Princess in the Heartland

by Anne Bennett on April 6, 2011

What do you do when friends from London visit you in Kansas City? Take them to see Princess Diana’s wedding dress.

The Princess and the Dress, July 29, 1981

What, you ask? Not that wedding dress? The most famous wedding dress in the world? And by the way, isn’t it English?

Yes, that dress. It just so happens that the exhibit, “Diana: A Celebration” was, by pure happenstance, in Kansas City during the visit of our dear British friends Brian and Christine.

Before they arrived, I asked Christine if she’d ever seen Diana’s wedding dress. I was almost afraid to ask her to accompany me on the tour, because we Americans assume that the English are weary of the worldwide media hype that has accompanied the Royal family’s travails over the last 30 years.

But bless her, Christine was game. (Brian chose to remain at home with the poodles and read. I think he had concluded that it was a “woman” thing.)

What an adventure it was!  Each room in the exhibit contained items from different stages of Diana’s life, from childhood on. In the first room home movies taken by her father showed her riding her little red wagon, which was displayed along with other favorite toys.

And then, the long, dark room with the dress and videos of that historic wedding day. The atmosphere in the room was hushed, as people (OK, let’s be honest here, it was mostly women) slowly, somberly, filed past this most iconic item of clothing.

The silk taffeta dress is displayed in a glass case long enough to allow the 25-foot-long train to be fully extended.

At Althorp, its permanent home in England, the case is smaller and the train must be wrapped around the front.

I confess to walking around it at least twice, soaking in as many details as I could, and looking back and forth from the videos to the dress itself. Imagine, I thought, she actually wore this very dress.

The next room displayed 28 of Diana’s famously fabulous dresses along with photos of her wearing them. I mentioned to Christine that Diana was actually prettier than the actresses who have played her in movies.

Another room showcased her charity works, and then, last of all, the room commemorating her death. The original, hand-typed and edited version of Elton John’s re-write for “Candle in the Wind” was displayed, as was a copy of her brother Charles’ eulogy, a bristling indictment of the royal family.

I stood behind Christine and stifled tears as I listened to Elton John sing “Goodbye English Rose” and watched a floor-to-ceiling video of the funeral day.

Remember the hearse driving through London and people tossing so many flowers onto its roof that the driver couldn’t even navigate? And her two young sons walking behind her coffin?

OMG, I thought. Christine will think I’m a wuss for crying. Silly, melodramatic American. Then Christine turned around and she was crying too. (Sorry, Christine. I’m outing you as a sentimental softy!) How could you not? No fictional story could rival the high drama and pathos of Diana’s real life.

Christine said that it brought back the sadness of that day 14 years ago when, despite how they felt individually about Diana, all of England was in deep mourning.

We agreed that it was a very poignant experience indeed, and when we went to lunch afterwards, we lifted our wine glasses and toasted the star-crossed Princess.

Brian and Christine have returned to London, but the dress remains. As fate would have it, “Diana: A Celebration”, will be in Kansas City until June, which means that Diana’s dress will be here during the wedding of her son, William, to Kate Middleton. How’s that for ironic?

And you thought Kansas City was a cow town.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Christine April 6, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Oh, you are wicked, spilling the beans, Anne Bennett!! Stiff upper lip and all that! The bit that really affected me was seeing a couple of policemen and women wiping away tears when on duty in front of the palace and on the funeral day. It’s hard to describe the sadness in the UK, never mind the growing hysteria as she became more and more saintlike with every passing newspaper story, that was all rather scary. For the normal everyday person, it was too sudden and too sad and I think the majority of sane people felt she had been badly let down by Charles and the Royal Family. As we both were reminded, she was 19 and a virgin, he was 32 and in love with someone else. All vey sad, but thank you dear friend and Kansas City for allowing us to enjoy such an iconic dress worn by a 20th century iconic figure.

Anne April 6, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Perfectly stated, Christine. XOXOXOA

Linda April 7, 2011 at 5:27 am

I have a ticket to the exhibit…just haven’t made it there yet. Now I’m even more enthusiastic about viewing it! So glad you shared, Anne.

Mike Boothe April 15, 2011 at 2:06 pm

I saw John Wayne’s hat at the John Wayne Museum in Winterset, IA. Brought a tear to my eye.

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