It’s hard to explain Diana, Princess of Wales to those who weren’t around at the height of di-mania.
My daughters and I watched a documentary a couple of weeks ago about Diana’s death. It’s 20 years since we all listened in stunned silence to the newsreaders telling us she had died in a car accident in Paris. She was just 36 years old. My eldest was just six months old, the youngest not even a possibility.
As I sniffed and dabbed my eyes they looked at me bewildered, “so what was so special about her?”, “she was beautiful” I bawled. The funeral flashed up on-screen. “God there were a lot of people there”, “you don’t understand” I beseech “the whole WORLD was in mourning”.
“You keep saying she was beautiful, and I get she was a princess, but what did she DO?” they queried.
Thankfully, the documentary then dipped briefly into the charity work, the walking through the land mine field, shaking the hand of an aids patient, visiting the homeless.
Then I had to try to explain aids … look safe sex wasn’t just about not getting pregnant it was also about not getting this bloody disease which was terminal back then. The Grim Reaper ad. Little Eva van Grafhorst banned from pre-school for fear she may infect other children. In the middle of all that this Princess visited an aids hospital and holds the hand of a dying patient, and suddenly it’s not as scary anymore.
By John MacIntyre [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Tonight I watched the documentary where her sons speak for the first time about their loss, Diana, Our Mother. I remember watching them walk behind her coffin and thinking “how are they going to survive this?”.
But survive they did, becoming young men who from all appearances seem thoroughly decent chaps. The grief clearly stays present in your life, you could hear it in their voices as they spoke eloquently and lovingly about their Mum. A royal life doesn’t protect you from the pain of losing your Mother.
I’m still not sure I have explained Diana adequately to my daughters. The young innocent teen who married into the stuffiest, most traditional of families. The fun-loving mum committed to raising her boys to live in modern world. The personal insecurities and struggles as her marriage crumbled. The flaws. The woman who emerged from it all determined to use the unrelenting press attention to draw focus to causes she believed in.
I doubt I have conveyed to my girls the world we were living in back then either, so much has changed since that time. The women’s magazines, now in the twilight of their existence, are having one last Diana hurrah, her facing smiling out at us from covers once more.
Why did we all fall in love with her? What was it about this aristocratic girl from the other side of the world that would speak to us? Was it the fairy tale? Was it the beauty? Was it the fact she changed things up in the royal family?