I got up at four in the morning to watch Lady Diana Spencer marry the Prince of Wales. Unlike my daughter, who eshewed bows and Disney-licensed tutus for stuffed animals who did her bidding at parties, I loved to dress up in my mother's old prom dresses and imagine myself as a beautiful girl ready to meet some fabulous fellow who would sweep me off my feet and cater to my every whim.
Then life intevened, and I realized that if things were going to be done properly, I would have to do them. Men, no matter how wonderful, leave socks on the floor or must be reminded to take out the trash. They forget my birthday. They remind me that telling them they aren't doing things properly isn't my best quality. Then they change diapers and fix stuff that's broken. They are human beings who do their best. But they are not princes. After Lady Di became Princess Diana, she realized that her prince, even though he was the genuine article, was just a man. Her life, so famously, became not a romantic whirl around the ballroom but a trudge through duty. Even worse, even when she married a prince, no one would hold her emotional baggage. As it turned out, her lack of ownership took her to her early grave. Even princesses have to own their crap.
I wonder about Kate Middleton. She is, like her late mother-in-law, enviably gorgeous. A decade older than Diana when she married, and no doubt a good deal more shrewd (I use this word in admiration) I hope she knows what she is in for. An extra ten pounds or a bad hair day? A snappy retort to a reporter? An actual opinion? An unruly toddler? She will not be allowed any of the little mistakes the rest of us might make.
Maybe she loves him. Fergie (the Dutchess, not the hottie singer) says--and I believe her--that she loved Prince Andrew. But love, as so many of us have learned, is small potatoes compared to the compromises life forces us to make. And almost none of us visits our in-laws at Buckingham Palace.
I am not alone in my cynicism about this union. A 60 Minutes poll found that 75 percent of Americans under 30 don't care at all about the Royal Wedding. A number of theories exist, including that marriage is down generally, that Americans have no interest in the British monarchy, that the recession makes people uninterested in lavish weddings.
My own position, which I believe informs the opinions of most, dates back to the Commonwealth Games of Edinburgh in 1986. I watched Diana award a gold medal to a young female swimmer. I looked at my mother and said, "That girl has actually done something. What does Diana do?" My mother looked at me, incredulous. "She is a princess." So, she was decorative, right?
Later, I watched her on television during a visit to Toronto in the early nineties. She went to an AIDS clinic, when no one else would. My husband and I watched the clip of her sitting and holding the hand of man in the late stages of the disease, a leper in those days. We welled up together. Good God, she was so beautiful. "Touched by a princess," he said, breathless, as was I. There she sat, smiling and bestowing her regal yet genuine kindness on someone who had been completely cast aside.
It's hard to describe, to my own children, who live in the age of celebrity, just how extraordinarily famous Diana was. My gut tells me Kate knows all too well, loving the son of this woman, how lethal the spotlight turned out to be. Being a princess is surely anachronistic, but I hope Kate, like her future husband's grandmother, is steely and finds her place. Not many of us believe in fairytales any longer, but I feel Kate may be smart and canny enough to turn her position into something real.
I'll get up early again to watch her marry Prince William, though my fourteen year-old daughter will wonder why. But I want to watch Kate, who can be so much more than a maker of heirs and a silly girl who dresses up and stands by her man. I hope she finds her feet and doesn't let the tabloids get her down. Heaven help her.