Yesterday I was sweating it out on the stair-climber when I saw the story: Prince William is engaged to Kate and he gave her his mother’s ring.
I might be a total geek, but this news made me cry right there in the gym. Still does while I’m typing this. I think it’s the part about the ring that gets me the most. Along with everyone on the planet, I loved his mother. And who doesn’t remember that ring?
I also remember her hats. Her many hats are the reason I am photographed wearing a purple brimmed hat at my uncle Alan’s wedding. And then there were the dresses: her green polka dot, the black taffeta, the light blue one with the bow . . . I studied them all as I carefully cut her pictures from magazines and glued them to construction paper. I was in the fifth grade when she became the princess. The only way to get a decent view of the Royal Wedding was to wake up at 3:00 in the morning and tune in to any of the three channels. Everyone did. It was a real life fairy-tale.
Eventually I stopped clipping the magazines, but through the years I continued my royal watch. Yes, Princess Diana was beautiful, but she was also brave and kind. She was protective and fiercely loyal to her sons. Always she seemed the epitome of grace under pressure. And I’ll admit, I sort of–sort of–wanted to be her.
In college, I spent part of my time studying abroad in London. Our flat was a block from her palace near Hyde Park. Many mornings I would run the park and then walk to the palace guards. The nice ones would give me little tips about what time to return if I wanted to catch a glimpse of her. (Not kidding.) I saw her and Charles in a car together once returning home from Spain. They were sitting far apart, staring out separate windows.
One night my room-mate and I followed a tip from a Royal Watcher magazine and waited two and a half hours outside an event in hope of seeing her. I wasn’t a stalker. Honest. I had a lot of homework. But she had been my hero for so long. I wanted to see her up close, just once, before I left.
I’ve seen a few celebrities before–outside theaters or at book signings. Most of the time I come away thinking they are not too different from the rest of us. With Diana, this was not the case. The Princess truly, honestly took my breath away. There was nothing ordinary about her. She sparkled in every way. Her short walk from the building to her car was not the dash it could have been. It was a gracious visit with the crowd. A little boy in front of me handed her flowers. She remembered him, “Haven’t you given me flowers before?” I brought nothing but my camera and couldn’t have said a single word, but my room-mate said, “You’re so beautiful.” And Diana nodded with a thank you. It was true.
So here are my photos. It’s an eighteen years late paparazzi exclusive–my own brush with the people’s princess.
Diana died about five years later, the same summer my mother-in-law died. I knew from my own experience what it was like to break painful news. I remember wondering what it would be like to wake the little princes and tell them their mother was gone. Someone woke them from a sleep where they had a mother and gave them news that changed everything.
And now they’ve grown up without her. I wonder what they remember. I wonder what part of her graciousness and her beauty they’ve kept with them. They’ve undoubtedly suffered. No one who loses a mother escapes this. But let his mother’s ring be the start of great happiness. Let a piece of this messy fairy-tale end happily. I throw this wish out with a million others–truly, I wish you all good things Prince William. As a mother, I know that your mother would want it that way.