The Richmond Register

November 24, 2012

Diana: A Celebration

By Marie Mitchell
Register Columnist

RICHMOND — It’s every girl’s dream to have a fairy tale wedding. Especially if you have an unlimited budget to create those Disney-like memories.

We envision our gorgeous gown. Fabulous hair day. Acceptable groom. Divine decorations. Sentimental vows. Congenial relatives. Phenomenal photos. Fantastic food.

You want all eyes on you. After all, it’s your day. You’re the star attraction. Sorry guys, that’s just the way it is.

Now, imagine being only 20 years old and having 600,000 people lined along the street to catch a glimpse of you as your carriage travels to the historic church. Another 750 million will be watching the big event on TV as your wedding is broadcast live around the world.

I’m referring, of course, to the July 29, 1981 wedding of Diana Spencer to 32-year-old Charles, Prince of Wales. It was a very public affair for a pretty private young lady. And with little training, Diana bore the staggering responsibilities suitable to her prodigious title of: Her Royal Highness, The Princess Charles Philip Arthur George, Princess of Wales and Countess of Chester, Duchess of Cornwall, Duchess of Rothesay, Countess of Carrick, Baroness of Renfrew, Lady of the Isles, Princess of Scotland.

Whew! Who’d want to carry the weight of all those expectations—when you’re barely out of your teens?

Still, you can relive the matrimonial moment, and other key events in Princess Diana’s life, in a traveling exhibit at the Frazier Museum in downtown Louisville (through Jan. 13).

A video replays Diana’s long procession down the aisle of St. Paul’s Cathedral with her 50-foot train trailing behind. It captures her shy, tentative smile at the altar and quick kiss with her new husband on the balcony with the whole world watching. Who didn’t want to be Diana then? She had it all.

But there was no happily-ever-after ending for Princess Di. The dream turned into a nightmare early on. A philandering husband (she should have waited for Prince Charming, not Charles). Judgmental mother-in-law, the Queen. Suffocating duties. Loneliness. Debilitating eating disorder. Who’d trade places now?

There was some joy interspersed with the daunting demands Diana faced. Less than a year after the wedding, Diana gave birth to William, then two years later, to Harry. Home movies capture happy moments as Diana fulfilled her favorite role: mother to her two handsome sons. It could be any family on vacation—on the beach building sand castles or laughing as they splash land on a flume ride at an amusement park.

The home movies go even farther back — to a young Diana’s own birthday party, an impeccably manicured garden affair, complete with camel rides. There’s Diana dancing and twirling like any ordinary girl her age. Not the most dedicated academic student, her passion settled on music and dance. She was devastated when she grew too tall to pursue ballet as a profession. So, she became a patron of the arts instead.

That wasn’t the only cause she embraced. In the 16 years between her wedding and tragic death, Diana focused the spotlight on issues that had remained in the dark. Her brother wrote that Diana’s own insecurities drove her to help others.

She not only met with lepers, she reached out and physically touched them. She advocated for HIV/AIDS patients, caring more about the cure for the disease, not the cause. Her last crusade was on behalf of innocent citizens killed and injured by abandoned land mines overseas.

The traveling exhibit in Louisville features Diana’s dazzling gowns, stylish suits and fashionable dresses. But Diana wanted to be known as a work horse, not a clothing model.

Diana died in a fiery car crash in Paris in 1996, trying to elude paparazzi. She was 36. The exhibit highlights the outpouring of grief and sympathy as the world mourned her death. People gathered. They cried. They left mementoes. They created volumes of condolence books which are on display at the Frazier.

Singer/Songwriter/Friend Elton John revised a song for the very private girl thrust unprepared into a demanding public life. The refrain is:

And it seems to me you lived your life

Like a candle in the wind

Never fading with the sunset

When the rain set in

And your footsteps will always fall here

Along England’s greenest hills

Your candle burned out long before

Your legend ever will