Diana's life never ceases to amaze me. Her continual grace in light of so many of her public and private struggles and her strength to overcome those is an inspiration. "Diana: Her True Story--In Her Own Words", Andrew Morton's 1997 book supplemented with transcripts of Diana's secret taped sessions, continues to be one of my go-to reads.
So it's no surprise that when I was in London, there were a few Diana-specific places and landmarks I had to see. During my day in the city, I was able to trace Diana's life from her care-free bachelor girl days as a "Sloane Ranger" to her funeral at Westminster Abbey. I wanted to stand in the same spaces that she had stood in, I wanted to see what she had seen. By doing so, maybe I could get closer to the woman so many people felt they knew, but few really did. And also by standing in those spots and seeing what she saw, I hoped that I could draw on her strength and perseverance and take that forward into my own life.
So here's the places on my London tour of Diana, Princess of Wales' life, you should definitely check them out:
#1 Sloane Street
When Diana was still Lady Diana Spencer and simply known as the girlfriend of Prince Charles, she was (and continues to be) described as a "Sloane Ranger." Sloane Rangers were a well-to-do bunch of young people, preppy in style and jolly in their manner. The name was derived from their home base of Sloane Square in Chelsea, located not far off of Sloane Street.
Diana described the days she spent as a bachelor girl in London as some of the best days of her life, and she longed for those times during her darkest first years as Princess of Wales. I would have liked to have explored the neighborhood more, and find Colehorne Court (where Diana's flat was located) but sadly, there wasn't enough time. However, what I saw of the neighborhood is still beautiful, well-tended, and has the kind of happy and content atmosphere that I expect rubbed off on the Sloane Rangers.
#2 St. Paul's Cathedral
St. Paul's is, by far, my favorite place in London. For my entire life I've watched that fairy-tale moment from Diana's 1981 wedding to Prince Charles: Diana emerging from the glass coach, her voluminous taffeta wedding dress pouring out around her on the steps of St. Paul's. And then suddenly, there I was, standing on those same steps, looking up into the massive masterpiece of architecture that is St. Paul's. I tried to imagine the scene from these steps on 29 July, 1981.
I also turned around and saw what the view looks like--what Diana and Prince Charles must have seen (minus the swelling crowds of screaming people)--emerging from St. Paul's. I tried to imagine walking in those doors as Lady Diana Spencer and coming back out as Princess of Wales. Knowing, thanks to her taped sessions for Andrew Morton's book, Diana's very conflicted feelings on that day, I felt a little closer to Diana once again. There's just something about standing in the same place, the same spot and seeing the same view, that makes her seem all the more real and tangible and loveable.
#3 Kensington Palace
From the beginning of her life as a princess, Kensington Palace was Diana's home while in London. And who can forget the literal flood of flowers and bouquets from mourners around the gates of the Palace in the days after Diana's shocking death? Just standing at those iconic gates and knowing just how far that flood of grief flowed left me awestruck.
Kensington Palace is simply magnificent. Not only are the exterior and grounds exquisite, the interior of the Palace does not disappoint. KP (as the Royals call it) is always teeming with various exhibits, showcasing the grandeur and style of the monarchy. It's here where you can see Queen Victoria's chambers, or hear whispers of court gossip in the hall. There's even a place where you can dress up in period fashions from Queen Victoria's day.
I was fortunate enough to be visiting KP during a special exhibit dedicated to the life of Diana, called "Diana, Glimpses of a Modern Princess," complete with five of her iconic gowns, as well as other memorabilia from her life. I had spent so many years reading the books about Diana and looking at pictures of her and her life so getting to actually see these gowns and sketches was like the completion of a journey.
One of the dresses on display was the first dress Diana ever wore as an "almost" member of the Royal Family--the daring black taffeta evening gown designed by David and Elizabeth Emmanuel (who would later make her spectacular wedding gown)--as well as a sketch and fabric swatch of that very dress. I was most taken aback by how tiny that dress was. Diana's bulimia hadn't reached it's disastrous height at this point in her royal career yet and to imagine how anyone could be smaller than THAT took my breath away. It made me realize how small she must have gotten in those subsequent years and how sick she really was. It brought tears to my eyes to think of this teenage girl who was tiny enough to fit into that amazing dress being told by anyone that she was "chubby." It broke my heart looking at that dress.
Even the walls of this exhibit were not devoid of Diana tributes. On the wallpaper were illustrations of Diana's life by the fashion illustrator Julie Verhoeven. Verhoeven took the most lasting images of Diana's life--her marriage, the birth of William, her dark blue eyes, the Spencer family tiara--and turned them into the most heartfelt watercolor images. You could see all aspects of Diana's life and personality displayed on this wall paper--from "Shy Di" to loving mother, to the glamorous beauty to the global humanitarian. * These illustrations were such a fitting tribute to such an extraordinary woman.
#4 Westminster Abbey
And lastly, there's Westminster Abbey, where Diana's funeral took place on 6 September, 1997. Much like her life, Diana's funeral was filled with iconic and unforgettable images: the coffin draped in the royal standard, the faces of Princes William and Harry, the tragic note bearing the single word, "Mummy" from Harry, Earl Spencer's scathing eulogy, Elton John's tribute...
Unlike St. Paul's, which rises gradually from the ground like a giant slowly emerging from the water, Westminster Abbey rises sharply, towering over you suddenly and all at once. It's hard not to be struck by the medieval majesty of such a place, and it only seemed fitting that this was where the world got to tell Diana good bye.
Additionally, there is a Princess of Diana Memorial Walk in London. I'm not entirely sure how long it is or what is showcased on the walk, but I think it is worth checking out if you're in London. If you've been on this walk, please let me know all about it!
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy! As always you can leave comments below or tweet me at @calleysofalley. And don't forget to like my Facebook page at facebook.com/withoutanchor !
*For more information on the watercolor wall paper displayed at Kensington Palace, here is a great article by the Daily Mail: Princess Diana's Life in Watercolors