27th July 2017


So they dug up the embalmed body of Salvador Dali in the week that The Dali Diaries was published. Delighted as I am to ride on the coat tails of this free publicity (I was there amid the media circus in Figueres as the builders carried in scaffolding and lifting gear, and later as the forensic scientists arrived with an empty casket) I can’t help feeling sorry for the man. Having been lovingly preserved in 1989, he has been lifted from his marble tomb at the centre of his museum in northern Spain and been subjected to intrusive procedures to extract parts of him for DNA analysis – reportedly this includes teeth, hair and bone marrow. The lower half of the body casket was wheeled out of the museum after midnight without its lid, loaded only with medical equipment. Dali’s body parts appeared to follow in a cardboard box. These samples are going to be returned to him when the scientists have completed their work, but the disturbance seems a shame considering the care that went into his preservation 28 years ago. He was reportedly found to be in such good condition that his moustache was still intact and pointing up at the edges in his trademark fashion.

    Local people have told me that they think the paternity suit is spurious. The woman claiming to be his daughter has been paid handsomely for media interviews, and even though she must bear the cost of the exhumation if her claim is negated, people think she will nevertheless have profited from this affair. Experts on Dali’s life also think the result will be negative: Dali described himself as ‘impotent’ and, despite his long marriage to Gala, was known for his aversion to intimate heterosexual relationships.

    The quest to find conclusive DNA to settle a paternity case has nothing to do with my novel, but it is uncannily close to the plotline of the next book in the series, The Chaplin Conspiracy, which is centred around the search for the bones of the notorious millionaire French priest Berenger Saunière in order to prove descendance and to claim the inheritance of the fortune many believe him to have hidden away.

    But Dali’s fortune is not hidden. He left his entire legacy to the Spanish state, and its eye-watering value is obvious and understandably tempting for anyone who might have a claim against it. The night they exhumed Dali there were large crowds gathered at the museum, dozens of television cameras and armed police. A canopy was placed over Dali’s resting place to prevent drones filming the exhumation through the glass of the museum’s geodesic dome roof. Museum officials stood at the entrance, looking annoyed and excited in equal measure. It was a surreal event, and, despite the indignity of it all, perhaps that surrealism is something Dali would have appreciated.