When Princess Diana was killed in a fatal car crash in Paris in the summer of 1997, there was an incredible display of public mourning- unprecedented, according to many Royal experts. Flowers lined London’s Kensington Palace and there was a kind of mass hysteria, which lasted a week.
The press coverage was also unprecedented- pages and pages of adoration, recrimination and good old-faahioned prurience about her controversial relationship with Dodi Al-Fayed,son of Harrods tycoon Mohammad Al-Fayed.
I was reminded of the tabloid hysteria in the wake of the recent deaths of both Prince Philip and Big Brother TV star Nikki Grahame, and ruminated on the contrast in styles: where the Duke of Edinburgh received revisionist praise on how he was a progressive environmentalist and lovable imp, the entire focus on Grahame was on her ‘battle with anorexia’ and subsequent untimely death. Poor misguided Jade Goody, also a fellow Big Brother star, received similar treatment in The Sun, Daily Mirror and so on after her sad passing in 2009.
They love a good celebrity scandal, the tabloid press, especially if it involves an attractive, preferably blonde, young woman, who has died far too young and/or in mysterious circumstances. Not only does this feed into the male gaze of their masculine, working-class readership who like their ‘birds’ white, slim and blonde, but it also appeals to the desire for reading about women suffering. Double bubble, It’s deeply distasteful.
How do I know this? My late father was a car mechanic who enjoyed tabloid papers, bimbos and women who didn’t talk back. Jarvis Cocker observed this kind of limited mentality in the wonderful Pulp song, I Spy: ”I cant help it, I waa dragged up,my favourite parks are car parks/ Grass is something you smoke/ Birds are something you shag/Take your Year In Provence and shove it… up your …asssss!’
The need for scandal and a kind of schadenfreude still pervades across society in the UK, despite having made many strides in terms of equality. Sadly, the ‘tragic blonde’ stereotype is totemic of a sickness that refuses, like the wiggling spectres of Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, to ever die. This too is the reason ‘troubled’ stars who are still around, like Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus, always get the salivating column inches. Let’s hope they can work through their issues.