Somewhere near St George’s Chapel, Diana was laughing.

ethereal feministWhen Charles and Diana married in July 1981, I was working, in a travel shop on Grafton Street.  However, my wonderful boss, saved the day by managing to charm the loan of TV from a local TV Rental shop (as your Ma – people used to rent TVs) so that we could tune into what was happening in St Paul’s Cathedral in London.  I was completely captivated as I watched this girl, who was my age, marry into the most famous family on the planet.  She had just turned 20.

I am no royal expert and I am certainly not a royalist.  I am very glad that my taxes aren’t used to keep a big family living in the lap of luxury for purely, well I don’t know, entertainment and national PR purposes?  But I am endlessly amused and fascinated by the goings on of the House of Windsor.

This family, who had to change their surname in the midst of the First World War from the decidedly Germanic and therefore problematic Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor (named presumably after their favourite castle) are a wonderful reflection of centuries of history and a microcosm of a Britain that largely no longer exists.

I always found Diana compulsive and mesmerising.  She was beautiful, likeable and as the years went by it became increasingly clear that she was unhappy. She and later Fergie kicked their heels, albeit rather gently, against much of the stuffy nonsense of being ‘royal’.  But, as we all now know, the royal family weren’t ready to change.  This reluctance to reflect the nation they are supposedly head of, was thrown into stark relief in the aftermath of Diana’s tragic and untimely death.  The Windsors did the stiff upper lip thing and seemed to carry on, while the rest of Britain and indeed the world, were mourning the loss of the woman who became known as ‘the People’s Princess.’

Since then, it seems that the Windsors have made some attempt to modernise, albeit it slowly and on their terms.  The most obvious example of this was the change in the rules around accession, so that Princess Charlotte will not be overtaken by her new baby brother and remains fourth in line.  Royals can also now marry Roman Catholics although a Catholic still cannot become monarch.

But Diana was a true trail blazer in many ways.  Her work with AIDS and later with landmines unsettled the establishment. The impression was often given that she shouldn’t bother her pretty little head with things she didn’t really understand, particularly regarding the landmine issue.  But she persisted.

Diana was also a devoted and very natural mother to her two beloved boys, the younger of whom, Harry, was only 12 years old when she died.

Last Saturday the world watched, as Diana’s brave boy, whose heart-breaking march behind her coffin twenty years ago remains scorched in our memories, stood nervously at the altar awaiting the arrival of his bride.  Whereas William seems to have his father’s seriousness (and he has to have, seeing as he will one day be King), Harry embodies Diana’s sense of fun and desire to reach people and make a difference in their lives.  In his work with the Invictus Games he displays the same passion his mother had for her chosen causes.

But on Saturday we saw something else that Harry has inherited from his mother.  His desire to shake up the House of Windsor and make is more reflective of modern Britain and more relevant to the British people.

He has married an American, of mixed race, and a divorcee, hitting at least two previous Royal ‘no-nos’.  Remember also that his mother, not only had to be single and never married but also a virgin in order to marry Charles.  And that wasn’t that long ago.  But Harry and Meghan drove their message home with their wedding ceremony which was a huge leap forward for the Windsors, although some of the family looked, well, decidedly uncomfortable with some of it.

Meghan’s decision to enter the church alone, attended only by two young page boys was a clear indication that this is an independent minded woman.  But the decision to ask the Most Reverend Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church from the USA to deliver the sermon was inspired and I think Diana would have approved with bells on.

The Bishop’s address was delivered in typical preacher fashion and included quotes from Martin Luther King and references to slaves in America. It was a stand-out moment.  It was also joyous and energetic and not like anything ever delivered at a British royal wedding before. Reverend Curry was followed by a gospel choir who delivered a beautiful rendition of ‘Stand By Me’.  The contrast between the vibrant, earthy gospel music and the boy choristers was as stark as it was beautiful.

