Last night’s TV: Diana: the truth about her final days
Only TV3 marked the anniversary of Princess Diana’s death with three hours devoted to her, writes Diarmuid Doyle
Yesterday was the fourteenth anniversary of the death of Princess Diana although, of the main tv channels, TV3 seemed to be the only one which noticed, or cared.
While some of its competitors were gearing up for the 10th anniversary on Sunday week of the 9/11 attacks on the US, TV3 devoted three hours to two programmes on Diana.
The longer of the two, Diana: The Truth About Her Final Days, was a drama documentary featuring Dublin-born actress Genevieve O’Reilly as the princess.
Dodi-Al Fayed was played by Patrick Baladi, who will be familiar to many viewers as Richard from Mistresses, a show in which his character also died in a car crash. He’s in danger of becoming stereotyped.
It didn’t tell us anything we didn’t know already, although it was worth watching for the sometimes eccentric portrayals of the main characters.
Mohamed Al-Fayed was shown as an evil genius, cackling loudly with malicious pleasure every time a picture of his son and Diana appeared in the papers.
It was enjoyably over-the-top, although the real Al-Fayed made an appearance too, and came across as a much more sympathetic character than his fictional portrayal.
The opposite was true of O’Reilly’s interpretation of Diana. The news clips broadcast last night reminded viewers of just what a passive aggressive, self-centred, attention seeker she could be, but O’Reilly played her as warm and witty, mischievous and indiscreet, on one occasion describing the Archbishop Of Canterbury as a “pain in the arse” at one of the many fund-raising events she used to attend.
Dodi was portrayed sympathetically too, as the gentle offspring of a deranged father, bullied into giving up the woman he loved to pursue an affair with Diana.
Events began a few months before Diana’s death when she was invited to spend some time with the Al-Fayeds in the South of France. As told here, she had just split up with the love of her life, Dr Hasnat Kahn, and was still nursing many grievances against her former husband and in-laws.
She accepted the invite, so setting off the train of events which culminated in the Alma Tunnel in Paris in the early hours of August 31, 1997.
Many of the early scenes were set on board the Al-Fayed yacht, where Diana and Dodi began their affair. She was shown as somebody in complete charge of her public image, expertly playing the media and giving the paparazzi what they wanted, as long as she wanted it too.
“If you can’t stop the game, you may as well learn to play it”, she tells Dodi in one scene, having spotted a photographer in the distance. Whereupon she kisses him, giving the Sunday Mirror a scoop - the first picture of the couple in a tender embrace. Cue crazed laughter from Al-Fayed snr.
Public displays of affection continued until the last week in August when the action moved to Paris. This is where Diana: The Witnesses In The Tunnel – the night’s other Diana documentary - began its account of the couple’s last hours.
The programme was an attempt – mostly successful – to show that the paparazzi were not responsible for the fatal crash.
That opinion was widespread at the time, copperfastened in the public mind by Diana’s brother Charles who claimed that the photographers, and the newspapers which used them, had “blood on their hands”.
It featured interviews with many of the paparazzi who had followed the car into the tunnel, and with some medical witnesses and other passers-by who saw what had transpired.
Some of it was self-serving, The appropriately-named Romuald Rat, a French paparazzo, recalled how he had approached Diana, who was still alive, and spoke to her, telling her everything would be alright.
However, at Diana’s inquest, it transpired that what Rat had been doing in the tunnel was negotiating a £300,000 deal with The Sun to sell them pictures of the dying princess. He also tried to make it more difficult for other photographers to take snaps when they arrived on the scene.
For all that, it was clear from the documentary that the paparazzi were not to blame for what happened. They were well behind the car as it entered the tunnel. In addition, the driver of the car – Henri Paul - was three times over the French legal limit.
Mundane as it might seem, Diana and Dodi were killed in an accident caused by a drunk driver. Witnesses In The Tunnel did an important job reminding us of that fact.
For Sky Sports News, August 31 is like the death of Princess Diana, 9/11 and the collapse of the stock market all rolled into one.
That’s the day the football transfer window closes for the rest of the year, and the top teams in Europe can no longer sign new players. The result is an orgy of last-minute deals as clubs try to sign and get rid of players before the deadline.
In recent years, Sky Sports News has become expert at milking every moment of drama out of the day.
Its presenters get over-excited at the idea of some player we’ve barely heard of going on loan from Coventry to Birmingham, reporters are dispatched to various grounds around Britain to try and pick up bits of gossip (and the occasional fact) about all the comings and goings, and the ‘Sky Pad” – a kind of giant iPad – is used to keep track of it all.
It’s all great fun, although the relief when the window closes and the madness dies down a little is huge.
Last night’s highlights included the Arsenal fan who acted out in gestures and facial expressions the transfer gossip being imparted by Sky’s reporter. “F…ing excellent”, another fan said, prompting an apology from Sky.
But he was right. “It was f,,,ing excellent”, although we’re glad it’s all over.
Tomorrow: 9/11: Day That Changed The World on UTV