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No strangers to controversy

By: MIKE JOHNSON [email protected]

THERE WAS one noticeable absentee at the funeral of the famous Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti. Maybe she was there but we couldn’t see her. For when Diana, Princess of Wales died 10 years ago, he was at hers.

He had been asked to sing something for the occasion but excused himself, saying he was too emotionally upset. There is no doubt she would have wished to be at his in that cathedral in Modena and if you believe in an afterlife, she was probably there.

Only two weeks previously, thousands of people had turned up for a memorial service in London to mark the anniversary of Diana’s death and as in life controversy reared its head on this occasion as well.

The Royal Family turned out in full force, even the most minor members, but there was also one noticeable absentee. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Prince Charles’s second wife and

Diana’s successor had changed her mind at the last moment and decided not to attend.

Flawed but adored

At Pavarotti’s funeral, both of his wives were in attendance, albeit sitting at opposite ends of the front pew. The first, Adua Veroni, and their three daughters, Lorenza, Cristina and Giuliana, sat at one end and his second, Nicoletta, at the other with their daughter, Alice, now aged four. Not a glance was exchanged between the two women throughout the ceremony.

Diana and Pavarotti shared one thing in common. Both were flawed icons but adored by their public in life and in death. He adored women and flirted outrageously. The music critic, Alberto Mattioli, compared him with “a satisfied sultan, with a harem of adoring women”. She, on the other hand, seemed to collect lovers as ‘trophies’, once her marriage to Charles was over.

Diana attended Pavarotti’s legendary open-air concert in London’s Hyde Park in 1991, when the Heavens opened, everyone got soaked but nobody noticed. On another occasion, Diana went to Italy with a friend of her mother, when Pavarotti was singing in Verdi’s Requiem at the Verona open-air Roman Arena. Again, it poured with rain and the performance was abandoned at the interval. Seeing Diana in the audience, he invited her party to his dressing room. They seemed to recognise a kindred spirit and became firm friends, frequently phoning each other.

Although Pavarotti, a former footballer, had made a name for himself in opera as the tenor partner of the Australian soprano, Dame Joan Sutherland, it was only when his recording of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” was adopted as the official anthem for the 1990 Football World Cup, that he reached a world audience. For many, this was their first introduction to opera. Further acclaim followed when he joined up with Plácido Domingo and José Carreras to perform a number of concerts as The Three Tenors.

However, the whiff of scandal was never far away. It had become common gossip in Italy that he had begun an affair with his secretary, Nicoletta Mantovani, 34 years his junior. He remarked famously at the time: “ If they give me a lover who is 26 and I am 60, why should I be upset?”

He separated from Adua in 1996, they were later divorced and he married Nicoletta. Now there has been speculation that he was planning a separation from her, just weeks before he died. On top of all this, it emerged that he was in trouble with the Italian tax authorities over non-payment of dues.

None of this appeared to deter his devoted fans and, after settling his tax problems, his estate is still estimated at 220 million euros. The Catholic Church appeared to have taken notice however, as a number of clergy raised objections before the funeral, criticising the decision to grant a divorcee a cathedral service, with the accompanying lying in state. In his address, however, Archbishop Benito Cocchi said the tenor was “no stranger in this cathedral”.

Ten years after the death of Diana, controversy still rages. Was she a saint or a sinner? Without doubt, like Pavarotti, Princess Diana thrived on publicity but that is no crime.

Whether you are the world’s most famous tenor or an aggrieved princess who turns to good works, such as supporting victims of leprosy, AIDS or land mines, in an effort to make her life worthwhile, you are bound to have your detractors.

Conspiracy theories

In Diana’s case, this has been compounded by conspiracy theories over the cause of her death. It’s almost as if her critics are suggesting she’s orchestrating this herself from beyond the grave.

At her memorial service, Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, surprised but delighted many by suggesting that “the princess’s memory is being used for scoring points. Let it end here. Let this service mark the point at which we let her rest in peace”.

I somehow doubt that this will be the case. The official inquest into her death, and that of her current beau at the time, Dodi al Fayed, both killed in a car crash in Paris, is due to take place over the coming months.

However, if, despite all her faults and some dodgy lovers, she is now in Heaven, let us hope that she will at last be able to enjoy listening to the magnificent voice of Luciano Pavarotti, without getting soaked by the rain.