31 August 1997
The radio woke me as usual on Sunday 31st August 1997. It would have been about 7.15am. I was confused. What was Jim Naughtie talking about in a sombre voice on a day he would normally be at home? Something had happened. Something big and something awful.
It took a few minutes before the confusion shifted into shock. Princess Diana was dead. She had died in the early hours of the morning from injuries sustained in a car crash in Paris.
Not only was this being broadcast on Radio 4, but also on Radios 2, 3, and 5 Live. Unprecedented, perhaps.
I worked for the Church of England then. Sunday? A service in a three hours. What to say, what to pray, what to do given this particular church had the most prominent presence in the city centre?
The rector thought there wouldn’t be much public reaction. On that point we disagreed. The church was much visited during the following week. People needed a meeting place for comfort and community, to ask questions and express their grief.
Tony Blair’s term ‘The People’s Princess’ seemed sentimental and a piece of political theatre to begin with, but on reflection he had it right. The deep sympathy and affection for Diana welled up. She had, it seemed be thought of as ‘one of us’ rather than ‘one of them’. Perhaps that was because of her lack of aloofness and protocol when it came to visiting the sick, the poor and the aftermath of war. And perhaps because her ex husband’s affections lay elsewhere. Radio coverage captured the public’s view of her. The BBC team’s work was commended with a Sony Award for Best News Coverage of an Event.
There is an intimacy with radio that television lacks. Spoken word radio requires greater attentiveness. Listening certainly make me feel more involved than watching does. It’s sets me thinking, it’s as though I’m waiting for my turn to respond. Using headphones, radio becomes an even more personal experience: they’re talking to me, they could be talking about me.