On that day 40 years ago, the axis tilted and the change began. We didn’t know that at the time; All we saw then was a beautiful young bride who was just a few weeks past her teenage years, wearing the puffed up meringue of a wedding gown with those incredible Hulk shoulders, and clinging to her new husband’s arm.
Date: Wednesday 29 July 1981. Location: St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. Dramatis personae: Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer.
Even those of us who had little interest in the British royals hoped that that day as we watched the pageantry and ceremony on our little TV screens this would be a heavenly match. We had no idea then of the hell that was to come – for Diana, for Charles, for their two sons, and for the institution of the British royal family.
After all the grief and tragedy, a new kind of truth emerged, one Honesty that made us wince at times, but an honesty nonetheless.
From the moment Diana officially joined “The Firm”, nothing would be the same as it was. From that July day 1981 on, the stage was ready; At some point, no matter how far down Royal Street, a Meghan Markle character would undoubtedly make her appearance – she would be allowed, for better or for worse.
Add the internet and the recent explosion in the comments on social media, and the British royals, once considered a somewhat strange and privileged species, have become a pop culture phenomenon. All of her disclosed imperfections only add to her currency.
There is a scene in The Crown where a young Queen Elizabeth talks to her Uncle Edward, the man who abdicated to the twice divorced American Wallis Simpson to marry.
“We are half-men”, he says to his niece, “torn out of the pages of a bizarre mythology; two sides embroiled in a civil war that never ends and that spoils any of our transactions as brother, husband, wife or mother. “
Duty to Self. This is what the former king tries to convey to the young queen, the clash of tradition and modernity.
For some, that half of life comes with the role and acceptance of what duty requires; for some this half life is enough. It wasn’t for Diana.
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At different times in her far too short life she was many things: courageous, manipulative, caring, self-confident, vulnerable. Love her or hate her, but no one could ever question this chameleon woman’s commitment to her sons. Motherhood versus Monarchy? No competition.
Her general sense of fun and public affection for her children were anathema to the other royals, but she left her mark. Would William and Kate have recently been seen so openly comforting their young son George at Wembley if William’s mother hadn’t gone first?
Forty years ago today, Diana Spencer loosened her marriage vows and mixed up her husband’s first names. And nothing in the Windsor House was ever “perfect” again.
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