The 31st of August was just a normal day for us in London, rather unusually bright and sunny, not grey and wet like the day before so we went to Kensington Gardens for a picnic at around 1PM to enjoy the warm sunshine. We were in our usual spot, behind The Orangery, and just as we were about to eat our ‘Chinese take-away’ (we don’t always eat sandwiches and crisps every time we go out for a picnic, you know!? ), we spotted and heard a helicopter hovering above us. We were then reminded that it was Princess Diana’s 20th death anniversary. After eating I grabbed a book from my handbag and started reading it but the sound of the helicopter bothered me so much that I decided to put it away and told Jared I was going to walk around the park towards the front gates of Kensington Palace.
I wasn’t expecting to see a huge crowd but there were at least 200 or more people standing around the gates plus a hundred more sitting on the grass in front of the palace. As I was starting to read a few letter tributes I spotted a familiar face — Andrew Morton — the official biographer of the late Princess of Wales. He wrote the explosive book that shook the British monarchy to its very core — Diana, Her True Story. I’ve read some other books he wrote over the years and I’ve seen him on tv being interviewed about his books numerous times hence, he looks familiar. I was too shy to approach him but thought there might not be any other opportunity like this. So, I mustered enough courage and walked towards him. Rather bashful I said, “Hi. You’re Andrew Morton, right?” He gave me a warm smile big and a reply, “Yes. I am.” With a silly grin, probably even blushing a little, I said, “My name is Elna Smith. I’ve read some of the books you wrote and my favourite so far is ‘Diana Her True Story’ which I’ve read in 1993.” “Have you, really? He replied, “You must be very young then. Are you just visiting London?” he asked. “Oh, no.” I interrupted, “I am originally from the Philippines but I’ve lived here in this neighbourhood for over 17 years. You mind if I ask you some questions about Princess Diana?” He gave me another big smile and said, “Sure. Go ahead.” And I sure did take the opportunity to ask him some questions about the late princess, and he candidly answered them all. It was a really nice chat I had with him. He was incredibly gracious and kind. A real gentleman indeed.
I thanked him and asked if I could have a photo with him; he was happy to do it and even asked a lady standing nearby to do it for us. Interestingly enough, no one else other than myself recognised him. But a lady who took our photo, she was standing right next to us, overheard our conversation and she introduced herself as a German tv/radio host, and asked Andrew a couple of questions about Princess Diana. He then asked where the nearest loo is and I told him, The Orangery or Royal Garden Hotel. He smiled, said thank you and walked away. Afterwards, I ran back towards The Orangery thrilled to tell Jared about my rare encounter with the famous royal biographer.
At around 6PM Jared and Trystan were already tired playing football while I was about to finish reading my book when we decided to pack up and go home. But I told Jared, ‘I’ll walk towards the front gates and have another look at the crowd. I might spot another famous personality, may be someone very close to Princess Diana. I’ll see you in half an hour!’ And off I went back to the palace gates . . .
Wouldn’t you know it? As soon as I got there, I saw Ken Wharfe, Royal Protection Officer of the late princess — just saw him being interviewed on ITV a couple of days prior. He wrote two books ‘Diana Closely Guarded Secret’ and ‘Guarding Diana Protecting The Princess Around the World’ — I’ve read the first one but not the newly published 2nd book.
I tried to do what I did to Andrew Morton — introduced myself, asked some questions, and asked for a photo with him. Unlike Andrew Morton, Ken Wharfe was very serious but kind enough to stop and have a little chat. But he was with someone, a younger man, probably his assistant or bodyguard (who knows? ), who told him they have to go. They seemed to be in a rush that I only managed to ask him one question: ”What was Princess Diana like behind the camera?” His answer was, “Complicated but witty.”
I then walked over towards the front gates to check some of the tributes and take some photos. And as I was heading home, I spotted another familiar face! This time, it was Arthur Edwards — a journalist/royal photographer who became Princess Diana’s trusted friend. He wrote a memoir, ‘Diana: The People’s Princes – A Personal Tribute in Words and Pictures’ — another great book I’ve read about the late princess.
Mr Edwards was having a serious conversation with someone, probably another photographer, when I spotted him. I lingered for about 10-15 minutes and waited until he walked away; then I ambushed him. No, I didn’t. He’s an elderly man — probably in his late 70s; as he walked away I simply followed him and started talking to him.
