‘Intense and emotional’: Broadcaster recalls York’s response to the death of Diana

31 Aug 2017 @ 1.40 pm
| News

David Dunning celebrates 30 years as a journalist and broadcaster in York this summer.

But there is no doubt about what he considers “the most intense week” of an incredibly varied career: covering the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and the response that followed.

David, now news editor at Minster FM, spent many hours in the days leading up to the funeral broadcasting live to an audience shocked and emotional at the tragedy.

And it’s a time he will never forget.

People in tears

Diana died 20 years ago today (August 31) after the car she was travelling in crashed in a Paris tunnel.

David was presenting the Sunday show on BBC Radio York. That morning, “I got a call from the newsroom about 4 o’clock. And a very formal voice said, ‘David, Diana Princess of Wales has died’.”

He found himself fronting four hours of Radio York coverage from 9am. “It was a lot of input from the network, and locally,” he said. “People on the phone were in tears.”

Princes William and Harry and Prince Charles study the flowers left in tribute to Diana. Photograph: Adam Butler / PA Wire

It was the first of many shows he did on the same topic. At this time he also anchored a radio show that was networked across the North of England, Late Night North.

“It was an incredible experience for a broadcaster. Charting all that controversy of the entire week.

“I did another talk show on the afternoon of the funeral. I did nearly 24 hours of phone-ins that week about that one subject.”

Something serious was happening

The princes and Diana’s brother Earl Spencer follow the coffin of Diana during the funeral procession. Photograph: Tony Harris / PA

David when he presented Late Night North
David’s abiding memory? “The rawness of the emotion of people.”

“I did find it very difficult at the time. I couldn’t understand why people were so surprised at the reaction.

“There were a lot of people who showed themselves to be totally out of touch with how the world had changed during the Diana period.”

And he sensed a serious challenge to the monarchy, saying: “For a while that week I thought something serious was happening.

“Doing those phone-ins, I thought a couple of times that we were going to see seismic change.

“And then the Queen went on telly. And everything changed.”

If she hadn’t things could have been so different.

She did what she had to do. What a pro.

It doesn’t matter who wrote that script, it was who delivered it. Within minutes, and with the aid of modern media and live television, she’d defused what could have been the biggest constitutional crisis ever. She brought her abdication moment to the end, and life moved on.

If she hadn’t done that broadcast I reckon the Earl’s speech in Westminster Abbey would have been much more damaging.

It was, David said, “an incredible week. It made for incredible radio and one of the most intense weeks of my life”.

Tomorrow: More of David’s memories from 30 years’ covering York