Thursday, August 31, 2017

20 Years Later - A Royal Watcher Remembers

Temple at Althorp
20 years ago, late at night, August 30th, I was flipping through the channels and came across pictures of the tunnel in Paris. Continued watching, I think it was Brian William’s on NBC and he mentioned Diana had been in the crash. After that there was no turning off the TV. I watched the coverage as it unfolded, so to speak. At one point, I think, Tom Cruise called in, denouncing the paparazzi and how it was only a matter of time before something like this happened. I’m paraphrasing but that is what I remember.

At one point Brian mentioned that people were in the tunnel taking pictures. He didn’t say paparazzi, it sounded like gawkers in the tunnel taking photos, which I thought was incredibly odd. This was before smart phones. When, if you took a picture, you had to wait until the film was developed a week later before you saw what you had captured. Why anyone would take photos of such a scene? If it had happened now I would understand. Everyone wants to be a citizen journalist but back then?

Alma Tunnel
Here is what was known at the time I tuned in. Dodi and the driver were dead. Miraculously, two people were still alive – a bodyguard and Diana. Of course Diana was the big story. The news made it out to sound as though it was, not minor, but not deadly. But as the broadcast continued her injuries sounded more serious. And I started thinking. What if she doesn’t die? What if she is badly injured? Paralyzed, confined to a wheelchair or in a vegetative state. What kind of a life would she lead? Given the interest in her, her life would become even worse. Paparazzi wanting to get the picture of Diana in that state. After all, later they were trying to get photos of her dead body. Imagine if she was no longer the beautiful princess everyone had come to know and love. And I found myself thinking, this is a terrible thought, but true. I would love for her to be alive, for William and Harry to have their mother back. But maybe, if she is a shadow of her former self,  she would become such a grotesque curiosity, If she dies, maybe it is better that way. Terrible, right?

I was riveted to the coverage and when Brian William’s announced she had died, it was just shocking. I grabbed one of my books about her and leafed through it. It wouldn’t bring her back but I could look at photos and pretend. I guess.

Alma Tunnel
I woke up that morning and went out and bought all of the newspapers. Throughout the week I bought every magazine I could get my hands on. I think I went in to the local convenience store so many times the owner knew me by name. I still have all of them. Waiting for my children to eventually throw them out when I’m not looking. Yes, I collected everything. Stamps, coins, plates. I wanted proof that I had experienced this moment. I recall listening to the radio and hearing bells tolling and starting to cry. I wasn’t the only one.

At the time I worked at a hospital that Diana used to be patron of. There was a remembrance book for people to sign and I remember one girl coming in and spending a lot of time signing the book. Crying as she wrote. I didn’t speak to her, given my interest in the coverage it was surprising, but I recall it to this day. I didn’t have a blog at the time so I couldn’t share my own feelings with anyone else.

Alma Tunnel
During the week I continued to collect what I could get my hands on. Then the funeral, wall to wall coverage. People crying as the cortege went by. The flowers on the coffin with the ‘Mummy’ card. Elton John singing Candle in the Wind. I even bought the CD of the song. You couldn’t escape the coverage, it was everywhere. And, to be honest, I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to continue experiencing the moment. This was our JFK moment. We would always remember where we were when we heard the news. Just like 9/11. But when her coffin drove though the gates of Athorp, it was over. Or so we thought at the time.

I’ve been to Althorp, seen the Oval Island. Seen the temple with the cross. My macabre thinking is I don’t believe she is buried on that island but we will never know and it doesn’t make any difference does it. I bought plates and books, and visited the Diana exhibit. One part of the exhibit had rose petals on the floor and home movies were playing and watching her, so young and carefree, it made it sadder.

Oval Island where Diana is buried
I continued collecting books and memorabilia, until years after she died. As the 20th anniversary approached, book-a-zines came out, photo books. People, Hello, Time. And 20 years ago I would have collected all of it. Now, I have bought ONE. I guess I have become cynical or realize I have run out of room. They have the same pictures. The same anecdotes. The one thing we have now is films about her – from her sons, from her speech coach, etc. I’ve watched two so far, but I would like to watch more. The one from her sons is the only one I really wanted to see. Unfortunately the CBC cut it to pieces, making way for all of the commercials so I haven’t seen the entire thing. I will eventually.

What I have watched shows what a loss she was to the royal scene, to the royal world. Nothing can replace her. Hearing her voice makes it that much sadder. I know people are sick of the specials, it is Diana overload. People are skeptical of her side, but I ask, what harm do these really do? What harm does remembering her do? It was become incredibly commercialized and I think that is one of the reasons I haven’t collected. Not buying these magazines allows me to keep her separate from the commercialization. I’m guilty of it, but right now it bugs me.

So on the 20th anniversary of her death. I hope to remember her the way she was. Reading tweets I see I’m not the only one taking note. People are leaving flowers at Kensington Palace but I’ve never believed it would be the same amount. Charles is getting a bad rap, as always. For today, let’s remember her for the special person she was, not the polarizing figure we have made her out to be.

RIP Diana.

© Marilyn Braun 2017

Photos may not be reproduced without author's permission. Thank you.

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

No comments: