At the end of this month the world will be marking the 20th anniversary of the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, which occurred in the early morning of Sunday, 31st August 1997. A 20th anniversary is a significant one, and given that August is traditionally a slow news month, we can expect to see extensive coverage of the anniversary. Indeed this has already begun, with two major documentaries, one on Channel 4, and one on ITV, the latter made with the co-operation of her sons, the former promising, but hardly delivering, new material.

There has also ben a series of news stories, which will no doubt continue, some of them featuring recriminations about old wounds, and revelations about matters which should surely be forgotten.

The late Princess lived in the glare of publicity, and was being pursued by photographers when she died. Many may undoubtedly feel that she is best left to rest in peace, and Catholics in particular, used as we are to praying for the dead on their anniversaries, may wish to pray for the repose of her soul, and ignore much of the raking over of the details of her life.

Sadly, the media have not learned to leave the late Princess alone, and we ought to reflect on why this is so, and why, over the coming month, we shall be hearing so much more about her.

The continuing fascination with Diana reflects the desire to fill an emptiness at the heart of public discourse. We lack heroes. Of the few we have, many reflect our own inability to make sense of our lives. Diana died before she had fully found the role which seemed to be hers, as “queen in people’s hearts”. Acclaimed by the then idolised Tony Blair as “the people’s Princess”, she reminds us that we are all lost in the world, people who live incomplete lives.

Diana was also loved for her beauty, hence the many photographic tributes to her. Catholic iconography should remind us of that beauty is only skin deep, and that real beauty is found within a person. It is part of the mission of the Church to proclaim that beauty is a moral quality, not a physical one.

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