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  •   Global Focus: CHAT ABOUT PRINCESS DIANA


    Post correspondent
    T.R. Reid

    We were online live with Post correspondent T.R. Reid, who joined us on August 31, 1988, the first anniversary of Princess Diana's death, to discuss the current state of Britain and the royal family.

    Read the full chat below:


    Tampa, FL: Why should we care?

    Host Aileen Yoo: T.R. -- This user, like many others, are asking this same question: Why should we care about Diana's death, the anniversary and the aftermath?

    T.R. Reid: There's no obligation to care. I care, personally, because I think her life was such a fascinating story: Child of absolute privilege, grew up in palaces, etc. but with no parental love; shy teenager who catches the eye of the nation's most eligible bachelor; becomes a princess and the most famous woman on earth; tries to give her husband and her own kids the love she never had in her own family; is rejected by her husband and his mum, the Queen; finally leaves him, becomes a world figure, starts to get her life
    together--and dies at age 36.
    To me, it's a compelling story, that's all.


    Washington, D.C.: T.R.,

    Your article on Sunday seemed to say that people are again warming to the Royal family. But could the tides turn against the family (and Charles) if he, say, marries Camilla Parker-Bowles? In other words, how strong is this support? How long could it really last?

    T.R. Reid: I think the monarchy has regained its popularity in large part because they have been so restrained and dignified amid a fairly gross outpouring of excessive reactions to Diana's death from everybody else. And if they continue to show this kind of dignity, their public support will last.
    If Charles goes off quietly and marries his lover, and is true to her, and still does his royal job decently, he'll come out fine. I think.


    Alexandria, VA: The latest issue of Newsweek includes a story speculating on whether William will be king one day, and whether Britons see the monarchy as outdated. It was the first time I'd ever seen anyone express doubt about William's future. Do you find that people see the continuation of the monarchy as inevitable, and that William, not Prince Charles, will be the one who carries it forward?

    T.R. Reid: If you can trust opinion polls, all the surveys taken here in the past few weeks indicate that the Monarchy is alive and well, and should survive through several more kings. I expect Charles to become King eventually, although I probably won't be here to cover that story. And I expect William to get to the throne as well.


    Gaithersburg, Md: After one year, how would you compare the death of Diana to the loss that the U.S. felt for JFK?

    T.R. Reid: I remember the response to JFK's death fairly well, and I think there has been a much greater degree of wallowing in the death here than there was in the U.S. in 1964. I don't remember our newspapers putting JFK on the front page every day for a year after his death.
    I think part of this is that the media are so much more a part of daily life now. The newspapers, mags, and TV nets here have run with the Diana story more than our news media did with the Dallas story in 1963-64. And, there are just more media around now.


    Bethesda, Md.: Princess Di's brother, Charles Spencer, granted an interview to Fox TV in July. He seemed to use the media (which he so vehemently attacked at Diana's funeral) to show home movies of his sister and to promote the Althorp Estate where a Diana Museum now stands.
    Has he ruined his reputation? What is he doing to repair it?

    T.R. Reid: Yeah, I think the ninth Earl has wrecked his reputation. I went into this in some detail in my story on the Sunday (8/30) Post, so I won't bore everybody with it now. But it is a fascinating tale.
    The most amazing thing to me about Charles spencer is that this man--the guy who said "I always knew the press would kill Diana in the end"--turned her away when she came to him and asked for a home on the family estate after her divorce. He could have provided her a degree of insulation from the press, but he refused to do so.
    The reason he had the power to do this is that, as the oldest son, he inherited the entire 5,000-acre family estate. And even though she was born first, she had no right to claim a home on the estate her brother got from their parents.


    Arlington, VA: T.R.,

    Having lived in Japan, how much similarity do you see between the Japanese monarchy and the British monarchy. Which has more support among their respective populations?

