ON September 1, 1997, I was preparing for a trip to Yorkshire for three days of horse racing, which was then my source of income. The news of the death of Princess Diana didn’t escape my attention – how could it have done? – but I didn’t think it would make any difference to my plans. The princess had never shown the slightest interest in horses or racing to my knowledge, and after all, I was going to be in Yorkshire, a county not exactly noted for public displays of maudlin sentimentality. How wrong I was!
On Tuesday at Pontefract, the course announced a minute’s silence before racing, and when I got to my hotel, the first signs of descent into madness were visible on the news, and were clearly being encouraged by the media. On Wednesday at York, it was the same routine and I watched aghast as hard boiled Northern racing men stopped the process of saddling their horses for the obligatory minute.
During that afternoon, I asked a senior racecourse official why he felt it necessary to order the minute of silence for the Princess, and what was he going to do when somebody with a real link to racing died, for example the Queen or the Queen Mother. Clearly I made no impression on him, as we were put through the same rigmarole again on Thursday, and during that afternoon it was announced that all racing scheduled for Saturday, the day of the funeral, would be cancelled.
By now of course the country had totally lost its marbles, and few dared to offer a dissenting voice – I’d seen the anger that could generate in hotels and pubs during the week. The Blair creature had spoken, Elton John had come to the party and florists were doing a roaring trade. The nation waited with bated breath to hear the words of her brother, a man who had always struck me as a public school version of Private Walker from Dad’s Army. It lasted a week, one that is unlikely ever to be forgotten by those of us of sound mind who had the misfortune to live through it.
But it was only one week. The current madness seems destined to go on for months, as government by opinion poll favours saving the NHS by means of economic homicide. To anybody with an IQ in three figures, that doesn’t sound like a good long-term policy. Now, as I write, millions of mindless drones are stepping out of their homes to bang on pans or clap their hands, and I sit here wondering what they think this achieves, or indeed says about their grasp of the situation. Perhaps it’s just that they all watch the BBC and think it’s telling them the truth!
There are now only two things missing to complete the circle from 1997 to 2020. Boris Johnson has to utter the phrase ‘The People’s Virus’, and some quick-off-the-mark lyricist has to adapt the words of the treacle-covered Elton John sobfest and give us a song for the plague – Corona In The Wind.