As the last notes of the gospel choir reached the rafters of St George’s chapel, I thought of Diana.  At that moment I wondered if she was somewhere nearby, roaring with laughter and crying with pride in her youngest boy.  She left him at just 12 years of age, when there is still so much mothering to do.  But today he proved that she had done enough.

There is talk of Meghan Markle, now the Countess of Sussex being the new People’s Princess and maybe she will be.  She has the grace, intelligence and charisma needed, but Harry is his mother’s son.  It is he who can rightfully claim the title of the People’s Prince.

TOO WEIRD FOR WORDS

The children went back to school today after the longest Easter holidays ever – with two bank holidays thrown in for good measure. But as I struggle to get back into a routine I am not helped by the fact that last weekend was one of the weirdest ever. If you were a visitor from outer space who arrived on Earth late last week, you would have been gobsmacked at just how ‘uncivilized’ and peculiar life on earth really is.

The weekend began with the best of stories – love – with the marriage of the beautiful girl, Catherine Middleton to her Prince Charming. Her new husband, William is of course the son of the late Princess Diana – one of the most famous and most loved women on the planet in the 20th century. The spectacle of the Royal Wedding lifted hearts and focused our attention on the human need for love and connection. It also perhaps has brought some healing to the house of Windsor who for the last few decades seems to have been wracked by scandal and divorce and rifts. Friday was the best of days… we the world watched Britain do what it does best – pageantry and ceremony and we shared, at a distance, the celebration and hope that a good wedding should evoke.

Saturday was uneventful and was followed by Sunday and the beatification of Pope John Paul II. How to explain this concept to our visitor from Outer Space? I kind of doubt that God holds with the making of saints. I feel fairly sure that hierarchies are very much a human idea and dare I say it, a male one at that, even if it is a hierarchy of goodness. I don’t remember Jesus scoring the disciples on their ‘goodness’. But back to our friend from outer space – even if we could explain the concept of sainthood, venerating a vial of blood might just cause problems. As for retrieving his 6 year’s dead body to bring it to the church again – what’s that about? Can we also explain the simple wooden coffin amid all the priceless splendour of the Vatican? What’s the message there? The men who put this ‘show’ together are all the most ardent followers of Jesus Christ, apparently. Have they forgotten that he was a radical free thinker who lived in a humble life in Israel 2,000 years ago? Does anyone really think he would be happy with the goings on in Rome – at any time, never mind last weekend? Anyway that was Sunday!

Roll on Bank Holiday Monday and we all awake to the news that US Special Forces have, after 10 years of searching, finally tracked down, killed and buried Osama Bin Laden. All this happened in the space of a few hours. The internet goes wild with speculation and the chatter on Twitter reaches a new high as word spreads. The talk is of Navy Seals, Black Hawk Helicopters and photos of the US Administration watching live the events unfolding in a hereto unknown town called Abbotabad in Pakistan. I can understand the urge for New York City to celebrate but nevertheless scenes we saw of chanting and flag waving are something we are far more used to seeing from Middle East. But more than anything else I was struck by one of those pictures from the ‘situation room’ in the White House. Gathering around, in an informal group were the men of the American Administration all watching the live events from Abbotabad. In the centre of the picture was Hilary Clinton, the only woman and the only person present registering shock and horror. Her hand is clasped over her mouth and her eyes wide open. At times like this I really do wish that the Feminist Movement had really changed the world of politics and that women were in charge of a different way of doing things. And I am reminded of a quotation of Ghandi “an eye for an eye, renders the whole world blind.”

Actually never mind our friend from Outer Space… I am punch drunk from the events of this weekend. I suddenly feel as if I am not of this planet… after the uplift from watching and enjoying the Royal Wedding, the weirdness of the fast tracked beatification of Pope John Paul II with vials of blood and retrieval of his dead body and then the killing of Osama Bin Laden I am feeling very strangely alien on this planet I call home.

A MOTHER’S INFLUENCE?

