I was appalled. She had asked Lord John Somerset to ask me to join her, and I rose rather unsteadily to do so. This was during a Jimmy Goldsmith ball, and I was writing the Atticus column in the Sunday Times, as well as High life. A German girlfriend of mine at the time warned me about going over. ‘If you go to her, that’s it,’ she told me. ‘Auf Wiedersehen,’ I answered. The princess signalled for me to sit, and that’s where the appalling part comes in. I missed the chair and ended up under the table. Without missing a beat, she stuck her head underneath and asked me: ‘Do you really think I’m crazy?’ ‘All I know is that I’m nuts about you,’ said I.
That’s how my friendship with Princess Di began, and I think this is the last time I will write about her (it seems that everyone else has, so I might as well put in my two cents). The reason she wanted to meet me is that I had hinted that she was a nutcase trying to bring down the monarchy. After our rather inauspicious beginning — me under the table, and her bending down discussing her mental state — she quickly turned me into a believer. Mind you, she never talked badly about her husband, nor anyone else in the royal family. And I didn’t pry. I’m not exactly a pro when it comes to prying. Just because I became a journalist doesn’t mean I had to forget my manners. What Diana wanted was for me to give a dinner and invite editors of major newspapers. She never put it like that exactly, but had a female friend hint that it would really make her happy if I did.
So I did. If memory serves, Charles Moore, Alexander Chancellor and Dominic Lawson came, along with a few other hacks. It was at my place in Cadogan Square, and I pulled out all the stops: great wines and enough food to feed a German division in Stalingrad. The trouble was that she didn’t touch the booze and only picked at her food. The rest of us got quite tipsy. Word of the dinner had got out, and a couple of friends rang the bell during dinner. I had a flunkey tell them to wait outside until dinner was over. It was a joke, but one in particular took it rather badly.
What followed were more dinners at my house, and a lunch at Kensington Palace, where I read out the end of a short story by Jay McInerney. In it the grandchildren discover, during a Thanksgiving dinner, that granny gave grandfather a blowjob the first time they met. No one at the table laughed, except the footmen standing over us. Not many invites to KP followed.
One thing I remember vividly was the last time I spoke to her. Until recently, I thought that I had been the last journalist to speak to the icon of our time until I read that Richard Kay claimed that it was him. I believe him.
On the day in question, I was in my garden in Gstaad and Nigel Dempster was staying with me. In order to impress him and get on his nerves, I told him I had Diana’s private number on my mobile. He didn’t believe me so I called her, having made him promise that he wouldn’t make it obvious he was listening in. ‘Hello, stranger,’ she said. This is a professional call, said I in a stentorian voice, and she giggled. ‘Will you be wearing a towel over your head soon?’ ‘You gotta be kidding,’ she said in an exaggerated American accent.
She was killed that evening. Is there anything to say about her that has not already been written, discussed ad nauseam, and commented upon by the world’s media? Of course not. Someone once told me that she only asked to meet me in order to use me. I sure hope so, I told them. Most of the Diana ‘experts’ who have written about her, and appear on TV pontificating, hardly knew her. Tina Brown comes to mind. According to many, Di tried to shape media coverage by making herself selectively available. That she did. Although completely uneducated, she was smart and knew how to handle men — except, of course, those who really mattered to her. In the romantic way, that is.
Needless to say, Diana’s ability to sell is still going like gangbusters, and a new novel by an American woman speculates what would have happened if she had survived the Paris accident. The author says that she wasn’t interested in writing something tawdry or shoddy. Heaven forbid. I think it’s time to let go. I feel embarrassed even writing this bit about her. The irony of it is that on that fateful night, a Diana hater and I had an argument about her and the royal family. When the news came in, the hater broke down in tears.
Diana was a young attractive woman who decided to fight back on her own terms. End of story.