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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 December 2007, 00:53 GMT
Diana's stepmother captivates inquest
By Victoria Bone
BBC News


Raine, Countess Spencer, arrives at the Diana inquest
Countess Spencer was married to Diana's father John, Earl Spencer
Raine, Countess Spencer, captivated courtroom 73 at the inquest of Diana and Dodi Al Fayed on Wednesday.

As Diana's stepmother and close friend, she was determined to make clear how difficult the princess's life had been and what a positive effect Dodi had had on it.

The countess, who was married to Diana's father John, Earl Spencer, wore a buttoned-up black jacket with a checkerboard scarf reminiscent of police epaulettes.

On top of her grey curls she perched a black pill box hat complete with black veil, and finished off the look with big pearl earrings.

Her first appearance on the big screen in the press annex was greeted with a cheer.

'A draining life'

The countess's affection and sympathy for Diana were obvious from the outset.

"She always said I had no hidden agenda. So many people, because she was so popular and so world famous, wanted something out of her. It was a very draining life."

Well, we all want the dark handsome gentleman to walk through the door
Raine, Countess Spencer

She also seemed to share Diana's great affection for Dodi whom she described as "charming", "sweet" and "modest".

Their love, she said with rare brusqueness, was not merely a "summer romance" and it was "discourteous" to suggest so.

She and Diana shared a love for horoscopes, she said, adding: "Well, we all want the dark handsome gentleman to walk through the door."

But as a "practical" Virgo, the countess said, she was more sceptical of fortune telling than Diana who was a "creative" Cancer.

When asked what she knew of Diana's love life, she said philosophically: "The ways of the heart are impossible to fathom, aren't they, even in our closest friends."

'Names of boats'

The countess struggled with timings and dates, something for which she apologised several times.

Asked when her "adored" husband John died, she replied: "It was about 13 or 14 years ago, I can't remember the exact date."

She also said at one point, "I don't want to bore the court", when talking about her work in local government and tourism.

And she made it clear she took some of the grandeur of her life with a pinch of salt.

When asked about Diana's trip on the Jonikal, Dodi Al Fayed's yacht, she said: "I so dislike boats myself. I never know the names of boats. I didn't know it was called that."

My problem, Lady Spencer, is that you are giving evidence not me
Ian Burnett QC

The countess spoke fondly about Mohamed Al Fayed who was "very, very sweet" to her when the earl died.

"Ironically, I never went shopping in Harrods. It was my husband who practically lived there," she said.

The friendship endured nonetheless.

'Celebrities'

The countess's dry wit was often in evidence. Speaking about press intrusion into Diana's life, she said: "I suppose this happens with pop stars and celebrities and people who call themselves celebrities nowadays."

Later, when asked to elaborate on something in her written statement, she said to Ian Burnett QC, counsel to the inquest: "Why don't you read the next two sentences because I think that covers it?"

After the giggles in the courtroom subsided, Mr Burnett replied: "My problem, Lady Spencer, is that you are giving evidence not me."

"I see," she said. "Well I apologise. Would you like me to read it instead?"

As things were wrapping up, Countess Spencer asked coroner Lord Justice Scott Baker for permission to make a short statement.

She thanked everyone involved in the inquest for their effort in trying "to find out the truth about this matter".

"I beg you to do your utmost to solve this mystery, to tear aside anything that could be a cover up and sift everything possible and indeed impossible in order to allow poor Diana and poor Dodi to at last, truly, rest in peace."

After that endearing performance, bellicose Tory MP Nicholas Soames didn't stand a chance.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Archive footage of Diana, Princess of Wales



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