I had a brief but nice chat with him. He’s such a charming old man — gentle, sweet and kind — what I envision a grandfather should be. I truly respect and admire him. Mr Edwards didn’t make any money from his book — proceeds go to Princess Diana Memorial Fund. Apparently, he is in good terms with the royal family and especially with Diana’s two boys who sometimes invite him to special occasions. It was really heartwarming to hear a few stories about Princess Diana from a man who captured not only the joys but also the heartaches of the late princess.
The next morning, 1st of September, I did my morning run at the park and saw more people leaving flowers in front of the palace gates. While running, I got a phone call from Tina; she wanted to see me at Kensington Gardens where she was heading with Lucia. We then met up and sat in one of the benches in front of the palace. Tina’s grieving over the recent death of her sister-in law and niece and was greatly distressed so I listened to her talk about it and just tried to encourage her.
In the evening just before the park closed down, Jared and I walked over to Kensington Palace once again to have one last look at the tributes before they are finally removed.
There were more flowers, handwritten notes, photographs, candles and other tributes on display. So much more than what I saw earlier in the day.
I was telling Jared on our way to the park that during Princess Diana’s funeral twenty years ago I skipped work and was glued on tv for almost a day; and when I spotted the funeral cortège moving solemnly down the streets of London I cried the first time I saw William and Harry walking behind their mother’s casket. It reminded me of losing my own father at a young age and I tried to imagine myself in their shoes — what it would be like for the young princes to have lost their mother. I said to Jared, ‘I have meet you a few months after she died, and who would have thought back then that three years after Princess Diana’s death I’d be living in London, in the same neighbourhood where she lived for many years.’
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that one day I would end up marrying a foreigner, much less a British-American. You see, I didn’t dream about living abroad or marrying a white man. My goal was simple — to marry a Filipino, someone who could support a big family so I wouldn’t have to work, I wanted to be a housewife and raise three beautiful and smart kids. But life happens not according to our plan but God’s.And yes, His plan is always the best. I promise, I’m not gonna bore you with my love story though I must say that it’s a rather amusing story full of drama and comedy including death threats, church division, etc.
Sorry I digress. Back to KP, it was starting to get dark and there were only a handful of people hanging around. Jared insisted on taking some photos of myself; I was barefaced and refused but relented after he told me this might be the last time the whole nation will celebrate Princess Diana’s death anniversary. Jared showed me the photos he took of and said, ‘You have to blog about this occasion, about meeting those book authors yesterday, and include this beautiful picture of yourself.’ I had a big laugh and said, ‘Sige na nga!’ (Okey then).
Note: Although royal sighting has been the norm around here, and I’ve seen some of the most senior royals (blogged about it last year —here’s the link), I have yet to see Prince Harry in person.
Twenty years had passed since the tragic death of Princess Diana but to this day she remains a highly disputed figure. Hers was a life shrouded in mystery and controversy, and of a charmed stroke of serendipity, as well as significant tragedies. She is as popular today as she was during her lifetime; the media is continually digging into whatever skeleton in the cupboard they can get about her, and people just can’t seem to stop talking about her.
I’d choose not to make any unfavourable remark about her life; I’d rather talk about her fashion story — the distinguished style she crafted after she married The Prince of Wales.
The current exhibit at Kensington Palace Museum explores a collection of Diana’s most famous outfits; how her style evolved from a very shy teenager to a glamorous woman who used her image to influence people around the world. As soon you enter the gallery, you’ll see a set of framed photographs as well as sketches of the couture looks commissioned by Princess Diana.
The world of designer fashion, couture or fashionable made to measure clothes was new to the young Lady Diana Spencer before she married The Prince of Wales. She was unfamiliar with the latest trend that her entire wardrobe was borrowed from friends except for a single dress, a shirt and one smart pair of shoes.
After her engagement, she started to meet with a handful of fashion designers she liked, to help her create a working wardrobe. Many of the designers, both local and international, were charmed by her shy public demeanour and those that she recruited to help her craft her image became some of her closest and loyal friends. Her style popularised the romantic fashion movement of the 1980s with light, lacy and flowing fabrics like the gowns in above photo.
A Welsh fashion designer named David Emanuel made Lady Di’s blouse for a feature on Vogue magazine in 1981 (see top left photo) and it coincided with her engagement announcement that the same style blouse sold out on the high street all over the country as soon as the magazine was released. That was the instantaneous response from the public that from then on women were buying whatever style clothes she was wearing. She became influential in the world of fashion and was the most photographed woman in the world. The other photo above is her ‘country outfit’ designed by Bill Pashley; she wore it in Scotland when she and Charles were on their honeymoon. The weed fabric is in keeping with traditional English country dress.
