Like the flick of a switch

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Moon over Manhattan. Photo: JH.

Monday, Labor Day, September 5, 2021. Last week when we were posting about the 24th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death, we found two Diaries about the lady, which we are including below. Re-reading them I was reminded of how her public image was similar to that of Jacqueline Onassis. She was a modern upper class woman of her time. Like Jackie, Diana lived in that world of celebrity that is nothing like it looks, and yet they kept their self-respect and their commonness with the rest of us. And of course, tragic death took its course.

I was never besotted, like a fan, but I was impressed by her appearance. I never met her during those years, but in the winter of 1996 I had one opportunity to see her in person.

Diana wearing Dior at the 1996 Met Gala. Photo: Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

It was at the Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum. Black tie, everyone dressed for the presence of the princess. I got there at the beginning of the reception in the entrance gallery to scout out a spot where I knew she’d be photographed. This would all be pre-arranged because there would be a lot of photographers covering her public appearance.

It was set up on the southern side of the gallery near the entrance. The massive room was crowded with oncoming arrivals. So I stationed myself just six feet away from the area Diana would occupy for the cameras. The Great Room in that corner was not brightly lit but rather a flattering shade.

While waiting for her entrance, I was chatting with two women guests on a settee waiting for the evening to begin — Lee Thaw and  Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat, the Argentine billionairess. I was telling them that I’d wanted to attend the evening so that I could get a closeup glimpse of the princess.

At which point Lee Thaw said, “then turn around because she’s standing right behind you!”

“What?” That seemed odd; I hadn’t heard anything, but there she was! no more than six feet from me in the area close to the wall not brightly lit. She was standing in place looking very serious and waiting, surrounded by no one.

And then suddenly, like the flick of a switch, the brights like sunshine from a bank of photographers lit up the area. With ten or twelve pros in place and ready, about fifteen feet away from her, that somber but beautiful face lit up that famous Diana smile with her bright and smiling eyes.   

She was wearing a bright blue sheathe-like gown and there she was! Like a very modern young woman, the most famous woman in the world at that moment.

Less than four minutes passed and the lights went out. And again Diana was standing there alone, somber-faced and staring ahead. I thought to myself that it was the face of a woman who knew she was on her own in the world! It wasn’t sad, but it was fearsome.

As she was about to leave, I told her how great she looked and that there was a rumor that she and her sons might becoming to Southampton that summer. She asked as if sincerely curious if I thought she’d like it. Of course I responded, and her boys would too. And she was off into the evening.


August 29, 2007. Over in London, they are preparing for the memorial service marking the 10th anniversary of the tragic death of Diana, the Princess of Wales. For those of us who read the British papers, we are being fed benign but nevertheless delicious morsels of the dramatic relationship of Diana and Prince Charles.

Many of us remember where we were on the night of August 31, 1997 when we first heard the news that Diana had been in an automobile accident in Paris and Dodi Fayed, her lover at the time, was dead. Soon thereafter, we heard the unhearable: Diana had died also.

I was in Southampton that night and had just arrived at a party that Julia and David Koch were giving — the annual Labor Day bash — with band and fireworks and hundreds of guests. This was the party of the season out there in those days, and it was a guaranteed smash. Except the news came too early. Hundreds of us stayed till the late hour when the Gruccis put on their famous fireworks show for the Kochs and their guests. But the end-of-summer last-blast excitement left early.

I remember at dinner, under a big marquee, I was sitting across from a man much older than I who was reflecting on his life. Without his telling me (and he didn’t) I knew that this man had a wife (whom I knew) and a longtime mistress (whom I also knew). The arrangement was well known and never mentioned in the company of any of the three principals — all of whom, incidentally, were very nice people. How we got on the subject, I don’t recall, but he asked me if I had any romance in my life at that time. I told him I didn’t. He shook his head: “Oh, we all need romance in our lives,” he said. “I couldn’t live without it.”

The flowers and tributes left at Kensington Palace soon after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales on 31 Aug 1997. Photo: Maxwell Hamilton.

I was touched by the confiding of this man in his late 70s, and I left that night with feeling that I had heard some wisdom that was outside my experience. I also left that night with the feeling of sadness that the death of Diana evoked in so many people.

We all know what happened in the Charles and Diana drama after that, just as the world knew what had gone on before in the ill-fated lives of the princess and her prince. Prime Minister Blair referred to her as “the people’s princess” and lo, it almost instantly seemed that way.

I was editor of Avenue Magazine at the time, and we had an astrologer named Joelle Mahoney who wrote a monthly column for the magazine. Without getting into who “believes” or “doesn’t believe” in astrology, I’d been given a reading by Mrs. Mahoney as a “gift” a few years before, by a friend of mine who is a believer. I was somewhat apprehensive (afraid of hearing some bad news). But I went. One of the first things she said to me was: “Have you ever had surgery?” No, was my answer. “Well,” she continued, “You will … but you’ll be all right.”

“When is this supposed to happen?” I asked, instantly alarmed.

“Soon,” she replied. “But don’t worry … you’ll be all right.”

Two weeks later I had emergency gall bladder surgery.

So, you can see, Joelle Mahoney made an impression with her “astrological prediction.” She also got a job writing a column out of it. Why not?

It was a day or two after the death of Diana that I asked Mrs. Mahoney if she had also predicted the death of Diana. “No,” she answered, “but that wasn’t an accident.”

What did she mean?

“That wasn’t an accident, and eventually the truth will come out.” She gave the astrological explanation for the business about the truth coming out, and then added: “and she will remain a great power, even from the grave, for the next thirty years.”

