Everyone can remember with startling clarity where they were when tragic events happened. For my mom’s generation it was the assassination of President Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr. For me of course September 11th is a big one. One that really stands out for me is the death of Princess Diana of Wales. At the time I was living in Boston and had just driven back from 2 days in Martha’s Vineyard where I had been to see Henry Louis Gates, Jr., host a panel on race in America. I got back to my apartment and tired from the day travel, I took a nap. When I woke up around 9pm I turned on the news and saw the reports of Diana’s accident and breathed a sigh relief once it was announced that she was alive and only had a leg injury. Not long after the truth was revealed.
As a little girl growing up on an island in the Caribbean I spent my free time with my nose in a book. Three of my favorites were photography books on Princess Diana. I was obsessed with her…those watery blue eyes, her impeccable style and the dresses, oh the dresses. I remember waking up at 4am in 1981 to watch her get married to Prince Charles and being mesmerized by the crowds, the carriage, the tiara, the train of her dress and wanting during the ceremony to finally hear her voice when she took her vows. Such a different world than the one we live in now.
The Principal of my school in 1981 was a red headed British woman named Sylvia Bibby who had a huge St. Bernard dog. 7 year old me found out that she went to England each summer when school was out and immediately thought she would be able to deliver a letter to Princess Diana for me. I went to her and asked and she said she couldn’t make any promises but to write the letter and she would try to get it to the Princess. I can’t remember what happened after that but she must have been successful because 1 year later I received a letter from Buckingham Palace.
I’ll never forget how excited I was to get that letter and to feel the imprint of Buckingham Palace on the stationery. In the letter from Hazel West, HRH’s Lady in Waiting, I was told that the Princess was unable to send me an autographed picture. Despite the fact that I did not receive the autographed picture I requested in the letter, I was still so excited that I framed the letter and put it next to my bed. And I was on to my next quest which was what is a Lady-in-waiting how one becomes a Lady-in-Waiting. I tortured my mother to help me figure that out. Ahhhh the days before the internet.
As fate would have it, I became somewhat of a Lady-in-Waiting. For 15 years I worked for a celebrity who personally responded to every request she received for an autographed picture. I remember some years ago when we were on a trip to London sitting on the floor of her suite recapping what we had done during our free time that day. I told her I had gone to Kensington Palace to see an exhibit of Diana’s dresses and then I told her about the letter. She marveled at my 7 year old desire and at Mrs. Bibby. Always one to get the room laughing……I’ll never forget she said “how lucky were you to have a Principal who cared so much”…..and then “so I wonder what ever happened to Hazel West?”.
August 31st marks the 20th Anniversary of Diana’s death. I will never forget waking up at 4am on September 6th 1997 to watch Diana’s funeral. My friend Jenn came from NYC and we spent the day watching and crying. A few months ago as I was going through all my old books at home I found those well worn Princess Diana books and out floated the letter. It made me smile at 7 year old me and it made me happy that I sent a love letter to a Princess I loved who enchanted so many of my days. To whom will you send a love letter today?