November 1985, Andrews Air Force Base, Washington D.C.
(See photo credits at the end of post)
I have a vivid memory of the morning Diana, Princess of Wales, stepped off the plane at Andrews Air Force base in Washington D.C. I was in the press pool at the edge of the tarmac.
She was wearing a red suit that would be just as chic today as it was then, and she was even more beautiful in person than she looked in her photos. This lovely English rose was the future Queen of England. Or so we thought.
It was a sort of People Magazine story crossed with history-in-the-making. His parents and grandparents had helped the Empire tough it out during the darkest hours of the Nazi blitz. It was possible this homely man and his stunning wife might, too, find their way into the history books--which they did, of course, though not in the way we thought.
On that warm November morning, knowing only that the trivial makes the tale, I asked the press officer for information on what HRH was wearing. I received a hand-written description from Diana's lady in waiting:
"Her Royal Highness is wearing a bright red, wool suit consisting of a straight skirt, waisted jacket with blouson effect and white shirt collar worn over white camisole. Small red hat. Red accessories." I could see that. I had just wanted to know the name of the designer.
The Princess of Wales visits a Penny's store in Northern Virginia. I remember noticing that she didn't wear stockings. With her legs, she could easily get away with it.
We covered their every move that weekend in Washington. Her trip to a day-care center, their trip to a Penny's store, promoting a line of British products. Their visit to church on Sunday and then to the National Gallery of Art where a gust of wind at the museum door almost knocked her hat off its precarious perch.
Leaving church in Washington D.C. on their way to the National Gallery of Art.
Then, we awoke one day to learn that though Charles was a prince, he was not in fact a gentleman. That he had brought this innocent girl into a palace full of creepy courtiers and internecine intrigue and, after a few brief visits to her bedroom, had zoomed back into the arms of his chain-smoking, horse-faced mistress.
When Diana retreated to the bathroom to sob, there was only her son William standing by to push tissues under the door.
It got worse.
The frog prince let his lost bride wander out the palace doors and into the on-coming traffic. And die.
The princess seemed to carry a spotlight around with her that encircled her in a penumbra of light. I've noticed just a few of the famous people I've covered carry that same glow with them, wherever they go.
More than a mess, the story of Diana, Princess of Wales exposed the corrupt shallowness that was the modern Buckingham Palace. A Queen who dedicated herself to her people but had instilled no values in her son. A monarch who stood emotionless as her daughter-in-law's funeral procession passed by and four months later nearly wept when they decommissioned her royal yacht.
A son who had everything in the world except a basic set of ethics.
It isn't just sad that Diana, Princess of Wales, won't be at her son's wedding to Kate Middleton: there is something positively gothic about the whole pageant. William's mother had just such a wedding. His mother is now the ghost at the banquet. It's truly Macbethian.
Don't get me wrong: I wish this privileged young couple all the best. None of what happened was their fault. They seem like nice young people. But so did William's parents.
So forgive me if I miss the latest television episode of this strange family's public life. Though it does make one better understand the plays of Shakespeare, the dark, parallel story that runs right alongside the bright, sunny one of this wedding has soured me, at least for now, on the world of the Windsors.
(All of the photos in this piece were issued for the British Information Services by the Central Office of Information, London, and by the British Embassy in Washington D.C. and as a reporter I kept them in my files. The black and white photo was taken by Lord Snowdon in Kensington Palace.)
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