Well, ten of those years have passed, and the world that cares to know has seen the continuing unfolding of the drama of Diana and Prince Charles. The media tends to present her as a separate entity but, like my mother, like my father, maybe your mother, your father, maybe you, maybe all of us, it was the “relationship” that brought this all about, and it remains in force.

Prince Charles is as fated as his late ex-wife. The hour-long memorial, which is going to be held at the Guards’ Chapel, opposite St. James’s Park, is private — no video screens for the crowds who will be kept far from it, no loudspeakers to share the service — said to be the work of the royals sons of the couple, William and Harry.

Soon after it was announced months ago, the question arose: was Camilla, second wife, Duchess of Cornwall, “third party” in the first marriage whom Diana referred to famously as “the Rottweiller,” going to be attending?

Soon enough it was announced by Clarence House (the official residence of Charles and his duchess): Yes. She would.

Soon thereafter, the Daily Mail posted a poll: “Do you think the Duchess of Cornwall should attend or not attend the Memorial of Diana?”

Over her dead body, that is to say.

The flag flying half mast at Althorp House as it does on the anniversary of Diana’s death.

The poll came down against. The Royal advisors, the Prince, responded that Prince William and Prince Harry themselves had asked their stepmother to attend. William or Harry also was said to have said that the failure of their parents’ marriage wasn’t Camilla’s fault, but just the problem of the marriage. Children can be more objective.

That sounds fair. Not really, from an emotional point of view, but really. Relationships. My mother and father. Most everyone else I know. A third party can be the force that breaks us up, but the partners/spouses make the choices. Not everyone looks at it this way. It’s usually the custom to blame the third party. The devil made them do it.

Camilla’s going to Diana’s Memorial, however, didn’t go down well with the public and the Royal advisors soon found out. There now were stories put out that Camilla was mulling it over, maybe maybe not.

Then the word was: it had created a huge row between the Prince and his duchess. Evidently she didn’t think it was a good idea. He was demanding it anyway. Out came more words of the little Princes: they wanted heir stepmother there.

Then the Daily Mail quoted Rosa Monckton, a close friend of Diana, stating that she felt it was “inappropriate” for the Duchess of Cornwall to attend the memorial of the woman who the princess felt broke up her marriage. (No kidding.)

Then two days ago, word came from Clarence House that the duchess had decided she would not attend. And the Queen had approved. Whew.

While the decision may have been a wise one, it has returned Prince Charles to the Public Dock. At least in the British press.

Diana and Charles on their wedding day.

The Mirror of London took a new poll: “Was the Duchess of Cornwall right not to attend the memorial for Diana, Princess of Wales?” 91% of the respondents voted YES. 9% voted NO. There were no No Opinions.

Jan Moir in the Telegraph wrote: Diana, stripped of her royal title but not entirely of her dignity, was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong man …. The conspiracy theories … the veneration of this flawed, beguiling woman — has been froth upon misplaced froth, closely followed by farce.

Then Moir went after Charles: (The memorial) … is a perfect example. From the beginning, it seemed to be more about consolidating the redemption of Prince Charles …. His extraordinary insistence on the presence of the Duchess of Cornwall … in the front pew of the Guards Chapel suggests an intransigence that cannot always be explained away by upbringing and the expectations of entrenched privilege …. (E)veryone, including the hapless Duchess … knew it was wrong.

And in the Daily Mail, they were echoing Diana’s famous suggestions that the Prince’s insistence in Camilla’s attending was proof he was not equipped to be King:

How much … does it take to conclude that the woman who caused Diana more pain and misery than any other individual has absolutely no place at an occasion designed to celebrate her life?

The public got there in about two minutes.

Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles on their wedding day.

The Queen was reportedly against it from the start.

Even the Duchess, as friends have confirmed, had the gravest doubts about attending.

Only the Prince, it seems, lacked the sense or sensitivity to foresee the consequences of insisting that his controversial second wife accompany him to a memorial for his much-missed and widely loved first wife.

For a man with ears like radar dishes, Charles seems peculiarly unable to pick up signals from Planet Normal …

Alas poor Charles. Ears like radar dishes indeed. And bow your head for poor Diana. Had Charles exercised a judgment which now many claim he lacks congenitally, none of this would ever have happened. And maybe he’d even have eventually found happiness with Camilla anyway.

Again, Jan Moir, in the Telegraph, concludes: For, 10 years on, the life and death of Diana still means something to the British people, even if her emotional legacy seems glorified in a way that is not entirely healthy, either for the Royal Family or the rest of us.

Diana was a firestarter, a defibrillator, a force of nature who would not be quelled, nor shunted aside for the convenience of others.

All her sons want is for her memory to be cherished and her life celebrated. However, like a mischievous spirit escaping from a disturbed tomb, St Diana of the Damaged is still capable of causing disorder from beyond the grave.

Diana sitting for a portrait when she was the Colonel-in-Chief for the 13/18th Royal Hussars, August 1997. Photo: Allan Mallinson

By the time of her death, Diana was very much in the way, a serious liability to the monarchy. The Royals may be a form of amusement for the rest of the world but it is as serious an institution in the world as the Roman Catholic Church. It is, after all the mask of Establishment England. It is purely political.

Diana’s fame and popularity was so great as to influence the public perception of the monarchy. Her funeral proved that. Had she lived, her presence (and her talent for drawing attention to herself and her dramas) would have gummed up the works. Camilla may never have had the opportunity to become the duchess, and it very possibly would have continued to make Prince Charles look like a ninny, which he still manages to do at times, even without her.

More cumbersome was that her appeal had the elements that nurture mythology. Aside from her beauty and her photogenic charm, Diana lost at love. And in a big way, in terms of romantic fairytales. Her prince had deluded her, or worse, she had deluded herself about her prince. Until it was too late.

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