    T.R. Reid: To me, the Japanese royal family seems to be the more admirable group of people. The countless divorces, the philandering, the tasteless comments that are commonplace among the Windsor family here would just be unthinkable in Japan.
    It's just hard to imagine a young woman in the Japanese royal family posing half nude or making diet commercials on TV, as the ex-wife of Prince Andrew has done here.
    So I think the Japanese royal family is more popular--but has earned it.


    Washington, D.C.: Two of the world's most important leaders are dogged by political and personal problems -- Russia is on the verge of collapse and Clinton's legacy is in tatters . Global terrorism may again be on the rise, while the world economy teeters on the verge of uncertainty. Yet, you fall into the trap of America's preoccupation with British royalty by having a chat on this overblown topic, rather than addressing more serious problems facing the world. Can you tell me why?

    T.R. Reid: The financial crisis in Russia is a much more important story than the British royal family. So is the jailing of that political prisoner in Malaysia. But that doesn't mean those two stories fill the entire paper.
    When you were chatting with your family today, did you discuss any topic other than the crisis in Moscow? And do you feel guilty because you did?
    We don't have to focus every waking minute on the biggest crisis.


    Denver, Colorado: You were in Japan before, right? So what makes the Washington Post decide to send you from there to London?

    T.R. Reid: Yeah, I thought that, too, at first. But I now feel this was quite a shrewd move on the part of my editors. They want to get the comparative view into their coverage, and so they have sent reporters from Nairobi to Hong Kong, from Delhi to Mexico City, and from Tokyo to London. I think it makes our coverage more interesting.
    Anyway, you can make a stronggggg case the the U.K. and Japan are the same country. Island nations just off the coast, caught in a tug of influence between the nearby continent and the distant U.S., hard-working, civil societies that believe in education, and two small nations that achieved global financial influence far out of proportion to their size.
    I see a lot of similarities between Britain and Japan. Funny, though--the British absolutely hate it when I say this out loud. Many British people here are openly nasty toward Japan and they people they call "Japs." I wonder if this is jealousy?


    Landover Hills, Maryland: Hi Mr. Reid,
    The late Princess seemed to understand the evils of Capitalism and its devestating effects on the African Continent. Her visits to Southern Africa and her attempts to show the world the victims of the coldwar are just a few examples. Do you believe, as I do, that the West, namely the U.S. and Britain were happy to see the this great woman leave the world stage?

    T.R. Reid: Hi. Diana was a pretty good capitalist, I think.
    She was also a British person who was beloved around the world, so I think this country saw her as a treasure.


    Herndon, VA: Do you think there could be another Diana? I mean, even Mother Theresa hasn't received this much attention. Is there anyone that has so significantly captured the world's attention?

    T.R. Reid: I'd say the phenomenal response to Diana's death had a lot to do with her, but it is also the product of a global media culture that grabs onto dramatic stories and won't let go. There's going to be another Diana. In a few years, when everybody is carrying a wrist-watch TV and a mobile Internet unit, the next Diana will be an even larger phenomenon.


    Evanston, Ill.: Is there anyone who is lending credence to the conspiracy theories posed by Mohammed Al Fayed, or do they tend to dismiss them, as many in the press do, because there doesn't seem to be any proof to support his notion? Also, much has been made of the supposed anti-Muslim feeling in America; do you feel a similar attitude exists in Great Britain?

    T.R. Reid: The media here are scoffing at Mr. Fayed's conspiracy theories. so are the British and french governments. One response to his theories is that he's trying to steer the blame away from himself, because the drunken driver of the car was his employee.
    Personally, I feel a lot of sympathy for Mr. Fayed. He lost a son in this crash, which everybody seems to forget. And even though he saved a great British institution (Harrod's) with wise business techniques, the British have never accepted him and won't let him be a citizen. I think there is latent racism in this society, and he has been a victim of it.


    washington, d.c.: Over the past year, have you noticed a change in coverage of the royal family by British media?

