ONE of my best friends sees plots and schemes almost everywhere. Only yesterday, as we waited for a taxi in Belfast - a city where we both have some distinguished enemies - he said, "How clever of Mary [not her real name] to use a false name when she made the booking for us."
"She didn't, you idiot," I replied. "She knows bugger all about us and probably doesn't even know our surnames. When obligingly booking us a cab, she ordered it in her own name."
"Oh, hell," he said. "Why do you keep spoiling my fun?"
Probably because of his Marxist past, George [another alias] is a conspiracy theorist, while I believe in the cock-up theory of history. I often think of George when I see the latest Diana 'Shock/horror' headline in the Daily Express (aka the Daily Diana), although even George finds impossible to swallow Muhammad al-Fayed's allegation that almost nine years ago, his son, Dodi, and Princess Diana were the victims of a murderous conspiracy masterminded by Prince Philip and carried out by the British security services.
Philip is a busy man, so his reasons for doing in his ex-daughter-in-law had to be serious. The reason is clear to Mr Fayed (the 'al' is bogus). Di was pregnant by Dodi, and the prospect of a half-Arab half-brother and a Muslim stepfather for William and Harry was unacceptable to the racist Establishment. The fact that a) according to all the medical evidence she was not pregnant, b) according to her friends, Dodi was merely a fling and c) any baby would have had no royal status, is neither here nor there.
Being owned not by Fayed but by the pornographer Richard Desmond (sorry, the purveyor of adult magazines, as he has described himself), even the Express does not fully buy into this theory, but it majors on strange stories about sinister cover-ups. If circulation figures are to be believed, around a million people are bonkers enough to buy this excuse for a newspaper.
Fayed is a devoted fan: www.alfayed.com, has two Express articles on the home page: 'New witnesses to Diana death' and 'Diana: spies' morgue visit'. If that does not sate your curiosity, there are links to 'Fiat Uno & missing motorbike', 'The route of the Mercedes', 'US spy tapes "reveal Diana was pregnant"', 'Millions think Di death suspicious', '£75,000 paid to Diana's death driver' and 'What are they trying to cover up?'.
The only significant link is to 'National Portrait Gallery delete Diana', for despite the Dianaphile view that this is part of the Establishment conspiracy to replace her in the public affections with the loathed Camilla, the truth is that Diana no longer pulls in the crowds. The Great British Public is still rather ashamed about its outbreak of lunacy after her death, it accepts that she died because of a cock-up involving a drunken chauffeur who drove too fast, it has decided that the 80-year-old queen and the 85-year-old Prince Philip do their job well, and it is rapidly taking Camilla to its heart as a sensible and really not half bad-looking old sport who is making Prince Charles happy.
Diana, the GBP admits to itself privately, was a bit of a nutter. A looker, certainly. But an hysterical, pain-in-the-bum looker.
Anyone can understand the saddos who will never let Diana go, who are glued to www.dianaconspiracy.com and so on, and who bandy theories such as her being murdered by agents of English and French florists. My favourite exchange comes from the Diana conspiracy page of www.londonnet.co.uk, where a brisk woman crisply demolished a crop of theories. "Hey, Melanie," was the response of the webmistress. "This is the conspiracy page! Where's the theory then, sister? If we wanted 'Reasoned & Sensible reaction', we would have called it the 'Reasoned & Sensible Reaction Page'."
There's no mystery about why conspiracy theorists buy the National Enquirer to find out how Diana and Elvis are spending their time on Mars, but what baffles media-watchers is why anyone would actually buy the conspiracy-lite that is churned out regularly in the Express - which, as one observer pointed out, is the only paper with a dead royals correspondent who writes the same story over and over again - with the words rearranged. It makes Scientology look like - well people who harmlessly worship a dead science-fiction author. The only explanation proffered is that the readers have been kidnapped and brainwashed.
So when you next see an Express headline saying 'Diana: the truth', just walk on by. Even George does.