Catherine Walker is one of Diana’s favourite designers. They met barely three months after she got married to the prince and their friendship lasted a lifetime. Ms Walker was commissioned to design many of the famous outfits that Princess Diana wore to various official functions.
As she became more confident and sophisticated, her style changed and she wore clothes that convey whatever message she was trying to communicate to the world. After her divorce with Prince Charles she started wearing a more modern, fashionable clothes sometimes showing her cleavage, or her knees, and she seemed more at ease not having to conform to whatever expectations the royal family had on her.
Undeniably, she was very glamorous and whatever outfits she wore, it was not only the clothing that stood out but rather her caring and compassionate demeanour.
In 1997 Prince William suggested to his mother to auction her iconic gowns to raise funds for humanitarian causes, and Diana took her son’s advise and sold 79 of her most famous dresses in June of that year.
The sale at Christie’s in New York raised £3.4 million for AIDS and cancer charities.
The press reported that the auction was quite a symbolic event — Diana was closing a chapter of her royal life and focusing on charitable work. Sadly, she died barely two months after that remarkable auction.
Inevitably, the exhibit includes a few outfits she wore while attending official functions with Prince Charles, and there were photos of her and The Prince of Wales together. A few of her suits were also on display but there’s only one outfit at the gallery that she didn’t wear to an official event.
This shift dress she wore for shopping to Bond Street is such a classic and I love it. (I am in the process of trying to find a similar fabric for my next sewing project. ) Just like Grace Kelly, she became a style icon. Her influence is extraordinary. No one knows what her life would be had she lived longer. People still talk what she’d look like if she’s still around and the type of influence she’d have on her grandchildren. Her legacy remains today through her children, the charities she supported, and the people whose lives she deeply touched. A few weeks ago I blogged about the documentary that her sons recently made in her honour — DIANA, OUR MOTHER: HER LIFE AND LEGACY
Even if you’re not a big fan of the late princess, I’d highly recommend you visit Kensington Palace Museum — the birthplace and childhood home of Queen Victoria. Although the highlight of their exhibit this year is Princess Diana’s outfits, there’s other things to see — clothing, furnitures, etc., that once belonged to Queen Victoria and other royals who once inhabited Kensington Palace. (FYI, it’s worth getting an HRP membership that allows you unlimited free access to the museum and special events at Kensington Palace and other historic royal palaces.)
KP’s Sunken Garden is another place I’d highly recommend you visit when you’re in the area. This summer they call it ‘The White Garden’, designed to showcase white roses, scented narcissi and a carpet of forget-me-nots with only a few red roses around the reflective pool, in commemoration of Princess Diana’s 20th death anniversary. The late princess apparently loved the garden and would often stop to admire the flowers and chat with the gardeners.
In the last couple of weeks many people have left flowers, photos, letters, and other tributes at the gates of her former home. Funnily enough, some loyal fans of the late princess still publicly show their contempt by hanging on the palace gate some very amusing photos of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.
During my early morning run (it always starts and ends at the gate of Kensington Palace), I’ve seen several tv crew, both local and international, filming around the palace ground.
When I saw Princess Diana’s outfits three weeks ago, I was reminded of The Duchess of Cambridge who is always being compared to her mother-in law.
May be someday Kate will ‘inherit’ (for lack of better word) Diana’s famous ‘People’s Princess’ title. But for now, Diana is, and remains ‘The People’s Princess.’
I must end this post with a special mention about my cousin, Emma Laoreno-Comelli, who visited London three weeks ago. All photos of Princess Diana’s outfits were taken when we visited KP together. It was one of the highlights of her trip. She and I are both big fans of the late princess and spent the day around KP.
We had a wonderful time together and ended our Kensington Palace tour with an afternoon tea at The Orangery.
Photos of Princess Diana wearing the pink suit and the white pearl beaded gown were both from Getty Images.
London might not be renowned for good weather but every once in a while, the sun is shining, the birds are singing and the grass are green, and we go out and enjoy the day! 🙂 The days are getting longer; it doesn’t get dark until after eight o’clock in the evening and it enables me to do more outdoor activities even late at night. Continue reading “Just A Normal Day in London”→