    T.R. Reid: Yes. As I wrote in Sunday's paper, the royal family is once again viewed as the mother/father/brother figure for the whole country. People aren't mad at them anymore. That is largely because the press have been kind to the queen, and Charles, over the past year.
    This monarchy has no governing authority, no army, no power. All they have going for them is public support. So they have to cultivate their press clippings, and they have done so skillfully in the past year.+-


    Host Aileen Yoo: We are roughly half-way through this live online discussion with T.R. Reid in London.

    Send your questions by clicking on the Submit Question hyperlink.


    Washington, DC: As an African American, I was astonished at how deeply felt was the response from many members of my own culture, this reaction was not defined by age or gender. To what do you attribute Diana's transracial appeal?

    T.R. Reid: I think Diana's story is compelling in a way that reaches over age, gender, race, nationality, etc.
    Also, she has become a media commodity in a media-soaked age. I remember reading that Thomas Edison was the world's most famous person in the 1880's, even though most people had not yet benefited from his inventions. But the emerging press lords loved his story and told everybody about it.


    Rosslyn, VA: Does public support for the monarchy vary with the state of the economy? --as it does here in the U.S. with our presidents. Does the current popularity of the monarchy have anything to do with the fact that Britain's economy has rebounded as of late?

    T.R. Reid: I haven't lived in the UK during an economic downturn. But I personally might feel resentful of the queen if I were out of work and she went zipping by in her Rolls. So it will be interesting to see what happens if the economy turns sorrow.
    I think this might happen fairly soon, by the way. Please keep reading the Post so you can see my boffo upcoming piece on the imminent British recession.


    Portland, Maine: Is there anyone to ensure that Princes William and Harry will continue to experience the aspects of life that they shared with their mother?

    T.R. Reid: You know, those boys look reasonably happy, from what you can tell from afar. Everybody says they get along great with Charles. But of course, everybody used to say that Charles and Diana got along great, so we don't know is this is true.
    Would you want to find out, at age 10 or so, that you are going to spend your life living in palaces with all the money you could ever want--but you also have to become the king whether you want to or not? I think I'd choose not to be in their position.


    Kansas City KS: At the funeral Charles Spencer promised to see that Diana's children were protected from the press. I haven't heard much about what he has done to insure this.

    T.R. Reid: Charles Spencer hasn't done much to protect the boys, because they never see him. It's reported that they don't like him much.
    But, the British media do seem to feel a tiny bit chastised about their saturation coverage of Diana in her lifetime, and their response to this is to lay off the two boys somewhat. Of course, when they do put Prince william on the cover, they sell a lot of magazines. This basic capitalist truth probably means the boys will eventually be doomed to the same treatment their mother got.
    If you don't like that, take an oath that you will never buy People mag. again (or the WashPost) is you see Prince william on the cover.


    Raleigh, N.C.: The marketing around Diana's image has been extraordinary. I was in NYC recently, and saw Diana refrigerator magnets at a store in the Village, alongside James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. Are you surprised? Will it last?

    T.R. Reid: Well, I'm disgusted with the outpouring of tacko Diana souvenir junk, but I don't suppose I'm surprised.
    Her own family is feeding this. Her brother set up a souvenir shack near the gravesite, complete with a junk catalogue--sorry, I mean a "list of products"--of stuff you can buy to remember your visit to the poor woman's grave. Her 2 sisters are on the board of the Diana memorial charity, which has sold the rights to her name and face for use on plastic tubs of margarine and on bingo cards issued by one of the bookie chains here. So if her own family is cashing in, it's not surprising that others will do so, too.


    tulsa, oklahoma: What are the beliefs of the royal family regarding death? Why and where did the stoic way of dealing with public displays of emotion originate? Was Princess Diana's body viewed by family and friends while it lay in state? Why was the public denied the last view of The People's Princess?

