Princess Diana and fame

By Laurie Bennett

February 5, 2013 at 8:24am
Diana, Princess of Wales, dancing with John Travolta at a 1985 White House dinner.

Princess Diana, dancing with John Travolta at a 1985 White House dinner, 12 years before her death.

It’s a toxic relationship, this thing we have for celebrity.

The famous thrive on it, up to a point. The public can’t be sated.

If Andy Warhol was the first to take note of the Era of Celebrity, Princess Diana and her offspring have come to embody it.

On the one hand, the “People’s Princess” loved attention and willingly revealed so much. Her BBC interview with Martin Bashir, after she had separated from Prince Charles, is still jolting.

On the other hand.

As she told Bashir: “It took a long time to understand why people were so interested in me, but I assumed it was because my wonderful husband had done a lot of wonderful work leading up to our marriage and our relationship. But then, over the years, you see yourself as a good product that sits on a shelf and sells well. People make a lot of money out of you.”

Diana died as the paparazzi chased her through a tunnel in Paris. The crash occurred more than 15 years ago and we’re still fixated. The media (we include paparazzi in this mix) are more than happy to oblige us.

The obsession with Diana of course continues with her sons and the daughter-in-law she never knew.

William and Harry became victims of the UK hacking scandals, when a News of the World journalist tapped into the voice mail of their private secretary, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton.

William’s bride, Kate Middleton, was photographed while sunbathing topless at a French chateau. Publications around the world ran the pictures.

A bizarre entanglement with the media occurred months later, when two Australian disc jockeys phoned the hospital where Middleton was being treated for morning sickness. The nurse who answered the prank call committed suicide.

And then there were the pictures of a naked Prince Harry in a Las Vegas hotel room, published by TMZ and the Sun.

As Harry ruefully noted later, “Every single mobile phone has got a camera on it now.”

The technology has changed so dramatically since Diana’s death that photos and videos taken with handheld devices are now the instantaneous shots seen ’round the world.

We’re all paparazzi now.

In an odd way, our times conjure the Red Scare of the ’50s. Sen. Joe McCarthy’s relentless pursuit of Americans with alleged Communist ties advanced his own fortunes. The public went into a frenzy. The hunted grew fearful and ever more isolated.

And then an attorney named Joseph Welch, representing the U.S. Army, turned to McCarthy during a hearing and asked: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

The Era of Celebrity needs a Joseph Welch.

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  • #1.   Steve 02.05.2013

    The article is very good. There is an error in the caption below the photo. The photo is from 12 years before her death, not two years.

  • #2.   Laurie Bennett 02.06.2013

    Ouch. Thanks for pointing out the typo. We’ve fixed it.

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