Comment: Diana, AIDS and the fight for Africa

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

I have been away from the UK these past few months, and I feel a sense of relief that I have been well away from all the action.

As I dispatch this piece on board a hydrofoil somewhere near Turkey – 40 degrees, blue sky, way too hot for me outside – all I can see online is severe flooding in England.

Politicians who might otherwise have more important things ensuring our safety and wellbeing are dragged out of bed at dawn to go on breakfast television to explain their cannabis misdemeanours from over two decades ago.

In the past few months abroad I have missed most of Wimbledon, the Tony-Gordon transition and that dreadful Live Earth concert.

Fortunately, I was briefly in London for the Tour de France and while there I was unfortunate enough to see the the Diana gig at Wembley.

It’s strange to think that it’s a decade since she died.

Some might argue that she’d never really gone away – not if you are former royal butler Paul Burrell or a reader of the Daily Express, anyway.

I had been dreading the anniversary of her death for some time. In truth, I never really took to the Princess in life, let alone in death.

For me, there was a kind and glamorous side to her, which was neutralised by her ability to manipulate the media, all the while hiding the troubled soul within.

That being said, I am also a strong believer that had she lived, she could and probably would have made a difference to, say, the Middle East peace process, or Britain’s tarnished image abroad.

Somehow, I think Diana would have found a way to bring some kind of dialogue – an important first step in any kind of diplomacy.

In his recently-published diaries spin doctor Alastair Campbell that his former boss Tony Blair had even held informal discussions while Prime Minister with Diana about a possible role for her promoting peace in the Middle East – a job now taken by Blair himself.

As I watched Elton John close the memorial concert, another Diana-related thought came into my head – what differences to the gay community the Princess could have made had she survived?

My best guess would be her impact would have been minimal. I am not saying that she wouldn’t care – of course she would! – but if you look at LGBT community today, it’s in a much better shape than during Diana’s lifetime.

I therefore doubt that she would turn up at say, a pride event.

That said, I do think she would’ve found a way to help the LGBT community, probably through her continued support of AIDS charities.

In a recent article published in The Times, just before the memorial concert, Diana’s friend and former colleague Vivienne White described the Princess as a champion of “difficult issues, especially where those affected were marginalised or stigmatised.”

According to Ms White, Diana was singlehandedly responsible for raising the profiles of those with mental health problems, leprosy, as well as the elderly, landmine victims, and of course – most famous of all – the Princess’s handshake with an AIDS patient twenty years ago.

Yes, Diana grabbed his hand the headlines with this simple, taboo-breaking gesture.

Ms White is convinced that one need only compare today’s rising rates of infection with the 1990s to know that Africa and HIV/AIDS would have been next on Diana’s list had fate not intervened.

This all makes for poignant reading in a week when President Bush’s top adviser on matters relating to HIV and AIDS admitted that the world is losing its battle to control the spread of the disease.

Dr Anthony Fauci said that while progress has been made in providing treatments to patients in Africa and Asia, the rates of infection are outstripping those who are receiving treatments, despite renewed efforts to promote circumcision and better education.

It is with these grim assessments that I hark back to Diana and wonder what might have happened had she lived.

With an extraordinary ability to connect with people, and an equally impressive record in supporting the disadvantaged, she would easily have lived up to the title, ‘People’s Princess.’

Then again, had she lived, we wouldn’t have had to listen to Blair’s rather annoying ‘People’s Princess’ speech at Sedgefield ten years ago.

And come to think of it, we wouldn’t have to put up with more Blair performances in his new role as the Middle East envoy either.

And would I then need to pretend to be anything other than British when abroad?

Here in Turkey yesterday a Danish couple sneered at me when I said I was a Londoner.

Oh, how I occasionally wish she was still with us, and who knows, had she not died, the Daily Express might have folded by now.