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Just like Windsor Castle, Notre Dame will rise again

PUBLISHED: 14:42 18 April 2019 | UPDATED: 14:42 18 April 2019

Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris on Monday. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris on Monday. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Iain Dale says he felt the same emotion when watching Notre Dame burn as he did for Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle on fire in 1992 Photo: ReutersWindsor Castle on fire in 1992 Photo: Reuters

“Why do you cry over everything?” texted someone to my radio show on Monday night. It rather took me aback given I hadn't cried at all. All I had done was to say that watching Notre Dame Cathedral burn down made me feel very emotional, and it did.

It was the same feeling I felt in 1992 watching part of Windsor Castle burn to the ground. It wasn't quite the same intensity of emotion I felt when watching the Twin Towers collapse in September 2001, but that was a terror attack and I feared one of my best friends was inside one of the towers. On that occasion, tears were indeed streaming down my face.

There's nothing wrong with anyone showing emotion on an occasion like this, even a radio presenter who is covering what is a breaking news story. OK, you can't let your emotions run away with you. That would be self-indulgent, but all you're doing is reflecting how many of your audience are feeling.

If you can't quite understand how emotional the French were feeling on Monday night, just imagine how you would feel if you were watching St Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey or the Houses of Parliament burning down. I think most of us would feel quite upset, and symbolically view it as a bit of a national humiliation and tragedy.

And for the French it is both of those things. It's been known for a long time that this symbol of French national pride was in a state of disrepair, but no one did anything about it. The Catholic Church wouldn't stump up the money, the French state wouldn't commit much either, so it was left to volunteers to launch a fundraising effort in order to secure the cathedral's future. They wanted to raise 300 million euros, but had only just started.

The cathedral dates from the 12th century. More than 5,000 oak trees contributed to its construction. It was hardly a secret that a wooden structure was a fire risk, yet from initial reports there was no real fire rescue plan. Indeed, one of my respondents in France says this is typical. Most buildings don't even have mandatory fire extinguishers and adherence to fire safety regulations is patchy to say the least. We may rail against over-regulation in this country, but in fire safety terms we are seen as world leaders, even though the experience of the Grenfell Fire tragedy has caused a massive review.

Every historic building in France and all over Europe will now be looking at their own fire risks and their plans in the event of disaster. Think how we would all feel if anything happened to Blickling Hall, Audley End House near my home town of Saffron Walden, Sandringham or Melford Hall. East Anglia is blessed with dozens of stately homes, most of which are open to the public – something which in itself increases fire risk. The disaster in Paris should encourage those who are entrusted with their upkeep to review their fire risk planning with a real sense of urgency.

But out of ruin can come renaissance. When the fire at Windsor Castle destroyed 115 state rooms, including the imposing St George's Chapel, little time was lost in rebuilding it. Hundreds of specialist craftsmen were brought in to restore all the rooms back to their former glory. It gave them years of work. Rebuilding Notre Dame will take years, probably more than a decade, but it is the right thing to do. French national pride would allow nothing less.

Politicians are often judged by how they react to national tragedies and disasters. They present a real opportunity to either fall flat on your face if you strike the wrong tone, or capture the mood of the nation if you get it right.

President Macron couldn't wait to visit the scene. I doubt very much whether his presence was welcomed by the 'Pompiers' who were still engaged in putting out the fire, but for a President with record low approval ratings, he would have been damned if he hadn't turned up promptly, but was no doubt also damned for turning up with indecent haste. C'est la vie for a politician. Happy Easter!

iain@iaindale.com @iaindale

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