Sunday, September 12, 2010

My Diana Years

Lady Diana Spencer became engaged to Prince Charles on February 24, 1981.  She was nineteen.  I had just turned twelve.  I had never heard of her before the engagement was announced, but she immediately captured my adolescent imagination.

Diana was young, pretty, a bit fleshy.  She seemed very accessible to me, the way many impossibilities seem accessible to Americans, especially the young ones.  I suspect it comes from being told we can be anything we want to be, if we work hard enough.  That's a load of carp really.  All the hard work in the world was not going to make me a tall, leggy, blond.  Or, a princess.  But, that did not stop twelve-year-old me from dreaming.

From the moment I saw her in that blue suit, showing off that gigantic sapphire ring, I wanted to know everything about her.  What she ate (very little, as it turned out), what she read (very little, as it turned out), what her life was like down to the minutest detail.  And then, I wanted to live that life too.  So, I thought.  I was twelve.  And a hopeless romantic.  What did I know?

She was pretty.  He was rich, and titled.  What could go wrong?

The Royal Wedding was in July, 1981.  There was an eight hour time difference between my suburban California home, and St. Paul's Cathedral in London, but it was summer and there was no school, so I stayed up all night to watch every second.  You might have been able to pull me away, if the house were on fire, but only maybe.  There was something about that day.  The combination of my youthful fancy, the sleep deprivation, and the pageantry of it all that just caught me up.  It felt like magic.

And, in a way, for me, it was.  The next day, I cleaned my room.  This was not a small thing.  My mother was of the attitude, that it was my room, and I could keep it however I wanted, as long as it did not escape past the door and into the hallway.  You can imagine the chaos.  But, all of a sudden, I wanted to be tidy, and take care of my things.  I wanted to grow up.  A nineteen year old English girl got married and I stopped being a little girl.  A bit dramatic, I know.  I mentioned I was twelve, right?

All through that following year, I saved my money to buy books about her, that were nothing more than photographs really.  I wore those pages out, dreaming.  There was on in particular, Princess by Robert Lacey, that also had quite a bit of text.  I devoured every word.  I can still remember the smell of the paper.

It didn't take too long to out grow being twelve.  And, while I maintained an interest in Diana gossip (for lack of a better word), the first blush of adolescent fantasy began to fade with talk of eating disorders, infidelity, and obsessive phone calls to other women's husbands.  I grew up.  I moved on.

Diana, died on August 31, 1997.  She was thirty-six.  I was twenty-eight.  I heard the news on the television, as I was unpacking all of my worldly possessions from moving boxes.  I had just bought my first house.  I was handed the keys that very day.  I felt like such a grown up.

At the risk of sounding like a melodramatic twelve year old, it seemed appropriate to me that I should share this day with her.  She was with me when I left the little-girl-me behind, and she left, just as I had reached a milestone of adulthood.  I was, of course, more than prepared to move on without her, but it was still sad. 

As I was unpacking, I found all of those old Diana books in a box.  A few days earlier, as I was packing for the move, I seriously considered throwing them away.  I felt kind of silly still holding onto them.  But, I could not part with them.  And, I was glad I didn't.  Silly or not, I loved those books.  They were such a part of my growing up.  I have them still.  Well, my mom has them, in a box in her basement.  (Did you hear that mom?  You have the times of my life in a box in your basement.  Think of that the next time you threaten to throw out anything we won't come get.)

I still think of Diana occasionally.  Neither of our lives were like we dreamed they would be in 1981.  But, I like my fairy tale ending, even if Hubband is not rich and titled.


  1. Haven't we all dreamed of being a royal at some point in our lives?

    I was up late watching a tennis match on television when "Breaking News" reported Diana had been in a car accident. (No, I don't normally watch tennis at ridiculous hours of the morning.)

    I was suddenly far more awake than I'd been just two seconds earlier. I watched in fascination as they spewed out bits and pieces of what happened, and then the announcement came - Diana had died.

    It was odd really. I knew that I was privy to information most Americans would not know for hours... I also knew that when they woke up, their world would be changed.

  2. Very poignant post about growing up. I, too, was enamoured by Diana as a child and I, too, was saddened by her death. I think I woke up early to watch the funeral. It interesting, what moments define us as children.

  3. I was the same age as Diana and I had my hair, which was her same color, cut to be like hers the year she got engaged. I also married a Charles (OK, Charlie) who was a good bit older than me. Sadly, I did not get the willowy stature part to match the rest, but I also did not get an aversion books or eating, which more than makes up for it (in my humble opinion). I think Diana made a big impression on many of us girls, and I well remember when she died -- I can remember lying on my couch waiting for the latest news, a sick feeling in my stomach that her life had come to that. So sad. By this time I was also divorced, but had gotten my life together, and I was glad not to be rich and dealing with a royal family. But I still remember her fondly for all that (as you say) she offered us in the way of hopes and dreams, and I still love seeing the pictures you posted.

  4. I remember that I'd just moved into my house at the other end of the country from my family and friends when she died. I was unpacking boxes too. How strange. It was very sad - I'm not much of a royalist but I think her life was made a complete misery by others in the Royal Family. Or so I gather. She'd no doubt have been happier had she never become that princess.

  5. A moving post, beautifully written. I admit that I cried when she died...

  6. Kate (not Hanley), it is very easy to be a royalist in America. We don't have to pay for them. To us, they are just like celebrities with bigger houses and better history.

    DFG, I sat on the couch watching the news trickle in too, but my response was the opposite. I did not think there could be any way that she would die. She was rich. I figured she'd get the best treatment and recover. So, I was really shocked when they came on and said she was dead. And, I learned a little something about the limits of wealth and celebrity.

  7. lol tracey do you still have my doll?

  8. I fell in love with the Royal Family, like so many British Colonials have, thanks to a Nana who was convinced she was related to the Queen Mum, and to parents who had immense respect for Queen Elizabeth. My Nana kept me well supplied with commemorative booklets, spoons, etc. and I was convinced, also at age twelve, that I would fit into that family quite well, if only they met me and didn't make me convert :)
    Diana was such a fascination for everyone, so elegant and charming, and apparently elusive. I think she and the Royal Family were a bad combination from the start. I don't think Charles ever meant to be faithful, and I don't think his parents were very realistic about his ability to be a good husband to Diana. It was pretty messy and I became quite disillusioned once it all came to light. Still, I confess to being a bit of a Royal watcher, though most of my England born friends aren't what I would call pro-monarchy. Great post!