Sunday, July 23, 2017

Remembering A Remarkable Public Figure . . .

I remember the weekend 20 years ago that Princess Diana was killed in that awful car crash in Paris.
I was at home when the news hit and I was still working as the Associate Executive Director for Communication and Public Affairs at the Philadelphia Bar Association. Being a public relations practitioner, the first thing that came into my mind was the enormity of the news -- the fact that this would be a mammoth, worldwide story.
I knew that Diana had an huge fan base -- that she had touched the lives of millions of people all over the world. And even though I must honestly say that I never counted myself as one of those who was particularly taken with Diana, I understood the intrinsic appeal of this woman who came into royalty at such a young age and who had been expected to become the Queen of England. In fact, my own daughter still has a Princess Diana wedding doll with Diana miniaturized in her elaborate wedding gown. Diana was indeed a certified icon, with or without the royal trappings.
In fact, Diana's vulnerability amidst her many problems and tortuous divorce seemed to make her that much more accessible, creating what may have been the first global phenomenon of the information age.
So, as soon as I heard the news, my PR instincts took over and I set out to find lawyers who could comment on the legal implications of Diana's tragic death in an automobile accident in France amidst what appears to have been a wild chase involving the paparazzi. What really happened? Who might be liable for the death? How would this all be sorted out? What was the law regarding such matters in France? What might the legal implications be?
As luck would have it, during the same period the Philadelphia Bar Association was hosting a conference featuring lawyers from throughout the world (including France) in Philadelphia. I was quickly able to arrange interviews between these lawyers and members of the local media, shedding light on such questions and issues. I was also able to arrange interviews with British lawyers and media reps. I had found what we in PR call a "local peg" to an international story.
The next few days were very, very busy days for me and I like to think I scored major points with members of the local press corps -- a sort of PR person's dream-come-true (even if you're only as good as your last media "hit).
Of course, the capstone of the week (in addition to Diana's funeral and the attendant outpouring of grief) was the unprecedented personal appearance of the Queen on TV to comment on Diana's passing. The worldwide audience for that event was staggering.
For my own part, I think the Queen handled the situation quite well. I remember being struck by the Queen's lovely blue eyes and wondered why she hadn't appeared on TV more often. But then again, I remembered that she was, after all, The Queen.
Here are the Queen's comments:

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