Princess Diana is nowhere to be found at Althorp, the family seat of the Spencers. Instead, it’s a monument to family treachery and the casual cruelty of the upper classesby Julie Burchill / October 21, 2009 / Leave a comment
“Ready?” my husband asked as I slid into the car. I always look forward to our trips, but it wasn’t as if we were on the way to the Hotel California via Route 66, or even our usual bickering, joyous peregrinations to the seaside towns of southwest England and north Wales.
No, we were going to Northamptonshire. Specifically, to Althorp, family seat of the Spencers, and the final resting place of Diana, Princess of Wales. In Northampton, the football team is known as the Cobblers. Joe Mercer, when manager of Manchester City, once said: “The miracle of 1966 was not England winning the World Cup but Northampton reaching Division One.” As writer Andrew Collins remarked, “Northampton’s biggest selling point during the 1970s and 1980s was that it was 60 miles by road or rail from London. It’s 68 miles, actually.”
In Althorp, you’ve got Diana. Dead.
As we left the home counties and shuffled into the shires, it was strange to think of Diana—that mercurial, volatile body of light, forever flying off in pursuit of pain or pleasure from one hotspot or fleshpot to another—growing up among these endless fields of nothing in the empty heart of England. We stopped to buy a newspaper, in which I read about a survey that claimed that the Midlands was the place in all the country that people least dreamed of moving to. Quelle surprise.
“No wonder her mum scarpered,” I thought as we ploughed into Northamptonshire—only to remember that Frances Shand Kydd never lived at Althorp, having bolted from Park House in Norfolk before the eighth Earl Spencer inherited the family pile. Few women leave their children without extreme provocation, and we can only guess what this spirited young woman had to put up with from her husband who, by all accounts, could rage and sulk for England. So Diana came to live—13 years old, motherless—in the middle of all these fields. Her desolation can only be imagined.
Later, I would read in the first room of Althorp’s “Diana: A Celebration” exhibition (just before I fled in tears), that she was “miserable and homesick” during her time in Switzerland and came back to England within the year. But it wasn’t to Althorp and the cold comfort of the countryside she ran; it was to the bright lights of London, where she shared a flat with other teenagers and worked as a…