Memories of Diana

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 year.

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 the century".

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.