Is there a word for the sense of vertigo we sometimes feel about the passage of time? The internet suggests “chronophobia”. That seems in danger of medicalising a response that is perfectly natural, even if occasionally unsettling. One delivery system for these temporal shocks is the anniversary, and 2017 promises to be a bumper year.
Twenty years ago, 1997 really did seem to provide one of those bold historical punctuation marks. For me, personally, it was the year I left Yorkshire for London and met my future wife. For the rest of us it meant the New Labour landslide and Cool Britannia.
It was, of course, also the year Diana died. As a fledgling reporter at Sky, I was working the overnight shift when, in the early hours of August 31, news of her fatal car crash in Paris first came through. So enormous was the public response to her death that my bosses belatedly decided they had to yield to the need for a royal correspondent. The job went to me and my first big task was to prepare for the first anniversary of the princess’s death.
Retelling the story of what happened in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel has never been easy. I met and interviewed the only survivor of the crash, bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, only to find that the injuries he had sustained had wiped clean his memory of that critical night.
I also took a camera crew into Dodi Fayed’s apartment, close to the Champs-Elysées, where Diana had been heading after leaving the Ritz Hotel. This was hailed – at least by me – as a journalistic coup, since no other media access to it had been granted since the crash. It was a glamorous bachelor pad where time had stood still. We filmed the exquisite furniture and views, but avoided getting shots of the bedroom’s full-length ceiling mirrors or waist-high tower of “glamour” magazines piled next to the loo.
On the day of the first anniversary of Diana’s death I joined thousands of others at Kensington Palace Gardens in a strange act of remembrance. The atmosphere had lost the revolutionary charge it possessed in the days before her funeral, but it was still febrile. I saw the spiky historian Dr David Starkey escorted away from the scene by police. It was for his own safety. In a TV interview, audible to a crowd containing people who saw themselves as fierce custodians of Diana’s memory, he had questioned the morality of “Our Lady of Versace”.
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