Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hosing down a Princess

Lena Kara, Rex Features

In case anyone had any doubt, I’ll be getting up at 4am on Friday to watch William and Kate’s wedding. I’m sure it will be a very joyous occasion with all the glorious trappings that the Brits do so well - horses and carriages and soldiers in crested helmets and breastplates and miles and miles of flags and bunting and the bells of Westminster Abbey pealing. But like millions of other people, I’ll be thinking how very sad it is that William’s mother will not be there in person to watch her son get married.   
As we all know, Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a high-speed car accident in the Pont de l’Alma Tunnel in Paris on August 31, 1997. While it is now pretty well indisputable that the main cause of that terrible accident was the extreme inebriation of the driver, Henri Paul, I for one have never felt able to absolve the paparazzi from blame.
I have never forgotten an article I read in the British Sunday newspaper, The Observer, the day after Diana’s funeral on Saturday September 6.  Among the acres of tributes and analyses of her impact on the monarchy, there was a short piece by a journalist by Marianne MacDonald which described in brutal detail what Diana had gone through at the hands of the “paps.” Three months earlier, MacDonald had gone on a ride-along with one of the most persistent of the “snappers”, Mark Saunders, and had come away completely sickened by what she had seen.
“I hadn’t cared that much about Diana before. After I spoke to Saunders – and read his book about stalking her – I felt so angry, appalled by what she was left to endure by the rest of the world… It wasn’t a civilised business being at the end of those long lenses. Diana, a woman very often on her own, was constantly followed by a swarm of ruthless, hostile strangers. They surrounded her car, jostled her in the street and insulted her to her face, even though she had paid for the shirts on their back and the beers in their fridge… Once she was held at bay in a taxi. She hid her head. A photographer shouted at her, ‘Put your fucking head up and start acting like a fucking Princess!’” 
According to MacDonald, the predominantly male paps used to describe what they did to Diana as “hosing her down” or “banging her” or even “whacking her” - language that is overtly violent,   sexual, and utterly violating. As MacDonald said, “They couldn’t seem to think of her as a human being. In the adrenaline of the chase she simply became prey to be hunted down.”
This is why so many celebrities came out and blamed the paparazzi immediately after she died in that tunnel in Paris. These were other people who knew what it was like to be the quarry in a desperate manhunt that was all about money.
In an interview with the New York Times after the Princess’s death, Mark Saunders and the co-author of his book, Glenn Harvey argued that Diana had no right to expect privacy when the public had such an appetite for her pictures. The paps also tried to argue that Diana really liked the attention and was a master manipulator of the media, thus resorting to the age-old excuse of the sexual predator – the woman was asking for it.

Kate Middleton has faced her share of over-eager, intrusive paparazzi during her long romance with Prince William, and in agreeing to become his wife, she knew that she would never have a truly private life again. But one can only hope like crazy that the snappers will treat Princess Catherine with a lot more respect than they ever gave her late mother-in-law-to-be.

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