This week sees the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. It seems strange to write a post on the Royal family, I have respect for their role, but am not an ardent royalist, however Diana was different and was part of my growing up. It was the day after my 8th birthday when Diana married Prince Charles and I remember the excitement of the extra bank holiday, getting up early for the build up to the day, the anticipation of her dress, the ceremony, a tad boring for an 8 year old and then the street parties which followed in the afternoon. I was at the age of believing in a fairy tale princess and this continued when I got to see Diana at a polo match in Windsor Great park. As Girl Guides we were camping in the park and were allowed to attend the game. Charles was playing but memories of him are blurred, however I remember Diana so clearly, wearing a stunning black and white dress and smiling. She was all we had hoped for.
As the years progressed, the fairy tale princess became an anachronism, however Diana changed and away from the soap opera of her personal life exaggerated in tabloids, I respected the work she did with ‘unfashionable’ charities, landmines, AIDs, homeless charities. I also loved her style. When Diana died when I was 24, she was a woman whose values, grace and work I admired.
Diana’s death is the ‘where were you ..’ moment of my generation. I was in a large London hotel celebrating my cousin’s wedding. As we went to bed, following the reception, in the early hours of the morning we learnt that there had been a serious accident in Paris and when we awoke her death was confirmed. The morning at breakfast was one of the most surreal times, a huge, busy hotel stunned into silence, it felt like everyone was too shocked to talk. The radio was sombre with classical music playing, the tv was the news and reactions, it was the strangest and saddest day to be followed by a similar week. By chance, we were due to be away visiting family on the day of Diana’s funeral. My uncle had been in the army and Diana had been his regiment’s royal. We watched the funeral in their home with photos, signed notes and cards from Diana to my uncle on display, I remember everything about that period feeling so unreal. The funeral was highly emotional, her sons behind the coffin, Candle in the Wind being sung by Elton John and all the flowers being thrown at the car. Once it ended, like many in the country we all headed to the nearest pub for a much needed drink.
Following the funeral a friend asked me to visit London with her to see the flowers at the palaces and although I hadn’t really thought about doing it, it is something that I am so pleased I did. It was an amazing sight, the waves of flowers are unforgettable, beautiful in colour, smell and volume. We also signed the book of condolence and pottered along Kensington High Street for shopping and an Italian lunch, it was a memorable day.
As the anniversary of her death occurs, I still like Diana, yes she was flawed but she in her own way was a role model, she embraced her charity work and used her position to help others, she held strong family values and was determining what the life of a modern woman looked like. She took my generation from believing in fairy tale princesses to something a little more realistic.
Following the media coverage of the anniversary I’m a little perplexed that future generations will believe we were all emotional wrecks crying and mourning Diana’s death. It was a surreal time, questions were raised about the role of paparazzi and the need for privacy and respect and we all felt sad for her family. However we weren’t all crying but just trying to make sense of a terrible accident.