Once upon a time, a little girl with her hair in plaits and eyes full of dreams, watched as a magical fairytale unfolded on TV. Prince Charles was engaged to Lady Diana Spencer. Indeed, there was Diana fever and every single magazine around the world flashed Lady Di’s face on the cover. Moreover, as photographers pursued “Lady Di” like a frightened deer, millions watched on, including the little girl, entranced by her beauty and even the fairytale itself. Consciously, and even unconsciously, millions were swept up into this unconventional fairytale, where the not-so-handsome, big-eared Prince, had fallen in love with the shy, young kindergarten teacher hiding behind her fringe.
The Royal Wedding, with all its pomp and circumstance, was held on the 29th July, 1981 the day before the little girl’s 12th birthday, when she was delighted to receive the commemorative stamps. Indeed, in the lead up to the big day, the little girl had been cutting up magazines and newspapers and pasting them into an exercise book with her school logo of the front. She might’ve lived in Sydney on the opposite side of the world, but she lived and breathed Lady Di, and now had concrete proof fairytales really could come true. Meanwhile, thanks to “Gran”, her friend ended up with a Lady Diana haircut…
The little girl knew everything there was to know about Diana. Indeed, there was nothing she didn’t know about the Royal couple. It was all in her book.
So, it will come as no surprise, that the little girl was glued to the TV set when Lady Diana Spencer arrived at St Paul’s Cathedral in her magical horse-drawn carriage wearing “The Dress”. If you were there, as in parked in front of your own TV set, you’ll also remember that moment when Lady Diana turned to the crowds with her dazzling smile and waved. It was a moment frozen in time. Who could not but fall in love with the beautiful Princess?
As we now know, almost the entire world was in love with Lady Diana Spencer, except her Prince.
Indeed, an invisible worm had infiltrated the dreams of England’s Rose and William Blake’s famous poem almost seems prophetic:
The Sick Rose
O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
However, right from the beginning, the clues were there. Even while they were announcing their engagement, Charles let it slip in an interview. When he said he was “just delighted and happy”, the interviewer sought further clarification, “And I suppose in love?”Charles’s reply is now haunting: “WHATEVER ‘in love’ means.” Diana instantly replied, “Of course,” with a grimace and an eye roll. “Yes,” she giggled. Then Charles added: “Put your own interpretation on it,” as a feeble attempt to cover himself.
Perhaps, he’d hoped that love would come. However, as we now know, the Prince wasn’t in love with the beautiful, kindergarten teacher. Rather, he was still in love with Camilla, who for better or worse, has often been cast as the Wicked Witch in this fractured fairytale. However, the little girl knew nothing about all of that back then, and neither did the shy kindergarten teacher. Rather, she had found her Prince.
Twenty years after Diana’s death, it is hard to fathom that sense of Diana Fever which engulfed the world. It’s impossible for me to explain it to my kids, because there’s nothing like it. There’s no one like her either. She was omnipresent. There was the Lady Di hair cut, the Lady Di collar with the bow around the neck, THE Wedding Dress, I’m not doing to touch all the dirt that came up during the divorce and so much more. Then, there was her funeral. Two thousand people attended the ceremony in Westminster Abbey , the British television audience peaked at 32.10 million (one of the United Kingdom’s highest viewing figures ever.), and two billion people traced the event worldwide. This makes Diana’s funeral one of the most watched events in history – Wikipaedia.
Somehow, the fairytale became so all-consuming, that it became one-size fits all. So many people wanted a piece of her, until there was almost nothing left for herself. Well, that’s how the theory goes. No one can keep giving and giving or even worse having themselves constantly taken away, particularly without their consent, without fading away and dying on the inside. Indeed, in some kind of reverse fairytale, couldn’t it be possible that every time the princess’s photo was taken and her image was stolen away, that her sparkle started to fade on some parallel portrait, just like Oscar Wilde’s Portrait of Dorian Grey? That by the time of her death, that the Princess’s portrait had completely disappeared, with nothing left but the last veil?
Yet, that was not Diana. Rather, she rebuilt herself. While I don’t profess to be any kind of expert, it’s not difficult to infer that Diana found meaning and a zest for living through being “Mummy” to her boys. Recently, William and Harry have spoken out about losing their Mother, and shared her great sense of humour and how much fun they had with her. What losing her, has meant to them.
There was also her charity work, which was so much more than sipping cups of tea and attending cocktail parties. Indeed, she was quite a revolutionary and physically went to places angels feared to tread.
In April 1987, she shook hands with a man living with HIV/AIDS without gloves, while opening the UK’s first purpose built HIV/Aids unit at London’s Middlesex Hospital. While this might not seem a big deal now, at the time, AIDS was the new leprosy. Touching someone with AIDS, was a ground breaking act. With that single gesture, Diana showed that people living with HIV/AIDS needed compassion and understanding, not fear and ignorance. So it went, that if Princess Diana wasn’t afraid of shaking hands with someone living with HIV/AIDS or cuddling an affected child, we could do it too. It wasn’t going to kill us. She broke down some pretty major barriers on that front. As I said, her actions and deeds were revolutionary, making such a difference. It wasn’t just words and playing it safe.
It was the same with her support for banning of landmines. While this remains an important issue, back in 1997, even the British army still kept land mines in its arsenal The Princess was a benefactor of the nongovernmental organization: the Hazardous Areas Life-Support Organization, or HALO. On Jan. 15, 1997, she walked through an active minefield in Angola, and detonated a mine in front of an audience of international reporters, with the help of a land mine removal expert. “I did not want to be on the front page of the news the next day,” that mine removal expert, Paul Heslop, recently told the BBC, “as the man who’d blown up Princess Diana.”
Although Diana died a few months later, her efforts saw the UK ratify the international convention banning land mines the following year. Today, 80 percent of the world’s countries have signed on to the treaty. Among the countries yet to ratify the international ban on land mines are China, Russia and the United States.
So, despite her divorce, it seems Diana still believed in fairytales and in trying to make the world a more loving, safer place. Not only that, she took action and worked hard towards those goals, to the point of risking her own safety. Indeed, she was the Queen of Hearts who worked with love, compassion, drive and wasn’t afraid of stepping out and challenging her own fears to make a difference. Moreover, you can see this legacy living on through Prince Harry’s work with the Invictus Games, which use the power of sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation and generate a wider understanding and respect for wounded, injured and sick Servicemen and women.
That is the Diana I choose to celebrate and honour now. The survivor and trail blazing revolutionary, who truly carpe diem seized the day and changed the world around her using love and influence. Sure, she had issues, but I’m not about to cast the first stone. My house is well and truly made of glass.
Meanwhile, my precious exercise book with the school logo on the front and Diana inside, is somewhere up in the attic. Although it’s a bit cringy-worthy these days, especially as I am an Australian Republican, it’s still precious. It took a lot of hard work reading, cutting out and pasting to produce that book, and it’s as much a tribute to that little girl. Moreover, I still believe in Princess Diana and all she’s left behind. That’s because when you put all the hoopla aside, Princess Diana remains a truly remarkable woman…an eternal inspiration.
Is there anything you would like to say about Diana? Any memories? Please share them in the comments.
By the way, I just found this article which goes to show I wasn’t the only one with a Diana scrapbook: Royal Weddings