Re: Maggie Quayle

Brinkley and Lyall

Re: Maggie Quayle

Brinkley and Lyall

Re: Maggie Quayle
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Oct. 21 1998 9:45 AM

Brinkley and Lyall

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As you say, what's happened to Baroness Maggie is sad (not that I ever liked her in the first place). Although she still maintains a huge staff and apparently spends a lot of time travelling, writing and lecturing, in the papers she's taken on the role of national Crazy Old Aunt. A few months ago, she made news when, passing by the British Airways desk at some trade fair, she saw a model of the new plane design, in which the British flag on the tail had been replaced by one of the company's new "multi-cultural" designs. She whipped a Kleenex out of her bag and covered the offending design, lambasting the officials for wrecking yet another British symbol. It reminded me of when I was 15 and went to live with a French family as part of a spectacularly unsuccessful exchange program, and the senile old grandmother was horrified when I appeared one morning wearing a pair of cut-off shorts. She grabbed a pair of scissors and starting snipping off the fringe at the bottom. I don't know if Maggie really is senile, but for some reason the papers love to present her that way.

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The papers have been awfully mean about poor old Diana in the last couple of days, haven't they? I think this is very interesting. Until September, the country was consumed by self-flagellating mourning, egged on by the press, which found some way to put Diana's picture on their front pages almost every day--a real feat, considering that she was, in fact, dead. But suddenly, all that seems to have stopped (it was interesting to note that of the dozen or so television programs made to mark the first anniversary of her death, the earliest ones had the highest ratings. As the weeks went on, fewer and fewer people watched). And today we hear that the planned 10 million pound commemorative Diana garden near Kensington Palace is very likely not going to go ahead--or, at least, will be drastically scaled back, partly because in the sea of public indifference to the plan, the only people who have spoken out are those who oppose it.

We also find, from reading the Telegraph and the Mail, that far from being a sweet girl who just wanted her husband to love her, Diana was a manipulative, hysterical, and unstable young wife who forced Charles to abandon all his old friends (he later got them back) and who regularly lay in the flower beds underneath his window so she could eavesdrop on his conversations, in case he was talking about her. The Telegraph was always anti-Diana--she was just the type of wife its readers had nightmares about. But to hear these things from the Mail , which championed her to the end--its star royal reporter, Richard Kay, was one of her closest confidants, and constantly ran stories quoting "friends of Diana" who were actually Diana herself--is truly extraordinary.

I wonder if Britons have such a short attention span that they've forgotten how upset they were last year? Or if the papers have cynically decided to jettison Diana, since no real news about her is going to come out, and go with Charles and Camilla, piquing people's interest in a new royal soap opera that will eventually draw in more readers. I wouldn't put it past them.

More on the BBC next time--

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Yours, Sarah

Alan Brinkley is history professor at Columbia University and author of The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War. He is teaching at the University of Oxford, England, for a year. Sarah Lyall is a journalist who writes for the New York Times from London.