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There was always the public side and the private side.As a joke presumably, he once told a TV interviewer he fantasised about Roman orgies - then railed against the press in private for depicting him as a hedonistic layabout.For an impressionable child it was a nightmarish place." Harshness bred harshness - and a way with words which passes for wit inside his circle and for a form of brutishness outside.
For a few moments last September, Princess Diana's brother transcended barriers of wealth and class.
In the year of "people's" this and "people's" that, he was the "people's champion", flaying the tabloid press and the royals in equal measure.
We will be reminded of Elton John's song, and, of course, Earl Spencer's speech, and, after it, the rippling of applause from outside the Abbey door to the altar itself.
We will marvel at Spencer's audacity, his cheek, his sheer affrontery.
In front of their father and grandmother, the Queen, Spencer pledged to protect her sons, William and Harry, from the intrusions of the media, and, in a phrase destined to ring down the years, he went on: "I pledge that we, your blood family, will do all we can to continue the imaginative and loving way in which you were steering these two exceptional young men, so that their souls are not simply immersed by duty and tradition but can sing openly as you planned." Spencer's newly won heroic status was confirmed when he rejected a church burial and took her body back to Althorp, the family home, to be buried on a small island in a lake.
Spencer, lost in thought, was pictured walking on the island and bending down to examine the thousands of bouquets of flowers moved there from the gates of the estate. He has been exposed in a South African divorce court as a hypocrite, a bully, an alleged "serial adulterer" who cheated on a wife who suffered similar eating and psychiatric disorders to Diana, and bore him four children.
When the television channels relay reviews of the year in a few weeks' time, the same scenes will be played over and over again.
We will remember - as if we could ever forget - the flowers, the crowds, the dignified procession, silent except for the clatter of hooves and the mournful Abbey bell; the Princess of Wales's sons, brother, former husband and father-in-law walking straight-backed behind the coffin.
At the Spencer family homes at Park House, Norfolk, and then Althorp, Northamptonshire, at school at Eton, then at Magdalen College, Oxford, he has been tutored in the aristocratic art of exhibiting elegance and correct manners in public while behaving quite appallingly in private. His hubris was a symptom of his class, of an inherited belief in a right to say, and do, exactly as he pleases. And he would have needed exceptional character to survive his upbringing.
He spent his early childhood with Diana in Park House, growing up among people who could be horribly direct and cruel. Too many changes over nannies, very unstable the whole thing. She would lie awake at night hearing him crying, "I want my mummy, I want my mummy." Meals were taken on their own, away from their parents, with nannies who were sometimes cruel.
Then came John, who died soon after birth, Diana, and finally Charles.