Diana: A Celebration

Diana, Princess of Wales

I must admit, I’ve been fascinated by all things British since I was a little kid.  Not sure if it was the accent that hooked me, the double deck buses or the really old buildings.  Or maybe it was the fictional stories I read growing up that were based in England.  Especially the stories that had knights and kings and were set back in the medieval times.

I was always slightly obsessed with Princess Diana and read everything I could about her.  I even was awake in the middle of the night so I could watch the wedding live.  I remember lying on the floor watching it on our small TV.  The train went on and on.  It was such a fairytale with all the spectators lining the streets and the carriage.  Then the kiss on the balcony, made any girl want to find her prince.

Then in 1983 I was able to spend a month with my friend Gillian, who is from England and we went to London where I got to see Buckingham Palace, walk down the Mall where the carriage went and see Westminster Abbey, along with all the other places.

The big news when I was inEnglandwas “randy” Andy.  It was all about how Prince Andrew was quite the bachelor and was dating a porn star.  I thought he was a doll.

This week, I finally broke down and went to the Diana: A Celebration exhibit, which showcases the life of Diana, Princess of Wales.  I couldn’t decide if I wanted to spend the $23.50 a person ticket but a good friend of mine was coming down from South Dakota to go so my daughter and I went with her.

I’m so glad I went.  This 12,000-square-foot exhibit has been around since 1998 where it has been on permanent display each year from July 1 (the day of Diana’s birth) to August 31 (the day of her death) at Althorp, the Spencer family’s 500-year-old ancestral home in England.  But the traveling exhibit, which features 150 items on loan from the Spencer family, has made it to only a handful of American cities, and Kansas City was fortunate to have it here until next weekend when it will return to Althorp and be on display in time for her birthday.

The famous wedding dress.

The biggest item I wanted to see was Diana’s wedding dress.  The dress is hand-embroidered with more than 10,000 sequins and seed pearls and embellished with 100 yards of tulle crinoline.  I thought from the front it looked like any other wedding dress but when you walked around the case and saw the train, wow, what a spectacular dress.  I remember Diana getting out of the carriage with her father and the train going on and on.  Who could forget the aerial view of her walking down the aisle with that long train following behind her.  It’s surprising the thing didn’t pull her backwards!

When Prince William and Kate Middleton were recently married, my daughter and I watched all the shows about the royals and Charles and Diana’s wedding.  One thing I didn’t realize, is once she got out of the carriage, you could see just how wrinkled the dress and train were.  At the time they didn’t consider what would happen when they folded all that tulle into the closed carriage.  Now when I look at photos I can see all the wrinkles.

In addition to the wedding dress, the exhibit features toys Diana played with as a child, personal family photos, diamond-encrusted tiaras, and the outfits she wore while performing royal duties.

The exhibit started out with the Spencer family jewels and the family tree along with a little bit of Spencer family history.  I didn’t realize she came from one of Britain’s great aristocratic dynasties.

Some of Diana's childhood items.

The “Childhood” gallery displays everything from cherished toys and family photos to home movies shot by her father and portrays her growing years as fairly normal.  I could hear people commenting that they didn’t realize she was a dancer or athletic.  I commented that it was interesting the stuff they did keep, I have a couple of my daughter’s artwork framed and on the wall from when she was little but other than that, I don’t keep every little scrap of paper unlike it seems the Spencer family.  It was neat to see her childhood photo albums.

Highlights of the “Tribute” gallery include the musical score and handwritten lyrics to “Candle in the Wind” that Elton John and his lyricist, Bernie Taupin, rewrote for Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997.

You also get to see the original, hand-edited text of Charles Spencer’s tribute to his sister that he delivered at her funeral in Westminster Abbey, which was broadcast to more than 60 countries and had an estimated 2.5 billion viewers.  That was something else I watched live.  I still remember where I was when I heard the news that she had died.  I was standing in my parent’s dining room setting the table for breakfast and my dad had gone to get the mail.  He walked in the house with the newspaper in his hands and said Princess Diana was dead.  We all stopped what we were doing and just looked at him like he was joking then quickly turned on CNN.

Scarlet Jacques Azagury evening gown Diana wore at an event at the National Museum of Women in Arts in 1997.

Before you walked into the room with 27 of her well known outfits, you first walk through a small area filled with some of the more than 30,000 condolence books Althorp received after her death.  I remember reading and hearing on the radio about different condolence books around here that you could sign.  I don’t remember if I signed one, I doubt I did, but I thought about it.  The books were from all over the world and most of them looked like first edition books from many years ago.  I wonder if the boys have sat down and read any of them.

After all the beautiful dresses, which I kept saying to my daughter, “I remember that dress,” they had a small room dedicated to her humanitarian works.  One item I found interesting was a prayer book given to her in 1993 by Mother Teresa with a prayer written in it by Mother Teresa herself.  I heard several people mention they couldn’t read Diana’s handwriting which didn’t seem to change much from her childhood.  It was very hard to read, very loopy, and almost childlike looking.  I know I could only understand a few words.

Because of my love of all things British, I did watch Prince William and Kate’s wedding.  I’m glad they took their time to get to know each other and become a couple first.  I’m glad Kate has been “schooled” in how to deal with the media and how to present herself.  Diana sure didn’t get that and I think Sarah Ferguson didn’t either.  Heck Charles and Diana only saw each other 13 times before they were married.  That sounds pretty shocking.

I’m glad I went to the exhibit.  I think if I had passed, I would have been disappointed not taking the opportunity to see the wedding dress and all the other items that were a part of her life.

In keeping with Diana’s memory, money raised by the exhibit goes to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, which benefits charities for children, the homeless, people with AIDS and land-mine victims.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat.