by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author's Program Note.
It is nineteen years ago this date, August 31, 2016 when the reeling world confronted the twisted steel and mayhem that marked Princess Diana's egress from every pedestrian concern, eternal now, a Legend.
In retrospect I see so clearly the full extent of the sadness which trailed this Princess like an ermine train, constricting.
For me, it began on Februrary 24, 1981, when the always calculating Windsors took the pudgy aristocrat Diana Frances nee Spencer out for the airing that was the day her betrothal to the High and Mighty Prince Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince of Wales etc., etc. was proclaimed.
HRH was asked whether the purportedly happy couple was in fact as ecstatic as they were supposed to be, as expected to be for something the entire world watched with awe and envy.
And so the direct question, one would have assumed to be routine and inevitable, was put to the groom apparent, "Are you in love?", up to this moment the most eligible bachelor on Planet Earth. What was his robust reply? "Whatever in love means".
And so Nemesis, grinning, threw down the gauntlet and challenged all comers to enter the lists where happiness was the golden prize. This was going to be fun, oh yes it was... for Nemesis.
Overlooking the broad Atlantic.
It was 5 a.m. or so, and I was enthralled by the Royal Wedding, (July 29, 1981) as billions were. But I had the best seat in the house. My friend Paul Bloom had outdone himself, creating on Crane's Beach a 1950s drive-in movie scenario. There he planted me and television set in the front seat of his immacutely clean automobile, blankets, pillows, and novel dainties to tempt the most fastidious, all present in excess. I was pampered. I was grateful.
And so I watched the event as the sun rose over the tranquil Atlantic... happiness for all, deception unimaginable, but, if truth be told, already on its way.
Already the titillating rumor circulated that Prince Charles had told his stern-faced, implacable parents he couldn't marry Diana (often cited as the last suitable virgin in the Empire); that he loved another who was married to another, and that he didn't find the shy teenager with the extra pounds enticing.
At this HRH of Edinburgh Prince Phillip exploded with the language of the quarterdeck he always favored. This language was harsh, guttoral, unyielding and violent. He had agreed to the wench, he would take the wench. And that was that. Mazel-tov.
All the key players were unhappy, including the newly minted Princess of Wales. I was the only one content... until August 13, 1982 when two thugs with random murder in mind pumped three shots point blank into Paul's beautiful brain, brimming with utility, and his supple body, mocking the happiness that had been so fragile and lasted so little. I could not even imagine that sun splashed tableau now. The slightest thought was exquisite cruelty, no antidote to this affliction, but the most painful of all, oblivion.
"The Pleasure of Your Company..."
Time rearranaged the furniture. Charles shucked off Diana whom he could not love, for Camilla Parker Bowles whom he already did. He favored odd behaviors; she preferred dazzling gowns with high
octane bling to match. And so I was invited by Christie's auction house where my acquisitions were frequent and increasingly important to meet Diana, Princess of Wales and see the gladdest rags she was selling to benefit one of her bold charities. "And of course you went, Dr. Lant, didn't you?"
As easy as it would have been to take the shuttle from Boston to New York, return, it was a trip I didn't care to make. So I declined. After all, she was decades younger than I was; our paths would surely cross again, and again.
Thus I passed up what became my only chance to talk intimately with the most famous woman on Earth, for not even 20 guests were at that Manhattan soiree, and all were presented, "Dr. Lant, marm." Her hand into mine, slight bow from the neck my obeisance.
Another Invitation, NECN, New England Cable News.
Diana was already dead, her body cold, on August 31, 1997, when John VanScoyoc my unheralded newsroom friend of so many years called and summmoned me to history, to be NECN's on-air expert and commentator on what was happening in London. Little did I know when I sat down with gravel-voiced anchor man R.D. Sahl that I would be spending long hours at the podium explaining to Boston and the nation the most important Royal event since the Abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936.
I was ready. And so over the next hectic days I was driven back and forth between home and studio, making it my particular point to ensure my remarks were apt, thorough, and exclusive to my listeners; that they should know more, better, faster was my constant objective.
I covered the sharp and bitter remarks of the Princess' brother Lord Spencer about the Queen and Royal Family and how they handled Princess Diana, perhaps the most jolting words Her Majesty ever had to hear in her life, and to her very face.
I advised Her Majesty myself and strongly, too, about her need to unbend and defuse a dangerous moment for the monarchy by embracing Diana in death, as she would not do in life; gall and wormwood to Elizabeth of England, but absolutely necessary for the uneasy nation.
I detailed her charities and good works as they took their novel places in the long cortege, so unorthodox. I pointed out the rainbow colors of Gay Liberation. George V, the Queen's gruff and rigid grandfather, urged "perverts" to shoot themselves for their shocking deviance. Diana was a key factor in altering this grim landscape, and so many others. She was the "People's Princess" indeed, and it was my privilege to tell her story and tell it well, without rancor, bombast or prejudiced point of view.
Now these long hours of candid, erudite and thorough film reside amongst many others chez moi, and on many other topics of my particular interest and commentary. If I have done my work well, you hear their authentic voices, for they have the right to such integrity and truth, none more so than Diana, Princess of Wales, morphed into legend this date 19 years ago (August 31, 1997).
"But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, 'She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace'..."
("The Lady of Shalott" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, published in 1842.)
Here's the music to accompany this article. It is "Zadok the Priest", coronation anthem, composed by George Frideric Handel in 1727.
About the Author
Harvard educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant was the first American granted access to the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle. His book "Insubstantial Pageant: Ceremony & Confusion at Queen Victoria's Court" was treated as front page news when it first appeared. It was followed by "Happy and Glorious: Encounters with the Windsors".
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Dr. Jeffrey Lant, Harvard educated, started writing for publication at age 5. Since then, he has published over 1,000 articles and 63 books, and counting.