Tag Archives: Lady Diana Spencer

Farewelling The Queen…An Australian Perspective.

On Friday morning, I was in the process of waking up when Miss came in to tell me that the Queen had died.

There was a long pause as I processed the news.

Indeed, how could I process that news when there had been no precedent in my lifetime?

The Queen has always been there.

Not just over there either. She came out to Australia 16 times, although I never went to see her. However, my husband Geoff had that honour, although he barely remembers it. When the Queen toured Australia in March 1977, an eleven year old Geoff went down to Hobart with his older married sister to see her. The Queen clearly made a huge impression on young Geoff. All he remembers is buying his first guinea pig “Fifi” down there and taking her home. Apparently, his mother was “not amused”.

The Queen’s Portrait at the Scout Hall making quite a statement really, which I hadn’t really taken on board before. It was always in the background.

Reflecting on my own memories of the Queen over the last couple of days, probably my strongest memory is having her portrait hanging in our school hall, as it still does in schools and all sorts of buildings around Australia and the Commonwealth. I didn’t question it at the time. The Queen was simply everywhere in this subtle way which was largely unconscious and flying right under the radar. However, in a macabre way, it’s like she was watching us all those years and like the Mona Lisa, had eyes which not only followed us around the room, but through life. She was simply always there.

However, for many of us, our relationship with the Queen and the monarchy is complex. For starters, I’m a Republican and I don’t like what colonialism has done to First Nations people around the world. Australia had been deemed terra nullius (or unoccupied) by the English when they came here and the Aboriginal people were classed under flora and fauna and weren’t counted in the Australian census until 1971. Now, the Queen is a figurehead and couldn’t interject in politics, but it raises a significant question mark in my thinking.

Here in Australia, we also had The Dismissal in 1975. When I was only six years old, Australia was rocked by an seismic constitutional shock. Gough Whitlam, our democratically elected Prime Minister was sacked by the Queen’s appointed representative, Governor-General Sir John Kerr, who then appointed the opposition leader, Malcolm Fraser, as Prime Minister of the caretaker government. While I’m really not sure how much say the Queen had in all of this and I believe it was minimal, it was quite a shock to many Australians who thought we’d come of age, that the so-called “mother country” could step in like that. Not unsurprisingly, Gough Whitlam didn’t go quietly either! On the steps of the then Australian Parliament House he famously said:

Well may we say “God save the Queen”, because nothing will save the Governor-General!

Gough Whitlam on the steps of Parliament House, Canberra.

Whitlam’s words immediately became legend, and they still air routinely on TV and maybe even at the odd BBQ. I had a friend back in the day who used to have a few too many drinks and quote Gough at parties. Indeed, I can clearly remember him quoting Gough and falling spectacularly into my parents’ swimming pool fully clothed right on cue. There is obviously a very long story behind that and the rights and wrongs of what happened way back then, but I will mention that an election was held and the Australian people voted in Malcolm Fraser and the Liberal Party by a clear majority.

Then, along came Lady Diana Spencer. The entire world was dazzled and the Queen along with Prince Charles headed backstage. I’d just turned twelve when they got married on the 29th July, 1981 and the entire world went mad with Diana fever (except for Prince Charles as it later turned out). I madly cut out photos and stories of Diana and pasted them in an exercise book. We all wore blouses with Diana’s trademark bow tied at the neck. One of my friends also had the misfortune of being carted off to the hairdresser to get a Lady Diana haircut which didn’t suit her at all and took years to grow out. Princess Diana’s light shone so bright that the Queen seemed pretty dull by comparison.

However, then, the Queen got the job of sorting out the fall out from two family divorces followed by the shocking tragic death of Princess Diana and her absent silence. The House of Windsor really seemed to be teetering on the brink then. Yet, in hindsight, she was actually putting her family first focusing on the needs of those boys who had lost their mum. So, what appeared to be cold and heartless to the public at the time, was actually incredibly compassionate and humane.

Some time after the death of Princess Diana, the Queen seemed to find a second wind and her popularity started to soar. Indeed, she started to capture the public affection in a way her mother had done and she almost seemed to become everyone’s second grandmother while still commanding respect as Queen. Indeed, my all time favourite footage of the Queen was with her having tea with Paddington Bear at Buckingham Palace during her Platinum Jubilee. I absolutely loved it, especially when she pulled the jam sandwich out of her trademark handbag. Who hasn’t had a jam sandwich at some point in their lunchbox at school and she was so sweet and relatable and it will be such a delightful treasure for her family to pass onto future generations.

Yet, there was so much more to the Queen.

Too much more to refer to it all here.

However, I’d particularly like to draw attention to her war service during World War II. There was also her and Margaret’s delight celebrating VE Day and leaving the balcony of Buckingham Palace and mixing incognito with the people, which she described as one of the best times of her life.

It is also admirable that as a young 25 year old embraced duty and her destiny and rose up to be an exemplary Queen and world leader.`

The Queen was also a working mother in an era where most mothers stayed at home and she helped open the door for working mothers around the world.

Since Her Majesty passed away, I have been drawn towards her many weighty words of wisdom and have come to appreciate her unfathomable depth, integrity and faith. She has so much to teach us, even now that she’s gone. After all, she reached the age of 96 very well lived years. She had met so many, many people and travelled so extensively around the world and absorbed so much. She was an absolute treasure and fortunately she’s left an enormous legacy behind.

Last night, I watched a fabulous documentary: Elizabeth : The Unseen Queen Have you seen it? I highly recommend it. The Queen talks you through numerous home movies and shares her wisdom on life, which is really worth pausing on and processing for yourself. I didn’t really come across her incredible wisdom during her lifetime, but now I’ve found it, I’m holding on and digging deeper. She is an outstanding and very human role model for us all. After all, she lived through almost a century of world history, but she was also a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother and friend. She also lived with an incredibly strong faith, which seemingly breathed life and hope into every nook and cranny of her incredibly rich and complex life. While she certainly had her standards and there were always very strict protocols about approaching the Queen and how she was to be treated, despite her incredible wealth and world standing, at least I don’t believe she was ever too big for her boots, and she kept walking.

This resilience is perhaps her most admirable quality of all. Whatever happened around and within her, she kept going. She kept performing her duty and greeting the red box daily with enthusiasm and a smile. We all could learn a lot from that. Indeed, as we do experience a sense of grief, we can think about what we have personally learned from Her Majesty and what we’re going to carry forward.

How do you feel following Her Majesty’s passing? Do you have any special memories? Or, have you written something yourself? If so, please leave a link in the comments. It’s so good to share our thoughts at a time like this and come together.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Lady Di…Once Upon a Fairytale.

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.

Charles & Di Wedding collage.JPG

 

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…

Rowena 1981

Here I am aged 12 back in 1981.

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.

Princess Diana and Charles carriage

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.

William Blake

Princess Diana engagement

Interesting body language here.

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.

DSC_6183.JPG

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[1] , the British television audience peaked at 32.10 million (one of the United Kingdom’s highest viewing figures ever.[2]), and two billion people traced the event worldwide.[3] 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?

diana and boys.JPG

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.

Diana Landmine.jpg

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

xx Rowena