Princess Diana was Britain's most influential woman of the latter half of the 20th century, second only to Margaret Thatcher. But where Thatcher didn't believe in society, Diana showed compassion for its most vulnerable. After her divorce from Prince Charlies in 1996, she was a fashion icon as well as a humanitarian campaigner, wearing Chanel, Versace, and Christian Lacroix on highly-publicized nights out at society nightclub Annabel's and meetings with Mother Theresa alike. Paparazzi followed her every move, even photographing her on her way to therapy.
Diana died in Paris in 1997, after a tragic car crash. Her death prompted a sort of public mourning never previously seen in the UK: flowers and candles were left metres-deep outside Kensington Palace, where she had lived. Thousands lined the streets of London to witness her funeral cortege go past. And, with the monarchy in crisis, new prime minister Tony Blair had to persuade Queen Elizabeth to fly the Union Jack at half-mast out of respect to her estranged daughter-in-law.
So how do you commemorate someone like Diana? Elton John's "Candle In The Wind," originally about Marilyn Monroe, was updated and performed at Diana's funeral. It went on to become the second-biggest selling single ever, second only to Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." Naomi Watts tried her best in the 2013 biopic Diana but reviewers called it "car crash cinema".
Online, however, the 1,416 followers of @DianaDayByDay are reliving every frenzied, jet-set, and documented minute of Diana's last months through the medium of Twitter. Right now, the account is tweeting the last year she was alive in real time with Diana-related news and updates; paparazzi photos, archived news reports, and tidbits of information from the various inquests into Diana's death. The account has been following Diana's final years since 2013. With weeks to go until the 19th anniversary of Diana's death, Broadly caught up with the anonymous person who runs the account.
BROADLY: Hi there, so what got you into Diana?
I'm not "into her" as such but I find the circumstances of her death fascinating. There has been more public inquiry and evidence put into the public domain about almost any other person in British history.
Were you interested at the time, when Diana was still around?
No. I did not follow events in her life closely when she was alive, and I only became interested in events surrounding her death ten years afterwards with the Paget report and the inquest. Apart from 9/11, Diana's death was the most shocking and memorable news event of my life. I first read Paget [the London Metropolitan Police's inquiry into the conspiracy theories surrounding Diana and Dodi's deaths, published in 2006] in 2007 and that's what got me interested, but also you may have noticed I've posted up videos of PMQs [Prime Ministers' Questions, a weekly debate in the House of Commons] from the time as well. It's to give people and idea of what was going on politically back then. It was an exciting time.
And why this method—why tweeting in real-time?
I'd acquired so much knowledge over the years—after I read Paget, I followed the inquest very closely, reading all the transcripts as they were put up. I used text to speech software on my laptop which helped get through them quicker. I decided to share all my knowledge after following @JFKElmStreet in 2013. I've since added "Hopefully improving understanding about the death of an iconic figure" to my profile description to try and allay some apparent misconceptions about what the purpose of it was.
What were those?
People said it's weird, it's morbid, and that people with an interest with Diana are freaks (they put it more colourfully than that, of course). Or people just generally took the piss or asked disparagingly what the point of it was. I blocked about 100 accounts last year. I think I'd be less likely to attract abuse if it wasn't about a female figure. If it was about, say, JFK or Nelson Mandela, people would be more respectful.
Do you get people disputing what's claimed? At the time, a lot of people didn't know what to think of Diana's last days, and even now, those still interested in her seem likely to believe in conspiracies surrounding her death...
I've not had anyone dispute what I'm claiming apart from Rosa Monckton [businesswoman and friend of Diana] pointing out an article I posted up from the time was a total fabrication. I post High Beam links [a subscription-based archive of news stories] up as they're from the time and give an idea of what was appearing in the media and I take what's said in them with a pinch of salt, I'm not surprised they're full of inaccuracies. Statements given to Paget and evidence at the inquest I'll only post up if I think, on a balance of probabilities, it's true.
Do you ever give the conspiracy theories any credence? Like the one about the Royal Family plotting to kill her?
No, the evidence gathered by the British and French inquiries and presented to the inquest disprove them beyond reasonable doubt.
What's the weirdest one you've heard?
Probably that the ambulance was to have people who would beat her to death with iron bars if she showed signs of surviving. They're all pretty weird when you compare them to the actual evidence. The fundamental flaw in them is that in order to work would have required a plan of assured complexity in which a multitude of things could go wrong, and after which hundreds of people would have to keep quiet about it. The evidence suggests a situation that was comparatively simple and straightforward.
Why do you think people get so cross at you for doing what you do, then?
I think from the abusive messages I got, some people assumed it was an account that was all about adulation for Diana, sort of Daily Mail or Daily Express style. It's just because I think the events in the last months of her life were interesting and there are a lot of misconceptions about them.
Do you get support from people for what you're doing? What sort of people interact with you?
A lot of people who would be considered Diana fans, judging by their profiles. They might be fans because they were fans when she was alive; the age of many of them would suggest that they are old enough to have followed events in her life at the time. I notice the people who gather at Kensington Palace each anniversary are older people, but the youngest person to regularly interact with this account claims to be 23. Others are people who enjoy finding out about what happened 19 years ago and remembering when Diana was alive. It's for nostalgia purposes, I guess.
It sounds like a lot of work—apart from Diana's iconic status, what inspired you to do all of this?
Part of my motivation was all the lies that have been told about her death and the people, such as Rosa, who have been besmirched by them [Moncktontold a BBC documentary that Diana had had her period days before her death, meaning that she couldn't have been pregnant with Dodi Al Fayed's child]. But also, Princess Diana was an omnipresent media figure that the press was obsessed with. The trouble in her marriage was a regular news story I remember from that time. After her divorce, she was just a celebrity taking on popular causes. However, I would also say she was an era-defining figure like Churchill, JFK or Queen Victoria. Her message of love and compassion was much needed in the materialistic age of the 80s.
Do you think that's why she's still thought of today?
Her contribution to awareness and understanding of issues affecting children, and those who'd suffered with AIDS or the effects of landmines was outstanding. She was not a passive member of the royal family and that inspired considerable respect and affection for her. I can only speculate on what the world would be like without her being who she was.
How often do you schedule your tweets?
I do them pretty much daily, some days take longer than others depending on what's to be described. It took longer tonight, but it's just more practical to do it daily, otherwise it gets too tedious. You have to concentrate hard.
What about when you're away on holiday or something?
It's pretty much the same. I only have to take time out when there's a lot of tweets to put up, tonight took about an hour. On 30th August [the date of Diana's death in 1997] I expect will take a few hours, but most days it's only a few tweets and takes only a few minutes.
Read more: The Woman Who Was Almost Queen Elizabeth I
What makes what you do a success?
I judge success on the whether I'm happy with what I've written and there is a reasonable amount of feedback and interaction. In 2014, by the final night I only had about 300 followers and I was content with that.
How long are you going to continue what you do? Or might you move onto commemorating another dead celebrity?
There are no other times I feel like tweeting day by day. I did consider it for the OJ Simpson trial's 20th anniversary but the subject was too huge to take on. I plan to do [Diana Day by Day] this year and next to cover the 20th anniversary, but not after that.