How we loved her.
Tomorrow, as “Wills” makes “Kate” his bride at Westminster Abbey, my thoughts will revert to July 29, 1981, when Lady Diana Spencer tied the knot with Prince Charles, a stone’s toss away at St. Paul’s Cathedral in a ceremony that was the most-watched show on earth at the time.
It was a Wednesday, and those of us who lived through it will never forget it.
The joyous occasion was declared a bank holiday, and we British prepared for it as enthusiastically as if it was our own big day.
And in a way, it was. The royal family was, well, family, and the heart and soul of jolly old England, which beat its bosom over the impending “do” like a patriotic Tarzan.
We ate, thought, spoke, talked, woke, slept and dreamt the royal wedding. And we all had a stash of wedding souvenirs to prove it.
I carted my own treasures — among them, a teacup with the royal crest, and a thimble with Di and Charlie’s miniature mugs on it — in a plastic tote, emblazoned with an image of the royal couple smiling awkwardly against a backdrop of the Union Jack. The bag also bore a commemorative scrapbook the size of the Encyclopedia Britannica, whose edge poked unflatteringly into Di’s nose whenever I slung it over my shoulder.
How I loved her.
My mum bought extra groceries and loo rolls in preparation for the big day — like every other mum in the land. Nobody wanted to be caught short and miss even a nanosecond of the most important event since the splitting of the atom. Besides, all the stores were closed.
When Wednesday finally rolled around, I awoke at the crack of dawn and showered quickly before slipping into my wedding finery: a pair of joggers and a tee.
It was an 80-degree day, an unusual heat wave for Great Britain, the land of the non-existent air conditioners.
I gobbled down some breakfast, and made a beeline for the television, my Di and Charles tote glued to my side.
The pomp and circumstance was transported into our living rooms, courtesy of Britain’s newsmen and women, who dressed in formal wear to report on the spectacle. I remember seeing then-First Lady Nancy Reagan walk up the steps of St. Paul’s in a red dress coat and matching topper.
It was Di, though, for whom we ached, and when we saw her, our national heart missed a collective beat.
She smiled shyly from inside a glass coach, radiating a naive sense of wonder at it all, while her dazed dad, the Earl of Spencer, waved feebly to the masses, squished beside her like a toffee. Five costumed, mounted military police officers added to the fairy tale quality of it all.
The screaming, cheering, crying hordes along the procession route were now hysterical with full-blown Di-delirium.
How they loved her.
When the coach pulled up outside the great cathedral, the princess-to-be stepped out in a vision of loveliness. Her silk taffeta dress, gloriously bedecked with 10,000 pearls and a train the length of two giraffes, was all that and more.
Afterwards, the prince and his new princess emerged from the ceremony to cheers around the world, before being driven in a procession of royal carriages to Buckingham Palace for a luncheon.
There, Di and Charles made a balcony appearance, where their uneasy kiss — at the crowd’s loud insistence — became a precursor to the sorrow that lay ahead.
But, on that day — and in the weeks, months, years and decades to follow — we rode Di’s coattails with pore-oozing pride.
Because we loved her.