"First they ignore you, then they say you're mad, then dangerous, then there's a pause and then you can't find anyone who disagrees with you." Good words to hear today, coming as they do from Tony Benn, who died this morning (RIP, you wonderful giant of a man).
That sentiment, of one's madness later being recognised as sanity, has been in my mind a lot this week, but not in connection with deceased politicians. Instead, it relates to dead princesses – our People's Princess, in fact. The phone hacking trial just revealed that Princess Diana once apparently gave a royal family phonebook to the News of the World. Life had become unbearable for her at the palace; Prince Charles was divorcing her after years of a loveless marriage, and now she had to shut up about how "The Firm" – as she called them – were treating her. So she did what any total revolutionary badass who'd been to hell and back in a gilded prison would do: she handed the royal family's secrets to her man at the tabloids.
The more dead that woman gets, the more I love her. This directory was a top secret internal document, strictly for palace use only, detailing, as it did, everybody who worked right beside the royals and all their private numbers. As for the rest of her revelations – and the things she uncovered about the royal family – we, the people, should give her some kind of posthumous award for revealing what kind of fuckers we're actually paying to lord it over us. There'll never be another spurned princess like Diana; the People's Princess should get the people's present. The thing is, during the time their marriage was publicly breaking down, so much was done to present her as mad and wild that I'm not surprised she wanted to set the record straight with the red-tops. It was all too easy to believe, back then, that Diana was a nutter.
This, of course, is the bit where you go: "Oh, come on – she really was as bonkers as a big bag of badgers by the end of it. Remember the telly interview with Martin Bashir where she peered up from under those huge eyelids like a big cat pleading with a hunter's gun?"
Yes, I remember it well – it being the telly interview that she set up by herself, completely breaking every kind of royal protocol there is, to tell the whole world, in her own words, that her marriage to the future King of England had been a sham. That he had been cheating on her, that his family were against her and that the marriage that had been pretty much arranged for her at the age of 19, just a posh girl from the right family whose older sister had already had a thing with Charles.
Charles was older and already in love with Camilla, but Camilla was marrying someone else, and the Queen and Prince Philip were urging him to get a move on and just get a bloody woman in soon. So he and Diana became engaged, and were asked by a news reporter if they were in love. "Yes," said the man who'd grown up used to media attention, while she squirmed in the background like a plastic bag caught in the wind – all the lights shining on her nervy rabbit face.
Charles then added, helpfully, "whatever love is", to the reporters, making it quite clear to the entire nation that he didn't have the usual sort of human feelings for this poor girl, but that she would do to produce an heir and a spare, and eat strawberries at Wimbledon without getting the juice all down her top. And then people will say, "Yeah, but she really was getting unhinged. Like, what about when she was seeing that Pakistani heart surgeon and she drove off from Kensington Palace to meet him in the middle of the night, wearing a fur coat and no knickers?" Alright. Let's imagine you've had a horrible eating disorder for years. In fact, you will later admit that it started on your honeymoon, on a yacht, surrounded by strange rules and people in uniform and an older man you'd never lived with before and where you were terrified, so you started stuffing sweet food down your gob and puking it up again. Your new family's sympathy about this extended to your husband eventually, years later, asking if you couldn't just cut out the middleman and flush the food straight down the toilet.
While that might be one of his funniest quotes of all time (the competition not being as stiff as he is), it's not exactly supportive. You've been self-harming, which you will also later talk about, and you've been stuck in a weird sort of medieval lifestyle with the whole world poring over your hair, which is the sort of attention you wanted – but, you know, good hair will never actually make you feel good.
Besides which, you're a billy-no-mates through force of circumstance, and you spent your first Christmas day as a separated woman eating Christmas lunch on your own while your children went off to be with "The Firm" – as they always would, because protocol demands it. And then you meet a handsome Muslim genius who knows his way around the human body and doesn't want to sell his story, and there's a chance he's going to shag your brains out in a way no stiff upper-lipped type ever could.
Bearing all that in mind, I think I'd be round there with a fur coat and nothing underneath it myself. Actually, that's not strictly true – I wouldn't bother with the coat at all. So many of the "mad" conspiracy theories that Princess Di used to murmur about came true in the end. Particularly intriguing is the story that she supposedly told her lawyer, a few weeks before her death, that she had found out how "they" were going to kill her; a car crash in a tunnel is what she made him write down.
I know – it hasn't been proven, and I'm starting to sound like Mohammed al Fayed. But the older I get, the more I see how women are described as having gone mad, when what they've actually become is knowledgeable and powerful and fucking furious.