Flashback Friday: Princess Diana on Her 30th Birthday

Editor’s Note: This post was published in April 2011, shortly before William & Kate’s royal wedding. Next week, Prince Harry will be visiting New York City, and if I’m lucky, I’ll catch a glimpse of him. He is now 28 years old; below you’ll see his mother Princess Diana on her 30th birthday, when I met her in person.

A while ago I promised to share more snapshots I took over the years of my childhood idol, Princess Diana. I took this photo of her on July 1, 1991, which was her 30th birthday (she died in 1997 at age 36). I happened to be in London for a summer program before my sophomore year of college, and I read that she would be attending a luncheon at the Savoy Hotel on her birthday (Phil Collins attended and sang “Groovy Kind of Love”…that’s how long ago this was). I waited in the crowds for hours to see her, and was rewarded with a brief conversation with her (I asked her what she got for her birthday and she diplomatically answered, “Many lovely things!”). I took this picture, which I will always cherish. She was taller and prettier in person than she was in photos, with a very soft, high voice. She always took extra time to make sure she had greeted the very young–or very old–people who had waited to see her. It is a cliche that she was the “People’s Princess,” but I saw this first-hand several times.

I was only 18 years old when I took this picture…and now I am 38, older than Diana was when she died. With the next big Royal Wedding just days away, I’ve been thinking a lot about weddings, fairy tales, “happily ever afters” (or not), and fate. Not only Diana’s (and William’s and Kate’s), but mine too. And how for the past 30 years my childhood idolization of Diana has woven in and out of my life…from that first fateful day I woke up early at age 8 to watch her wedding, to the excitement when she had her children, to those once-in-a-lifetime moments when I met her in person, to the horrifying late summer morning in 1997 when over 30 friends (past and present) left condolence messages on my answering machine–they knew just how much she had meant to me for years. Back at my parents’ house in NJ, there are the hundreds of books and magazines I collected and scrapbooks I made of my idol. Other teens in the 1980s worshipped Duran Duran; for me, there was nothing better than a famous princess who not only did good for so many people, but looked so beautiful doing so.

I know that many naysayers (“Royal Wedding scrooges”, I call them) vow they won’t watch one moment of Friday’s wedding coverage. And why should they, I guess. Their lives were not–and are not–touched in the same way by Diana and her legacy. For me, though, it represents something coming full circle….Diana’s son taking his own wedding vows, and embarking on a future that will hopefully be much happier and luckier than his mother’s.

In this photo, Diana is 30. It is hard to believe, but were she still alive today, this mother-of-the-groom would be nearly 50 years old.

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