“Leave me alone.”
Those were reportedly the final tragic words Princess Diana uttered in public the night she was killed in a Paris tunnel in the early hours of Aug. 31, 1997. Diana was 36 years old. Her youngest son Harry was 12.
On the night of that horrible crash, I was on the CBC Vancouver plaza, celebrating the final broadcast of a groundbreaking radio show called Nightlines, hosted by David Wisdom. Wisdom is a British ex-pat and, in many ways, Canada’s answer to legendary BBC host John Peel. The news of Diana’s death sucked the energy from both the live event and Wisdom, and eventually pre-empted much of the broadcast.
That night, in that tunnel 23 years ago, after the Mercedes she was in spun out and smashed, Diana was still conscious, although critically injured. Some of the paparazzi who were chasing on motorcycles helped as soon as they arrived on the scene. Others took pictures.
In 1999, a French investigation found the driver of the car Diana was in, Henri Paul, solely responsible. Blood tests showed he was drunk and stoned. Years later in 2008, at the end of a long inquest by the Royal Courts of Justice in London, it was ruled that both the driver and the paparazzi were at fault for “gross negligence.”
The crash killed Diana, her boyfriend Dodi Fayed, and the driver. Only Diana’s bodyguard survived.
Now, here we are, 22 years later. Harry is 35 and, in case you’ve been living under a rotting log somewhere deep in the Great Bear Rainforest, he’s married to actress Meghan Markle. They have a nine-month-old boy named Archie. You’ll also no doubt be aware that the Duke of Sussex and his wife and child have chosen to withdraw from their royal duties in England in order to live a private life — apparently along the southern shores of British Columbia.
This man didn’t choose the life he was born into, but he did choose to leave it. To honour the memory of his mother, we as Canadians owe it to Prince Harry and his family to allow them to live their lives in privacy and in peace. He and his brother have grown up without a mom because others chose not to respect their mother’s privacy and peace.
“Every single time I see a camera, every single time I hear a click, every single time I see a flash, it takes me right back,” Prince Harry admitted recently in a TV interview about his mother. “In that respect, it’s the worst reminder of her life as opposed to the best.”
Canadians already have a generally good reputation when it comes to giving celebrities their space. But because of our sentimental and historic connection as a Commonwealth nation, some of us hold the Royals in a much higher regard than we would, say, Ben Affleck. All the more reason to steer clear, knowing what we know.
Harry and Meghan are reportedly living at the moment outside of Victoria in an oceanfront home. Ever since the news got out that they spent the holidays here instead of England, Victoria and its surrounds have been invaded with reporters and photographers from around the world.
I applaud the water taxi owners of southern Vancouver Island, among them Reg Kirkham, who have been refusing offers from various media outlets to take them to out shoot the Royals from the ocean’s open vantage point.
“We’re not believers in invading people’s privacy, especially Harry and Meghan and what they’re going through,” Kirkham told CTV News. “They don’t need to be bothered.”
Other area residents have passed Markle on jogging trails and out walking her baby. So far, most neighbours seem to be pleasantly following Kirkham’s lead, and resisting the selfie. And that’s the way it should be.
Let’s welcome this family to our beautiful pocket of the world like we would any other: by being polite, gracious and kind.
And, to echo Princess Diana’s final sentiment, by leaving them alone.