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If I had been the press officer of Great Britain plc, I would have resigned forthwith. Both events spoke volumes for British culture. The Beatles revival reflects so many of its flaws: backward-looking, hype-ridden, pseudo-canonical. The tedious single, ‘Free As a Bird’, which I shall forever associate with the tilt-headed Princess and her drippy eyes, manages to be both maudlin and market-driven. Say what you will about today’s pop music, but Blur, Oasis et al can run rings round this. Releasing this ponderous product for Christmas is like bringing Bobby Charlton back for an important international because he used to score good goals; a doomed exercise in replaying the past.
The Princess of Wales, by contrast, was looking to the future: a future in which she dispensed love to her people (wasn’t that what John Lennon was trying to do?) and asides of eyelined fury to her nearest and merest. Armed with the vocabulary of therapy and feminism, both decidedly modern and un-British phenomena, she spoke with piercing clarity on the inability of a whole stratum of British society to respond with anything approaching a real human emotion.
The final patronising, humiliating wish that her husband finds ‘peace of mind’ was one of those moments in British history which wakes the whole nation to the changed circumstances all around it. She had talked of pain, desperation, broken people and fractured illusions: the very things that pop music used to be about when people really did look forward to the Beatles’ next album. But disillusionment, like soft drugs and jeans, is no longer the province of the young and the disempowered. It flies right to the top, free as a bird.