7 September 1997
Yesterday, the whole world virtually stood still as the British nation
buried a unique young woman who became a princess but never lost her common touch.
I will borrow Tennyson's noblest lines to evoke how the world felt about Diana:
"They buried the Beautiful Princess / With The World's lamentation,
They buried Beautiful Diana / To the noise of the mourning of a sad global village
In London more than a million people - an all-time record in the lore of British
funerals - lined the procession routes to bid a fond farewell to the peoples' princess.
I was in Los Angeles when I heard that Diana, Princess of Wales, had died in a car
crash in Paris. I immediately called my daughter Didi in Kuala Lumpur only to be
told that her cousin whom we all call "CNN" had already scooped me! Didi
had in early July told me that Diana was scheduled to visit Singapore later this
I did not call my wife because, being in London, she would have heard the tragic
news, and because Fauzah and I had met Diana once and since we both found her so
intriguingly friendly, I thought I would devote this column to the "royal of
It never crossed my mind that my 60th column would be an obituary or rather an appreciation
about a young bashful beauty who had captured the hearts of the universe. I had in
fact written for this week about Anwar Ibrahim's "Tryst With Destiny".
I have asked my editor to hold it for next week or whenever he deems it appropriate
to publish it.
Fauzah and I had met her at the Evening Diplomatic Reception at Buckingham Palace
in the winter of 1982. This elegant woman charmed and surprised us - she was barely
21 then - by engaging us in conversation. What struck me most was her friendliness
and openness. She looked at you in the eye as she spoke and what intrigued me even
more was her sweetness of manner, her warm heart and her vast innocent beauty.
I remarked to my wife what a great combination it was for an absolute winner: She
was a winner in life, and seemed a bigger victor in quietus (death).
I like people who are hands-on and Diana was one. Tun Razak always advised me to
be "wary of anyone who does not look a person in the face when he or she speaks".
Diana did look at you straight in the face. Her impish and bashful smile, and innocent
and shy sidelong glances at cheering and admiring crowds, which I was to observe
over the years, never failed to beguile and enchant me.
We have many royal princesses, and I know several very well. How I wish I could transform
one of them, at least, into a "Malaysian Diana" friendly, caring, never
hesitating to say hello and shake a thousand hands or to touch and hug the sick and
visit hapless AIDS patients, orphanages and hospitals. I know some do but too little
and far in between.
Diana was a wonderful humanitarian, way up the ladder. She did what she did because
she cared. She need not have done all this. In fact she could have just enjoyed life
and did nothing but she did not. That was her. Diana used the media cleverly to raise
the level of political awareness about diseases and land mines in ways that no president
or prime minister could.
We have nine royal houses, minor in comparison to some of the world's ancient and
well established monarchies. However, they are as sovereign as any, and we accept
and uphold the system.
The Americans have their president, First Lady and First Daughter - Clinton, Hillary
and Chelsea. They respect them as we do our royals. The last American beauty to become
a princess was movie star Grace Kelly, the daughter of a rich Philadelphian brick-layer,
who married Prince Rainier of Monaco. When Grace Kelly's car plunged off a mountain
road in the principality of Monaco, an era of a Yankee princess ended.
Like Marilyn Monroe (real name Norman Jean Baker), Diana was just 36 when she met
her tragic death.
I have met and known many women who wanted to be like Diana, the shy and gorgeously
slender beauty. Whether in jeans, slacks or in one of the million gowns she seemed
to possess, bejewelled and tiarated, (wearing tiara) Diana was always enchanting;
a goddess of temptation, a caring woman and a saint rolled into one.