Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Witnesses in the Tunnel

I've just watched that documentary that there's been such a fuss about. The one about the photographers in the tunnel the night Princess Diana died.

Of course, I knew from reading a few advance reviews that, contrary to all the photographs of shocked-looking William and Harry in some newspapers, it didn't show photos of the dying Princess - there was one of a doctor leaning into the car and you couldn't see much else. And that was it.

It was an interesting documentary, though it did that annoying thing where you get someone speaking French, and let them speak to camera for a few seconds, and then fade their voice out and replace it with a voice-over translation. I'd rather have subtitles and, even if I can't follow all the French, I can tell more the nuances of what they're saying. Also it mixed up real footage and reconstruction so you couldn't always tell which was which.

Yet it was interesting: it told how all the photographers were carted off to jail, kept in transparent cells with bright lights, while all the world blamed them for Diana's death and we all got swept up in all the hype - I'm no royalist, and yet I watched her funeral and found it very moving. Only the royal correspondent James Whitaker seems to have mentioned at the time that, even if the car was being followed by paparazzi, so what? The driver didn't have to drive so fast that he crashed, did he?

What this documentary was saying was, look, the photographers took lots of photos after the crash - well, of course they did, it was heading to be one of the biggest stories of the end of the twentieth century - but at the time they didn't think that she was actually going to DIE. Once she died the photos were unuseable and some of the photographers' houses were raided in search of them. One man thought he'd been burgled, but was told he hadn't been: "the men who came had a plan of your house and a front door key".

Two sides to every story, of course: and a few days later came the news that Henri Paul, driver of the car that Diana and Dodi Fayed were in, had very high alcohol levels in his blood.

Now, as the documentary pointed out, Mohammed Al-Fayed really had to cling to the theory that it was the paparazzi who killed Diana and his son, because otherwise the culprit was one of his employees, who was quite simply very pissed. And as a theory, that was far grubbier and duller and far less - - well, what's the word? Dramatic? Historic? Meaningful? Romantic?

Of course, too, one of the best manipulators of photo-opportunities was Diana herself: and, indeed, in the week prior to the car crash, you may remember all those photos of Diana and Dodi frolicking about on a yacht in the Med, keeping Charles and Camilla off the front pages and frightening the Establishment with the idea that the English Rose and the Swarthy
Foreigner might become engaged.

The dullest theory about the crash is probably the correct one. Diana wasn't killed by the paparazzi, or a plot by the Duke of Edinburgh - though he'd probably wished her dead often enough - or a plot by the British Establishment, ditto. She was killed by a drunken driver. Dying not like a romantic princess, but like hundreds of ordinary people every year.
Oh, let us hope that this was the last documentary about Diana's death. It has taken ten years to hear the photographers' side of the story. In about forty minutes' time you can, if you so wish, watch a debate trailed as "was Channel Four right to show those pictures?" I'm telling you, it didn't show them. End of debate.


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