[Updated: December 6, 2018]
Something that many people don’t know about me is that before I became a self-professed Francophile, I was a bit of an Anglophile and passionate royal watcher!
I knew the exact moment it happened, too. It was in 1981 when the engagement of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer was announced. I was a highly impressionable 8-year-old and in my eyes, Charles and Diana were people to admire, whose ways were to be emulated, and whose love story one should be so lucky to have. Who could resist a real-life fairy tale?
So began: The collection of every newspaper and magazine article on the Royal Couple that I could find. The British English spelling of words in my tween diary (colour, grey, centre, flavour). The peppering of my speech with words like lovely or quite or quite lovely. The belief that one day, I would go to Buckingham Palace to see them in person.
I didn’t have Barbie dolls nor did I keep up with the Disney princesses. Why do that when I could follow real-life royalty?
Over time, I discovered that, unlike Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny, fairy tales weren’t real. Sadly, the prince and princess turned out to be royal people who also had their share of commoner problems. And who could forget 31 August 1997 – the day that Princess Diana died. It was one of those days that when people ask, “Where were you when…” – you just remembered. I’ll never forget the day I heard the news. I was in Seattle with Mom for the Labor Day weekend. I remember returning to our hotel room to take a breather after a day of exploring the Emerald City. The news on TV reported that Princess Diana had been in a pretty bad car accident in Paris. A few hours later, Mom and I went out to grab some dinner. When we got back to our room, the headline on the TV screen had been updated with the grim news. The princess was gone. And along with her, the fairy tale and any hope of that ever-elusive happy-ever-after for her, and for anyone else who just wanted something to believe in.
It seemed the Royal Family was in a happier time only a few months earlier. In May 1997, I spotted Prince Andrew (Charles’ brother) in Oakland. He was in the Bay Area as part of an event called “Britain by the Bay.” One of his first stops was Barnes & Noble at Jack London Square, which was across from my office building. I remember taking an extra-long coffee break that day for a chance to see a real-life prince on this side of the pond. He arrived by boat and was escorted by bodyguards across the plaza. Prince Andrew smiled and waved to the small crowd that gathered before disappearing into the bookstore, where he was greeted with a display of books about Britain. That’s all I could see; they closed the doors, the crowd dispersed, and I went back to work, still incredulous that I had seen Prince Andrew – on my birthday, no less!
Eight years (and two jobs) later, I got to see Prince Charles in San Francisco. This time, though, I didn’t need to take an extra-long coffee break to sneak a peek. The Prince of Wales and his wife, Camilla, arrived around my lunch hour. (Wasn’t that considerate of them?) Like his brother did years earlier, he and his wife arrived by boat.
When the engagement of Prince William (Charles’ older son) to Kate Middleton was announced, it felt like hope had been restored. Their union would symbolize a second chance for a fairy tale -and all the dreams and expectations that come with that. For me, I was so inspired that I sent them a wedding card. I learned later on, that for their 29 April 2011 nuptials, they had received over 60,000 cards from people around the world. What’s even more remarkable is that they sent a thank-you note to everyone who sent them well-wishes. Imagine my astonishment when this missive arrived in the post:
I didn’t open it for days. It seemed too thin to be an invitation to the wedding, so what could it possibly be? Why am I getting an envelope with the Queen’s cypher (EIIR) on it?
One of the things I love about the English is their impeccable manners. While their gesture of sending a note of appreciation wasn’t surprising, I was stunned that they sent one to me (of course, via their secretary, but still…) Brilliant!
I knew that I wanted to visit Paris again one day. But after Princess Diana died, I especially wanted to see the Flame of Liberty. It is located directly above the Pont de l’Alma tunnel where her car accident happened. As people around the world placed flowers, notes, and pictures of the People’s Princess on it, it became an unofficial memorial.
On the way to Place des Vosges in Le Marais, M. Didier and I drove through the Pont de l’Alma tunnel. It was a surreal experience. I get goosebumps looking at these pictures:
Over the years, family and friends who know of my royal watching ways, have given me gifts, like books and magazine clippings. One of my favorite gifts is a replica of Princess Diana’s (now Catherine’s) sapphire and diamond ring that Mom gave me for one of my birthdays. I knew my CDG-SFO itinerary included a hop at London Heathrow, so I made sure to take the ring with me. Call me quirky.
In 2017, Prince Harry (William’s brother) became engaged to Meghan Markle, an American. (I’m like hella stoked, dude. Ohmigod, she’s a California girl, like me!)
At 2 o’clock on the morning of 19 May 2018, I tuned in to watch Prince Harry and Meghan Markle become the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
With the next generation, the fairy tale continues. I wish them well.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be waiting by my mailbox.
[Updated: December 6, 2018]
Look what I received today:
For the wedding card I sent them last spring, the Duke & Duchess sent a thank you note along with an apology for the delay. I love their impeccable manners!
I was only kidding about waiting by my mailbox. But it’s so good to know that had I really been perched out there, that my efforts wouldn’t have been for naught. Thank YOU, Harry & Meghan. You’ve made my day!