Twenty years ago this past weekend, I was living at home after college and was in my bedroom chatting with friends on my computer (back during the old mIRC chatroom days) when someone typed “oh my God, Princess Diana is dead!” I immediately turned on the old t.v. I’d had in my dorm room and it was breaking news on CNN – Diana Spencer had died in a car wreck in Paris. My mother and I watched the funeral and we both cried all the way through it, but what I remember most about her isn’t her tragic end, it was the fairytale moment she was introduced to the world. On July 29, 1981, I was a week from my seventh birthday and my sister was four. We were on vacation at my grandmother’s house and were so excited that we would be able to watch a real-life princess wedding. To compensate for the time difference we had to be up early (6a.m. if I remember correctly) but we were so excited, neither of us had a hard time waking up. It was just like Christmas and I remember the way we laid on our stomachs on the red wool carpet in Gran’s den, propped up on our elbows as we breathlessly watched. The most vivid image I remember, even nearly 40 years later, is the overhead shot of Diana walking up the aisle, her gown billowing like a cloud behind her. It was what every young girl fantasizes about — marrying the handsome prince (hey, Charles was kinda hot back then!) and living happily ever after in a castle. Sadly, Princess Diana’s storybook ending was doomed from the start and not even 20 years later, she died at the tragically young age of 36. I used to wonder if she knew what kind of impact her special day had on young girls, but after watching a retrospective this past weekend, I realize that she had no idea of her influence because she was nothing more than a scared child when she walked down the aisle. Her married life started as one that no romantic-minded person would choose and yet she blossomed into a gracious, compassionate woman whose charitable work left her light with us long after she departed this earth. This is the true example and legacy she left me, my sister and countless other young women all over the world on a warm summer morning long ago, once upon a time.
I remember watching her wedding and then when news of the car wreck interrupted whatever was on tv. We were shocked by it, we had a lot of respect for her.