As I had decided to host a Royal Wedding Coffee Morning on Friday, I was running about whipping cream and boiling kettles as guests were arriving at Westminister Abbey. But I did manage to catch what I thought was probably the most poignant moment of the day for me – and that was the arrival of Princes William and Harry.

As the young men they now are, they carry so much of their mother’s energy. They have benefited greatly by having such an openly emotionally relationship with their mother, albeit one that was tragically cut short. Walking into the Abbey, William looked nervous, wringing his hands but I am sure that there was no one else he would have preferred to have by his side than his brother. Diana would have been so proud of her beloved boys. And I don’t doubt that she would also have heartily approved of William’s choice of bride. Unlike his father, William has married for love and not for duty. I just hope that all the love and optimism we saw across the water yesterday augers well for their future together.

If that was Diana’s legacy yesterday what then of her oft partner in crime, The Duchess of York – Sarah Ferguson? Was it her influence that led her two daughters to make such appalling fashion choices? We were all struck dumb in horror as we watched her girls emerge from the car at the Abbey. They were like cartoon characters. Comparisons were made with the sisters in Cinderella. The outfits were bad and the hats showed an appalling lack of taste. These royal sisters painted a stark contrast with the elegance and timelessness of the Middleton girls. Was this Fergie’s revenge? Or do Beatrice and Eugenie have no one in their inner circle who tells them the truth? Have they no one to advise them? They are still young and the coverage of their outfits must be hurtful today. Surely this could be avoided.

My favourite moment was later in the day when, led by an Air Sea Rescue Helicopter from his base at RAF Valley in Wales, Prince William took the wheel of his father’s magnificent Aston Martin to drive his new wife the short distance to Clarence House. It was class and it was cool. Long life and happiness to them both!

And thanks Great Britain for cheering us all up with such a splendid display of pageantry and ceremony!

THE BIG FAT ROYAL WEDDING

So here we are…. Royal Wedding Week. Across the water, William and Kate host the biggest Reality TV spectacle of the decade on Friday. I have no problem in saying that I will definitely watch the wedding – perhaps not live – but I will not miss all the hoopla as the British Monarchy embark on the latest chapter in the story of the House of Windsor.

We in Ireland have long been fascinated by the British Royals – not everyone I know, but I would hazard a guess that most of us have an interest in goings on of the UK’s top family. And we here in Ireland have the comfort of being able to have front row seats for their unfolding dramas without having to bother with wondering if Monarchy is a good idea or worth the tax payers money. We get the entertainment without the moral dilemma. And let’s be honest the British Royals provide far more glamour than an episode of either Coronation Street or Eastenders.

There have been a few Royal Weddings since the 29th of July 1981, but none matched the spectacle of Charles and Diana’s nuptials. At the time I was working for JWT in their office at the bottom of Grafton Street. My manager was determined that although we were working we would see the Royal wedding. Now (for young readers) this was way before computers and live streaming! What to do? Being a very resourceful woman, my manager reapplied her lippy, gave herself a quick spray of cologne and off she went up Grafton Street. About 15 minutes later she arrived back with a nice young man from Radio Rentals (or some such shop) who was clutching a TV and rabbits ears. We were all set. It was a bit fuzzy but it was colour and it was live. We missed nothing.

Diana and Charles wedding was very much of its time. She arrived looking nervous but ecstatic in a huge creation of taffeta and ruffles with a 25 foot long train. Watching the footage of that wedding, we can see where the Big Fat Gypsy Weddings took their inspiration from!

From then on, people all over the world were fascinated by Diana. Her vulnerability which was so evident on her wedding day never left her. But she learned quickly to couple it with a savvy understanding of how the media works and she used both attributes to great effect. Her influence shook the British Monarchy to its very core. Her impact was immense.

So as I settle down to watch the Big Fat Royal Wedding on Friday, I will be wondering what Diana is making of it all and wondering what effect Kate Middleton will have on the family Diana used to refer as The Firm!

Bring it on!

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