Guard’s story fires blanks

The Bodyguard’s Story
By Trevor Rees-Jones

Who would bother to read this review?

Let’s face it: if you’re into the British Royals, you’ll be into Princess Diana and you’ll remember precisely where you were when you heard about her death and burst into tears. And you’ll definitely buy The Bodyguard’s Story because it’s the tale told by the sole survivor of the car crash that killed the Princess way back in August 1997. There might be details in it you haven’t already read in the British tabloids or Who Weekly.

On the other hand, if you’re not into the Royals, you may still remember where you were when you heard about the Princess’ death, but chances are you didn’t burst into tears. You probably didn’t read about the tacky speculations concerning her alleged impending marriage to Dodi Al Fayed, also killed in the crash, and you definitely wouldn’t have followed the conspiracy theories that inevitably flourished after the funerals. You won’t be interested in this book. I’m surprised you’ve read the review this far.

And then I suppose there are those who could take a purely academic interest in the way the Western world has grieved and dealt with the death of one of its most popular twentieth century icons. If this is your pigeon-hole, you may find some snippets in the book useful for theorising about further aspects of Diana-ism.

While I wouldn’t cast myself entirely in either the iconoclastic or academic camps, I should at least confess to being an Australian republican. I was glad hardly anyone turned up to see our irrelevant Queen and hubby when they recently toured Australia. There is, therefore, no way I would have read this book by choice. “You’re not going to take that out in public are you?” my concerned partner asked when I opened it to start reading one evening. My allegiances are thus declared.

So of course there are plenty of issues I had with this book. One of the first was the title, and the cover of the edition released in Thailand. ‘The Bodyguard’s Story’ is printed above a picture of Trevor Rees-Jones hovering over the shoulder of Princess Diana. So he was her bodyguard, right? Actually, not really. Only because she was in the company of Dodi Al Fayed, son of British wannabe Mohamed Al Fayed, who actually employed Trevor. Trevor was one of Dodi’s bodyguards.

Also worth noting is that Trevor hasn’t written the book. It’s another minor point, there being plenty of ghost writers or co-authors helping people with stories to tell out there. Trevor’s chosen Moira Johnston, whose name might ring a bell to someone from the UK (but certainly not from Australia), to order his thoughts for him, and interview Trevor’s family, friends and colleagues about pre- and post-crash events with his blessing. And Johnston does do a passable job in the third person rendering of a story with seemingly endless players.

Trevor does make a statement in the first person – ‘Trevor’s Statement’ – as a sort of prologue to the book. In it, he reveals, “I can’t remember the crash itself, or the three minutes before it. My memory’s gone for everything that happened after the car pulled away from the Ritz until I woke up in hospital ten days later.” Right. No compelling new information will be revealed in the next 318 pages. At least we’re not going to be kept in suspense.

But this book is an opportunity for Trevor, who is painted as a very normal British bloke who likes a beer and his rugby, to tell his side of the crash story, and also “an honourable way to let me pay my large legal bills”. The importance of the former can be understood when you get an idea of the how abominably the British and American press behaved after the crash. Indeed, the persistence and downright bad manners of the paparrazzi that Trevor describes as they pursued Diana and Dodi in the months leading up to their deaths were bad enough. It was his turn to have complete untruths published about his life when he became the survivor.

Trevor gave only one disastrous interview – for which he was not paid – after the crash, despite being offered loads of cash for another. And good on the principled lad for hanging out to put it all in a book. As it turns out, if it wasn’t for the Diana connection and the wranglings that went on with Al Fayed after the crash, the tale would be a merely pedestrian story about a person surviving a horrific car crash.

In fact, even with the Diana connection and Al Fayed’s wranglings, it’s really just a story about a person surviving a horrific car crash. The descriptions of the surgery performed to rebuild Trevor’s face, which was flattened akin to a pancake in the crash, were intriguing, if a bit brief.

Another interesting point that could have been developed if this was ever going to turn into a Pulitzer for Johnston was the issue of memory-loss. This is quite central to the story, as Al Fayed placed enormous pressure on Trevor to remember the three minutes prior to the crash, and got rather upset and vindictive when he couldn’t. One expert gives a brief explanation about the mechanics behind memory, but this could have been expanded somewhat and even replaced having to hear more about Ernie the stepdad’s trip to the pub to have two pints or Jill, Trev’s long-suffering Mum, not being able to concentrate on her work.

I do wish Trevor well with his rugby. I hope he has already made enough money to cover his legal bills with the book. Truly. Because that would mean I needn’t feel bad about suggesting you don’t even think about buying this book by a very normal English lad.

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