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From Princess of Wales to Queen of Tat - the peculiar commercialisation of Diana

The psychics' princess. 

This Thursday will mark 20 years since the untimely death of Diana, Princess of Wales - as you may already know if you’ve glanced at one of several hundred Diana-related stories that have appeared in the press over the last two weeks alone.

The Princess died in a car crash after trying to elude paparazzi. In supposed memoriam, every aspect of her life and death has been freshly raked over by the world’s media. Absolutely anyone with any connection to Di has been rolled out: her chef, her astrologer, even her handbag designer. We’ve even heard from the Princess herself, thanks to various psychics who’ve continued to have the occasional post-mortem word with Di about her son’s romantic choices, Brexit and the possibility of a revolt against the crown

Derbyshire’s Psychic Rita even says she could have saved Diana - if only the Princess had checked her voicemail.

And then there's fiction. Diane Clehane’s Imagining Diana, published this week, documents what could have happened had she survived the crash (spoiler alert: she eats lunch, flirts, and gives out awards). This isn’t even the first such novel - Monica Ali’s Untold Story did the same thing in 2011: neither sound as exciting as a suggestion on the Alternate History internet forums of a world where both Diana and Kurt Cobain survive, get together, have five kids, and then are sadly killed while visiting the World Trade Center on 9/11. 

Can’t read? Don’t worry, there TV Diana tributes a-plenty for you too: as well as umpteen documentaries, next week there’s “Diana & I”, a BBC drama about how we, the little people, coped with her death. Stay tuned for next year’s “Feud: Charles and Diana”, a definitely tasteful take on the last year of her life from the creator of Glee and American Horror Story.

Obviously there’s 20th anniversary merchandise. Why not buy a collectible coin, the Diana comic book, or an extremely becoming t-shirt? Perhaps the greatest tribute possible took place on eBay last week, where someone sold a RARE Princess Diana doll. A strictly limited edition porcelain number by masters of tat Franklin Mint. The Princess is depicted smiling gracefully despite some mishap in the intervening years having resulted in the loss of her right arm, and most of her clothes. Sold for 25 dollars plus postage. It is definitely what she would have wanted.

On the big day itself, throwback mourners can use the latest technology to immerse themselves in the event. Stay tuned to the “Diana Day by Day Twitter” account to relive every horrible moment! Stick on a YouTube video of the fateful morning’s news coverage for maximum morbidity! Stand nude in the middle of your huge collection of Diana memorabilia, put "Candle In The Wind 1997" on repeat and start bellowing along: “GOODBYE ENGLAND’S ROSE!”

It should go without saying that what happened on 31 August 1997 was a horrible event - and given the scale of the original reaction, the level of interest 20 years on isn’t exactly surprising. Who gets to decide what the correct intensity of coverage of celebrity death anniversaries is anyway? 

Still, as someone who also lost a parent very suddenly in the summer of 1997, I do occasionally catch myself feeling a bit of sympathy for William and Harry. Even two decades on, it’s a shitty enough thing to have to deal with without the entire world nosing at it for no particularly good reason. Then I go back to supporting the anti-monarchy revolution Diana’s ghost is apparently so worried about.

Perhaps the solution is simply to expand the coverage, to include the people as well as the Princess. Upon the 20th anniversary of my own death, I want as many questionable press stories, commemorative coins and alternate history novels about my life as possible. The more tawdry, tacky crap in memory of me, the better. If there isn’t a nude, armless porcelain doll of me on eBay, every psychic in the land is going to hear about it.

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People are not prepared to see innovation at any price - we need to take care of our digital health

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

As individuals, we have never been better connected. As a society, we are being driven further apart.

Doteveryone’s People Power and Technology report, released this week, found that half of the 2,500 British people we surveyed said the internet had made life a lot better for people like them - but only 12 per cent saw a very positive impact on society.

These findings won’t be news to most people living in Brexit Britain - or to anyone who’s been involved in a spat on Twitter. The fact that we’re constantly connected to our smartphones has not necessarily improved our communities or our understanding of one other, and the trails of data we’re leaving behind are not turning into closer social bonds.

Many of the positives we experience are for ourselves as individuals.

Lots of consumer tech puts simple self-sufficiency first - one-click to buy, swipe right to date - giving us a feeling of cosy isolation and making one little phone an everywhere. This powerful individualism is a feature of all of the big platforms - and even social networks like Facebook and Twitter, that are meant bring us together, do so in the context of personalised recommendations and algorithmically ordered timelines.

We are all the centre of our own digital worlds. So it is no surprise that when we do look up from our phones, we feel concerned about the impact on society. Our research findings articulate the dilemma we face: do we do the thing that is easiest for us, or the one that is better for society?

For instance, 78 per cent of people see the Internet as helping us to communicate better, but 68 per cent also feel it makes us less likely to speak to each other face-to-face. 69per cent think the internet helps businesses to sell their products and services, while 53 per cent think it forces local shops to compete against larger companies online.

It’s often hard to see the causality in these trade-offs. At what point does my online shopping tip my high street into decline? When do I notice that I’ve joined another WhatsApp group but haven’t said hello to my neighbour?

When given clear choices, the public was clear in its response.  

We asked how they would feel if an online retailer offered free one-day delivery for lower income families, but this resulted in local shops closing down - 69 per cent found this unacceptable. Or if their bank invested more in combating fraud and cyber crime, but closed their local branch - 61 per cent said it was unacceptable. Or if their council made savings by putting services online and cut council tax as a result, but some people would find it hard to access these services - 56 per cent found it unacceptable.

It seems people are not prepared to see innovation at any price - and not at the expense of their local communities. The poorest find these trade offs least acceptable.

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

A clearer regulatory environment would support positive, responsible change that supports our society, not just the ambition of a few corporations.

Some clarity about our relationship with web services would be a good start. 60 per cent of people Doteveryone spoke to believed there should be an independent body they can turn to when things go wrong online; 89 per cent would like terms and conditions to be clearer, and 47% feel they have no choice but to sign up to services, even when they have concerns.

Technology regulation is complicated and fragmentary. Ofcom and the under-resourced Information Commissioner’s Office, provide some answers,but they are not sufficient to regulate the myriad effects of social media, let alone the changes that new technologies like self-driving cars will bring. There needs to be a revolution in government, but at present as consumers and citizens we can’t advocate for that. We need a body that represents us, listens to our concern and gives us a voice.

And the British public also needs to feel empowered, so we can all make better choices - adults and children alike need different kinds of understanding and capability to navigate the digital world. It is not about being able to code: it is about being able to cope.

Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and well-being, and reduce health inequalities. Perhaps we need a digital equivalent, to protect and improve our digital health and well-being, and reduce digital inequalities.

As a society, we should not have to continually respond and adapt to the demands of the big corporations: we should also make demands of them - and we need confidence, a voice, and representation to begin to do that.

Rachel Coldicutt is chief executive of Doteveryone.