On 6 September 1997, Charles Spencer – the 9th Earl Spencer and younger brother to Diana – delivered a blistering eulogy on the occasion of the funeral of his sister. His words touched a nerve all across the world as they spoke of how Diana’s “particular brand of magic” needed no royal title to legitimise it.
But he also had strong words for the media, particularly the tabloid press, and their treatment of Diana in what no-one could have guessed were her final days.
He spoke of how Diana, in the year after her divorce from Prince Charles, had “talked endlessly” of leaving Britain, “mainly because of the treatment that she received at the hands of the newspapers. I don’t think she ever understood why her genuinely good intentions were sneered at by the media, why there appeared to be a permanent quest on their behalf to bring her down. It is baffling”.
Spencer struck a poetic note when he said: “It is a point to remember that of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest was this – a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age.”
Looking back across 20 years it is sometimes easy to forget that Diana was not some remote royal whose death was a sudden, surprising thing that came out of nowhere. In the months before, she had appeared with almost exhausting regularity on the front pages of the newspapers, and indeed had a profile that today we rarely see among the royals.
There was an obsession with Diana, her every move was checked and documented and filed. The tabloids led on the most spurious stories for days on end. For a newspaper editor, those must have been the glory days. Where today the red-tops busy themselves with the minutiae of the movements – one, suspects, carefully choreographed by legions of PR executives – of instantly forgettable reality TV stars, back then there was an actual, honest-to-God princess providing the headlines.