Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Ex-PM reveals in his memoir that he told the princess he was uneasy about her relationship with Fayed.
"We were both in our ways manipulative people," Blair writes, "perceiving quickly the emotions of others and able instinctively to play with them."
As well as admitting a strong personal fondness for Princess Diana – "I really liked her and, of course, was as big a sucker for a beautiful princess as the next man; but I was wary too" – Blair saw her as encapsulating the political sea change that swept the country in 1997: "Whatever New Labour had in part," Blair writes, "she had in whole."
But Diana was, writes Blair, "an unpredictable meteor" who burst into the royal family's "predictable and highly regulated ecosystem". Her death, three months after Blair entered Downing Street, was "menacing" for the royal family. The Queen was reluctant to speak to the nation after her death because she "didn't want to pretend to a view of Diana that was more conflicted than the public could accept".
But it was Diana's relationship with Dodi Fayed that concerned Blair. The last time they met was in July. "It had not been all that easy," he writes. During a private walk in the grounds of Chequers Blair told Diana that he felt her relationship with Fayed "was a problem".
"This was not for the obvious reasons, which would have made some frown on him; his nationality, religion or background don't matter a hoot to me. I had never met him ... so if you ask me, well, spit it out, what was wrong, I couldn't frankly say, but I felt uneasy," he writes.
Diana didn't like Blair's interference – "I could feel the wilful side of her bridling" – but by the end of the conversation they were again on a "warm and friendly" footing.
Despite their personal relationship, Blair admits that from the moment he was told of her death, he was "trying to work out how it should play".
"I know that sounds callous," he reveals. "I was genuinely in grief ... but I also knew that this was going to be a major national, in fact global, event like no other ... I had to work out how it would work out."
Blair is candid about the tension of the days immediately following Diana's death: "Throughout, we were walking a tightrope, thinner and more frayed by the day, between organising everything to go well and 'cashing in' or exploiting."
He admits that the now-famous phrase he used the next day, "the people's princess" now seems like something from "another age. And corny. And over the top. But at the time, it felt natural."
Despite the high drama of Diana's death, however – and a poll showing an "absurd rating of 93% approval" – Blair insists he never lost sight of the fact that there were more important challenges on the horizon.
"I had, at least, the sense to know ... that the tests of achievement for a prime minister and a government were rather different," he writes.