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Hello! My name is Shannon Taylor. I'm a long-time writer and editor from Minnesota surprised to find myself on an island in the Pacific Northwest with my husband, three younger children (the oldest is attending college in Chicago), and two dogs.


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Winter Fun

My Princess Diana Story

[ Writing this because some friends and I are heading to the Mall of America to see the Diana, A Celebration exhibit ]

Just typing that headline—My Princess Diana Story—makes me sound like an awful hanger-on, doesn’t it? Another one of the millions who wanted a piece of this real-life princess. And yet I loved her. I really did, or at least as much as you can love someone you’ve never actually met. Lady Diana Spencer burst onto the scene at just the right psychological moment for a young girl in the throes of awkward adolescence. A bit awkward herself, Diana gave hope to girls like me that with the right haircut, a warm smile and outstretched hand, and a handsome prince at your side, you could do anything.

Of course, we all know that this particular fairy tale didn’t last. But Diana showed us that it’s possible to create the life you want even if things don’t work out the way you planned. She left some important legacies—her wonderful boys, of course, but also the attention she brought to causes other people would have preferred to avoid. Remember how shocked the world was when Diana shook the hand of a patient with AIDS in 1987? And how much influence that simple action had?

Even with all the money and the clothes and the palaces and yachts, I don’t think many of us would have traded places with Diana. She paid a high price for all she had. But wasn’t it nice to pick up People magazine and see her cheering up the suffering or striding confidently into some charity event, all long legs and blond hair and big grin? The world was more elegant and exciting with her in it.

So. Labor Day weekend, 1997. Grandma Marilyn, my mom, and I are about to set off on our dream trip to England. We hope to see as much of the country as we can in 10 days. Tim is planning to join us for a long weekend in London. Grandma and I, Anglophiles with a capital A, are excited beyond belief. We love the country’s history and literature, its trifle and crumpets and Yorkshire pudding, its knitting, gardens, Beatrix Potter, and, of course, Princess Diana.

I had booked a bed and breakfast as close to Kensington Palace as possible. The Abbey House on Kensington Church Street was inexpensive and just around the corner from the palace. I wasn’t going to stake Diana out or anything, but I was going to keep my eyes open. You never knew when she might pass by on the way to the gym.

But then came the horrible news that the princess had been killed in a car accident. It seemed impossible and unreal and incredibly unfair. Things were just starting to go so well for her. And didn’t your heart break at the thought of Diana not getting to watch her boys grow up?

We arrived in London the day before Diana’s funeral and decided to stick with our original plan to head out of the city for Canterbury. We were a little taken aback at how the country closed ranks the day of the funeral. The tourist sites were open, but the shops were closed. We thought we could pop into a pub to catch some of the funeral on television, but visitors were not welcome. And that was okay; she was their princess, after all. I paid 20 pence to light a candle for Diana at Canterbury Cathedral. And I signed one of the many condolence books placed at churches around Great Britain. I wondered if her family would read all of the messages and find some comfort in the well-wishes of strangers.

We continued with our sightseeing and by the time we arrived back in London a week later, the city had pretty much returned to business as usual. Although, pilgrims were still dropping flowers off at Kensington Palace. I took a photo (above), but it’s hard to describe just what that sea of flowers looked and felt like.

And now we come to the point where my life intersected with Diana’s in the tiniest, but—for me—most amazing way.

On the last day of our trip, Grandma, Mom, Tim, and I hopped off the double-decker bus at Westminster Abbey, where Diana’s funeral had been held earlier in the week. Of course we were aware of that, but mostly we were gawking at all the famous historical figures and writers buried there.

And then a small, elderly woman walked up to us holding several white carnations. We paused, wondering, and waited to hear what she would say.

“We’re taking apart the princess’s bouquets,” she said. “Would you ladies care for one of the flowers?”

Whatever we had expected her to say, it certainly wasn’t that. I think I kept my jaw from hitting the floor. She handed each of us a white carnation, nodded, smiling, as we spluttered our thanks, and continued on her way.

I’m hardwired to look for meaning in everything, even when it’s clear to everyone else that there isn’t any to be found. Because, they tell me, life is random. And maybe they’re right. But in that moment in a cathedral halfway across the world when a little old lady handed me a flower from the funeral bouquet of a woman I had so admired for nearly 20 years, it didn’t feel random at all.

I’m looking forward to visiting the exhibit tomorrow. I’m sure it will be a respectful celebration of Diana’s life. And, of course, part of the proceeds will benefit her favorite charities.

But all those adolescent girls from the past and I would much rather have her here, now, leading the way as we (reluctantly) move into middle age. Diana would have turned 50 last year and I bet she would have done it fabulously.

[ Update: The exhibit was wonderful. Elegant, moving, and beautifully curated. You really got a sense of who Princess Diana was. Her wedding dress, with the train stretched out 25 feet behind it, was gasp-worthy. ]

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Comments

  1. Leslie says:

    Shannon, this piece touched me so deeply. While living out East, I had two of those rare, sad moments that people ask, “Where were you when…?” That last weekend in August was one of them, 9-11 was the other. I had huge plans for the gardens surrounding my cottage in Pennsylvania. I was almost finished with my project. My best friend had just been married the weekend before and my flowerbeds had been terribly neglected. Covered in dirt, floppy hat and all…I heard the news from the radio on the patio. My heart sank. I came in, watched the coverage…and cried. Like you, I felt so connected. It was so strange to feel that way about a total stranger; but as you mentioned–she was the “people’s princess.” When I couldn’t watch anymore, I headed to the corner store and purchased copies of the Philadelphia Enquirer and the New York Times. I still have those papers tucked away. Every once in awhile while I sort through stuff, I come across them and tear up.

  2. Shannon says:

    Leslie, thank you so much for sharing your story. I think we’re all much more connected than we sometimes realize. And I think we appreciated Diana because she admitted her flaws but kept trying to overcome them. Just like the rest of us.

  3. Tim says:

    The outpouring of condolences at Kensington palace was unbelievable. It was one of the most amazing and somber things that I’ve ever seen. Your picture of the flowers at Kensington doesn’t give you the true sense of what it was like to be there. The amazing thing is that those stacks of flowers are about 6-feet high – all around the palace grounds.

  4. Shannon says:

    You’re right, Tim. The photos can’t capture the scale of those stacks of flowers.

  5. Kseniya says:

    Hi Shannon,
    I was wondering if the photo of the flowers you posted here was your own?

  6. Shannon says:

    Hi Kseniya,

    Yes, the photo of the flowers is my own. I’m afraid it doesn’t do it justice, but you get a sense of what it was like.

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