I remember the day well.
I was six years old. It was early in the morning, because of the time difference. On TV a real life fairytale was unfolding.
It had everything.
A prince. A pretty princess in a Cinderella dress. A sparkling tiara. Even a horse drawn carriage that looked like it could turn back into a pumpkin at any minute. I was swept up in the romance, the glamor and the pomp and circumstance of the wedding of Prince Charles to Princess Diana. It really seemed that day was a page right out of a storybook.
I spent many days after the Royal Wedding playing dress up. I wore my own tiara fashioned from paper and tin foil, and wrapped white sheets and scraps of netting around myself to imitate Diana’s billowing wedding dress.
I was thrilled when I heard the exhibit, Diana: A Celebration, was coming to a local art museum this Fall. I knew I had to go, and this last weekend I did.
The exhibit includes many parts of Diana’s life. There are Spencer family heirlooms on display, mementos from her childhood, a moving display about her tragic death.
For me the highlights of the exhibit are her iconic wedding dress and tiara. It was amazing to see the dress up close. The dress that captured my imagination as a little girl, and inspired hours of make-believe. It has so many small details: the pearls sewn all the way around the bottom hem, the lace trim that belonged to Queen Ann, the delicate hand-sewn tucks and ruffles.
And the tiara! Hundreds of sparkling diamonds all in one place! It is incredible.
In another part of the exhibit several of Diana’s other clothes are on display. I recognized many of them from pictures in magazines, and on TV. Somehow Diana managed to be trendy, stylish and classic all at once. Many of her clothes are timeless, and could be worn today, despite their roots in decades past.
Diana was the embodiment of every little girl’s fantasy, a real life princess. Unfortunately, because she was real, we would learn that there were parts of her life that were not a fairytale, and that even white picket fences gilded in gold can become tarnished. Real princesses, have real problems.
Perhaps therein lies the true lesson of Diana’s life.
We can cover ourselves in silk and jewels, but in the end we’re all still just people. It seems that Diana understood this. Besides carrying out her role of elegant princess, Diana reached out to some of the world’s most forgotten people. She brought comfort and attention to the plight of AIDS victims, sufferers of leprosy and victims of landmines in war-torn countries.
I believe that Diana’s generosity did come from a place of authenticity. People can spot a fake a mile away, and while Diana was accused of many things, she was never accused of being inauthentic or insincere.
Diana was real. She was flawed, and she cared. That is what really endeared her to the masses, and gave her unrivaled, world-wide celebrity. In some ways she was like us, in some ways she was worse off than us, and in every way people mattered to her.
Substance, not style, a princess makes.
If that’s the case, we can all conduct ourselves like princesses and princes in our own little realms. We may not live in castles, but we do encounter people everyday who need to know we care, who need to see our flaws to know that we’re authentic and sincere.
Diana’s legacy endures, because of her generosity and authenticity. While our footprints may be smaller, and we may not make the nightly news, we can all leave behind our own legacies of generosity and authenticity.