TV constantly on the blink, I couldn’t escape. Little girls everywhere were brainwashed by the romance of Prince Charming.
Scratching beneath the surface there is anger and shame at this. “Silly Moo” My Dad’s words for Diana wound me. They were a judgement on me too. We were gullible. We were sucked into fantasy. Innocence is excruciating.
In truth Diana got under everyone’s skin. It turned out that tough-minded cynics were as captivated as little girls.
Early on the morning of her death in 1997, I was hauled out of bed by a phone call from my partner Damian. This was remarkable because he was notoriously bad at communication. Weeks into our relationship, he went cycling in the Alps for several months without contact. Not a postcard or phone call ( all we had in the days before social media). Missing, the song playing endlessly on the radio that summer, set the mood.
I picked up the phone cautiously, guessing an earth shattering event provoked his early morning call. When he broke the news about Diana I was stunned, perhaps more by his reaction to her death, than her horrible untimely demise.
A good few years older than me, Damian was irreverent of Church, Royalty and State. It seemed inconceivable that now he was reaching out to me over the death of a princess.
Hard to recall the details of that conversation long ago. I dimly recollect dull skies and a view into the garden of my childhood. One thing I am very clear about. On the other end of the phone, Damian had lost his witty edge and was unnerved. Had something in him softened or was I gullible?
A few days later he called again, wondering when I was coming home. I was helping my parents move house – remarkably he tracked down their new number.
The death of the princess marked a distinct emotional shift in him. When I returned from my trip, he jumped on me from behind the front door. I still feel that hug.
Three weeks after Diana’s death, Damian collapsed and died. Two young people suddenly dead, it was shocking and improbable.
I was spooked by the coincidence. For a long time I believed the tragedies were mysteriously connected. It was synchronicity. I looked for depth and meaning in random and cruel events.
In the short time between the two deaths we were blessed with an Indian Summer, endless days of warmth and brilliant light. We made plans. “I’m especially glad you’re mine,” he wrote in the goofy card he gave me on my birthday.
More than 20 years on, I am smiling at Diana’s disruptive power. Even from the grave, she stirs stuff up. She brings emotional depth to stodgy telly – just as she gave life to an ailing Monarchy. Now I am shamelessly hooked on a show about the ghoulish royals.
And I am reminded that the terrible circumstances of her death prompted a blossoming of tenderness in my partner during the last weeks of his life. Painful and touching to recall, but a great and enduring comfort.