I was almost able to ignore the Royal Wedding festivities. I didn’t stay up late or go to a party, I didn’t follow any of the last few weeks of hub-bub. But today? Well, there just is no escaping the television coverage, HEDHS- they sent Anderson Cooper to London rather than Alabama.
At least President Obama had his priorities straight. You KNOW ol’ Dubya would have been at this wedding- unless Tony Blair has been blackballed. But this is not a blog about priorities of the masses or disgraced world leaders. It’s a blog about grace.
Sometimes in the mid 1990’s I was in school in London, England. While walking home one afternoon with my classmates Emma, India, Rochella and Roman, we passed a group of traffic bobbies (oh sure, I’m not afraid to get all “anglophile” on you, but only to the extent of words I find amusing. And calling cops “bobbies” amuses me).
And now I hear Whitney Houston’s voice in my head screaming “Bobbaeeeee” from the pot. A visual that once seen cannot be unseen. (Sigh. Damn Whitney Houston tangent.)
The traffic bobbies (there it goes again) were setting up barricades, cordoning off the roundabout entry to the Dorchester Hotel in London proper. Roman was immediately convinced that Princess Diana was there.
“On her way for lunch.” The closest Bobbie told us. We must have squealed. Even Roman- he was obsessed with the Princess. This was the absolute best thing that could ever have happened to him. We were the very first people there and we had our pick of location, choosing to stand at the barricade closest to the doors. Emma, India, Rochella and I quickly claimed our spot and sent Roman off for flowers, disposable cameras and film.
Side note: The soap opera name “Roman” absolutely in no way fits the actual person in this story, and I hope that if any of my former classmates read this, they get as much of a giggle out of the soap opera generator’s choice of name as I did. For the rest, a description of Roman is found below and it tells the story.
We were so excited to have the chance to give the Princess flowers, it was a very British thing to do back in the day. Roman was absolutely beside himself.
We waited for about an hour, and as we did, an unbelievable crowd gathered. Paps, tourists, and groupies. First, came the paps. “Paps” is a not so sly nod to the phrase “pap smear” an entirely appropriate comparison given their chosen profession and about all the respect these sort of people deserve (yes there is a story, but this is not the time).
Then the groupies began to arrive. We met a 40-ish woman whose entire raison d’etre was to wake up each morning, consult her daily copy of “Royalty” for Princess Diana’s daily itinerary and show up at the public locations where the Princess would arrive. On this day she had a lovely bright gift bag and card- a birthday present for the Princess.
We asked her how she could possibly live like that, did she have a job? She told us she lived with her mother, on the dole. Seriously. There was nothing wrong with her, she was completely healthy and could have worked. She just chose not to. And she wasn’t the only one. I dubbed her “Lady Dole” . Rochelle heard me say it and glared at me. (What?? I told you, if I think something is funny, I say it. Its a sick impulse that I’d do well to stymie, but I can’t.)
Seriously though, I was awed by at the very idea and the shameless- proud manner in which she described the way she lived her life. That she really thought Princess Diana would even acknowledge her, much less accept a birthday present from some random person amused me greatly.
A crowd, 5-6 persons deep grew to line the barricades up and down the street, around the roundabout parkway of the hotel. I asked Lady Dole what event the Princess was attending and she said:
“Royalty tells us its just lunch with friends today. Most likely a birthday celebration.” She nodded with an air of superiority, like she was some sort of rogue television reporter on site giving all of London important news.
200-300 people, mostly Londoners, some out of work permanently, stood waiting for over an hour to watch Princess Diana walk into a hotel for lunch, 12-15 years after she married Charles. It was mindboggling.
Princess Diana arrived in her navy blue Jaguar, and we were blown away. The crowd roared. No, I shix you not- roared- as the Jag pulled up. Lady Dole shouted “Happy Birthday Princess” over and over, but my group of friends fell silent. Roman’s cheeks turned red the way they always used to do when he was flustered. Poor kid, 6’6”, blonde skinny nerd with pop bottle thick glasses and flushed pink cheeks. He was speechless when he saw her.
She climbed out of the blue Jag wearing a gorgeous cream colored Chanel suit with a pearl necklace set and perfectly coifed hair. She stood for a moment looking around the noisy boisterous crowd and then she put her hand to her chest.
The look in her eyes conveyed an expression of heartfelt wonder and gratitude. As if this were the first time anyone ever stood along barricades shouting happy birthday or offering flowers, when in reality this sort of thing occurred every day of her last decade (plus). If you look closely at the photo, she looks incredibly touched, even slightly overwhelmed.
I was torn between taking photos and watching her. I mostly watched. It was worth it. You got to see the real person, who she really was. And she was astonishing.
She walked around to greet all of us with bodyguard/staff in tow. She thanked each person and accepted every gift, bouquet, balloon and card. She spoke to every person lining the barricades carefully and methodically, as if she really cared what the person had to say. She listened to each person speak as politely as if they were the most important individual she would talk to that day.
When she got to us, she asked each of us our names, shook our hands and asked us what we were doing in London. She was genuinely delighted that we were students and wished us the best. Roman handed me his camera and begged me to take his picture as she spoke to him. How could I not? The boy was so smitten. Of course, it meant I would not get my picture with the Princess, but that was ok.
Surprisingly, it was not the effect she had on people around her, but the effect people had on her that overwhelmed me. How, even after all those years of seeing people lined up everyday just to get a glimpse of her as she walked into a hotel, she still did not take one moment of that love and adoration for granted. That she cared so much about people. These people. Us.
I was overwhelmed by the grateful sense of grace she embodied. I know I won’t ever encounter that kind of grace and elegance again. I am not sure it exists. There simply wasn’t anyone like her and probably never will ever be.
Still, I hope that if there is anything her new daughter-in-law might emulate about the woman who would have been her mother-in-law, it’s the gratitude, love and pure kindness Princess Diana held for people.
My heart is sad for the Princess who died so tragically before her time, but I am incredibly grateful she existed at all. She is an important reminder of what we all should strive to be as human beings.