    T.R. Reid: This royal family is all Christian, and Anglican, as far as we know. So they presumably assume that Diana has gone on to some form of eternal life in Christ. This is the basis for St. Paul's famous "Oh grave, where is thy victory?", a line that always brings solace to me when somebody I know dies.


    rosslyn, va.: Are you tired of covering Diana?

    T.R. Reid: I'm not tired of covering the story. But I do sometimes have to write about stories that I'm fed up with.
    The key question is, are you guys tired of reading this story? When you are, I can stop reporting it.
    Sometimes, I keep on reporting stories long after everybody but me has lost interest, just because I think they are important. From London, for example, I keep mentioning how the British still seem proud that they had an empire. I wouldn't be proud of it, but I think they are.


    Rosslyn, VA: What's the latest word from palace watchers on whether Elizabeth will step down and allow her son Charles to become king?

    T.R. Reid: Queen Elizabeth II is 72, looks health, and doesn't show any sign of stepping down. Charles will be 50 this year, and I'm afraid he still has a long wait ahead of him. His grandmother is a jaunty 98, so the family genes may be on the Queen's side.


    Durham, N.C.: Do you have any predictions about what the public's reaction to the death of the Queen Mother will be? Since she is now 98, her death can't be too far off!

    T.R. Reid: I can guarantee you I am going to write a huge and highly favorable story about the Queen Mum, because my wife loves the woman and has made me study her life.
    However, I'm only going to be here 4-5 years, so I'm not sure I will be the person who reports her death.


    Bethesda, Maryland: Are royal offspring prepared for great loss? While watching William and Harry on the day of Dianas funeral, they seemed most composed, and continue to handle their loss with dignity. I don't know of any children their age who could maintain composure in the fashion they have exhibited.

    T.R. Reid: My guess, totally a guess, is that the windsor children learn pretty early in life that they've been dealt a strange hand: No worries ever about making money or paying the mortgage, but in return they have to be the royal family of the stiff upper lip, dignity, tut tut old boy, and all that stuff. And they seem to learn these lessons well.
    The media here keep saying that the younger prince , Harry, seems to have a lively and possibly rebellious spirit. But then, he's only 13.


    Boston, Ma: Can you cite any other event of the Royals which has elicited as much sentiment and controversy?

    T.R. Reid: The obvious example would be Edward VII (was it VII) who gave up his throne in order to marry a divorced woman. Pretty shocking. In my gut, I feel he was wrong, but my spouse thinks it is glorious that he chose love over tradition.
    If Edward had not abdicated, by the way, he might have had a son who became King, and then Elizabeth might not have become queen, and Charles wouldn't be Prince of Wales, and Diana Spencer might still be working as a teacher in London.


    washington,d.c.: Mr. Reid,
    You seem to have an uncanny ability to take a complex, difficult story and make it simple to understand. You did this with your book The Chip -- you did it with your coverarge of Japah for 5 years. What do you think you will cover during your tour in England that is complex and could use your talents in explicating it?

    T.R. Reid: All I can say is you must be a discerning reader. Thanks so much for remembering my book The Chip. Here in London, I hope to cover the big question of whether there really is one place called "Europe," and what it would mean if they ever formed a real political and financial union.


    Reston, VA: Do you think that the ghost of Dianna is around? and if so, is she happy or sad?

    T.R. Reid: I'm Catholic. We pray to the spirits of the departed all the time, and I think they are around. I can remember when our third child was born, after my father had died. And I said to the other two kids, "Let's go to church and tell your grandfather that Willa was born today." And my kids said, "But, he must know already. Isn't he watching us?"
    I think Diana is around, and watching us. I don't think she would be happy to see the media and the souvenir folks and her own brother rushing to profit from her death. I don't think she would like the response here to her death.
    --thanks so much for your questions. (Particularly the person who had read some of my books.)


    Host Aileen Yoo: We're out of time now so let's bring this online chat to a close. Washington Post correspondent T.R. Reid has answered your questions live from London. Thanks to all for participating.

    Tomorrow at noon, come back for "Levey Live." See you then.



    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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