Dickie Arbiter: ‘Stop comparing the current Princess of Wales to Diana – she’s a royal asset in her own right’

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A great many of us can pinpoint exactly where we were on Friday, November 22, 1963 – the day John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

The same can be said for Sunday, August 31, 1997 – the day Diana Princess of Wales, with her friend Dodi Fayed, died in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma underpass in Paris.

Next Thursday is the 26th anniversary of the day Diana died, and while there will be no commemorations – there haven’t been for quite a while – there will be many who’ll make their way to Kensington Gardens to place their flower at the William III Gates at Kensington Palace, her home for 16 years, and hold a vigil for her from sun-up to sun-down.

Twenty-six years is not a major anniversary to mark, but I raise it because Diana is still very much an iconic figure, still written about in the media and on social media platforms.

I am not suggesting for a moment the media is getting it right or wrong, although much of the time it is divisive.

In the early days of the current Prince and Princess of Wales’s marriage, the media constantly compared Catherine to Diana – in the way she dressed, her chosen charities and the way she engaged with people.

Princess Catherine and Princess Diana
Catherine, now Princess of Wales, has long faced comparisons to her late mother-in-law. (WireImage)

The media jumped on the same wagon when Harry and Meghan tied the marital knot in 2018.

With little imagination, they compared Meghan to Diana. Not so much in the way she dressed – she already had her own established style – but more in the way she conducted herself out on the road when engaging with well-wishers.

Like Catherine, Meghan was tactile. The latter more so than the former.

But, nevertheless, the comparison was always with Diana, with commentators gushing “is Catherine the new Diana?” and likewise when Meghan came along.

Five-year-old Luke Vincent at Dubbo Airport during the Autumn tour of Australia.
Meghan’s tactile nature has also been likened to Diana’s. (Samir Hussein/WireImage)

Unfortunately, there is a tendency in today’s media to report, write, speak, and speculate as if they knew Diana, but given her royal life span – 1981 to 1997 – those that do pontificate were of an age still deciding their career paths.

My background is well known. I went to work for the late Queen in 1988 as one of her Press Secretaries, and until 1993 my responsibility was for Charles and Diana’s press relations.

Before I joined the Palace press team, I was a broadcast journalist, a job I had been doing since the mid-1960s, and for eight years before turning from poacher to gamekeeper I was accredited to the Palace as a Court Correspondent.

During that time, I got to know not only the private secretaries but also the royals and also interviewed several of them.

I gave Diana her first media training session, and when working with Charles and her I came to know both well.

Diana was in a class of her own. When she hit the royal road after her St Paul’s Cathedral marriage in 1981, she brought a fresh style and approach as to how royals engaged with charities and with well-wishers on the inevitable walkabouts.

Prince Charles during a visit to Hong Kong in November 1992, accompanied by his press secretary, Dickie Arbiter (far right).
Dickie Arbiter (far right) with then-Prince Charles during a visit to Hong Kong in 1992. (Tim Graham Photo Library via Get)

She was also exceptionally good at following up, albeit privately, with parents having difficulty coping with a sick child in hospital.

Today, Diana’s daughter-in-law Catherine does things differently, and in her way. With husband William alongside, they make a formidable team.

They are also particularly good at going solo. They have rules when it comes to their children, their lives kept as normal and private as possible and out of the spotlight, unless it is a major occasion or sporting fixture.

Princess Diana in the rain 1993
“Diana was in a class of her own … [bringing] a fresh style and approach as to how royals engaged with charities and with well-wishers.” (Getty)

At this stage of their lives, unlike when their father was a young boy, there are no theme parks or night forays to the homeless and drug addicts. There is plenty of time ahead for them to be introduced to that side of British life.

With the 26th anniversary of Diana’s death just days away, there are many who will want to remember her in their own way.

Diana was a one-off. She was unique in that there will never be another Diana, and as we approach this anniversary a memo from me to the media.

“Catherine does things differently, and in her way. With husband William alongside, they make a formidable team.” (Getty Images for TGI Sport)

Stop comparing the current Princess of Wales to Diana and accept her as an asset to the royal family in her own right.

Stop calling her Kate Middleton. She married Prince William of Wales in 2011. They became The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and with the demise of the late Queen in September last year, they became The Prince and Princes of Wales.

There is very little respect around in the world today; now is the time for the media to take the lead.

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