I remember the first time I heard of Diana Spencer. I was babysitting and flipping through a Newsweek magazine as one does when one is thirteen. In the Newsmakers section, there was a photo of a young British woman in a skirt, holding a toddler as the sun shone through that treacherous Liberty Print.
Not long after that, I was watching Good Morning, America and saw the engagement announcement. I don’t know exactly what it was–the fact that she was only six years older than me, or the idea that for the first time in my lifetime, the British royal family felt relatable to me. I’d read Robert Lacey’s Majesty some years before, and in the Queen, the serious and responsible older of two daughters, I’d felt a kinship. Now that she was getting new daughter-in-law in a huge, elaborate wedding, I was hooked.
By the time July 29th rolled around, I was a thoroughly devoted Diana-phile. I had clippings from newspapers and magazines, and early that morning, I was awake at three to watch wedding coverage. I don’t think I moved from in front of the television for the entire day.
When I went to eighth grade the following September, I was sporting a Lady Di hair style–the first time I’d ever cut my long, wavy hair. I imitated the Princess of Wales’ style of clothes, and if you see photos of me around that age? Just about every one has me giving the Shy Di under the bangs smile. I bought all of the photo books about the couple and devoured them .
Over the next few years as I navigated my time in high school, met my future husband and then went to college, I continued to celebrate the highs of Diana’s royal life. I loved the few interviews she and Prince Charles allowed, found their babies adorable and travled vicariously as they performed their royal duties.
My own marriage and babies definitely distracted me right around the time when it became glaringly apparent that the fairy tale was faltering. 1992, the Queen’s infamous annus horribillus, was the same year that my family and I moved from Hawaii, where we’d lived for five years. I had two little girls to keep me busy. Still, it made me so sad to hear that Diana and Charles had grown apart, that they were separating. Their divorce was such a depressing end to what was meant to be the perfect happily ever after.
By the summer of 1997, I had three little girls, and my husband and I were living back in our hometown in South Jersey. I awoke on the Sunday morning of Labor Day Weekend thinking about the coming school year; my oldest daughter was beginning third grade, and our second was going into kindergarten. I came downstairs to begin breakfast and turned on the television.
The first thing I heard was something I could not believe.
“Diana, the Princess of Wales, is dead.”
I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. No, it couldn’t be! Diana was only 36. She was young, vital, in the middle of recreating her life in the wake of her divorce. She had two small sons.
It couldn’t be.
And yet, it was. She had died horribly in a car accident in Paris, where she’d been chased by reporters and photographers. It was a wholly preventable death. So tragic. So unnecessary.
For days, I was inconsolable. I’ve heard that in recent years, Prince Harry noted that he’d been perplexed by the overwhelming grief of people who had never met his mother. I understand that it must felt odd. He’s right; none of us in the wider world knew Diana as he did, as her family and friends did.
But we loved her all the same.
She had a way of making all the world feel as though we were part of her royal adventure. We saw in her hope and possibility, grace and compassion, love for those who needed it most.
Perhaps we didn’t see the full picture; we seldom do, even with those closest to us. Maybe the real Diana could be petty or insecure or unhappy. I know that even now, I struggle when friends remember my parents in a way that it is at odds with what I knew about them in private. So I can understand a little.
In the twenty-five years since she was taken from the world, we’ve watched her sons grow up, marry and have children. We’ve seen the Royal Family grow and evolve. We’ve watched how her influence is felt even today.
When I write my royal romances, I am often thinking of Diana. I’ve alluded to her within the stories, not by name but by example. Since my books are set within the real British Royal Family (albeit with fictional characters), I think it’s important to note the tragedies along with the triumphs.
I didn’t think about what today was when I decided to release The Royal Nanny Undercover this week and put the box set on sale. But how strangely appropriate it is that I’m celebrating royal love stories twenty-five years after we lost our beautiful princess.
As I remember her today, even through misty eyes of remembered grief, I like to think of that nineteen year old nanny with the ashy blonde hair and the Sloan Ranger style. I like to recall her sitting on the beds of AIDS patients, holding their hands, weeping with them, making them laugh. I want to remember her consoling the victims of land mines and speaking out with courage and anger about the ongoing issue.
And just as I did when my own mother died, I hope that at the end, she realized how much she was loved–not for a title, but for what she meant to a world that needed her particular brand of truth and love.