In 1991, Luis and I received a special invitation to a Ballet – Dance for Life – followed by a private reception where I had been invited to meet with Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales.
Formal dress was the order of the day. Opting for a traditional bow tie was, in retrospect, the right thing to do although at the time, pressed for time and getting the darned thing balanced and knotted correctly was a challenge I wished I hadn’t taken on. Finally, after much twisting, tying and trickery, we were ready for our night at the Ballet (by invitation) and an opportunity to be in the company of Princess Diana.
Luis and I had opted for a taxi to take us to the theatre, as it didn’t seem quite right to arrive by tube. The ‘Dance for Life’ was to be followed by a private reception at Spencer House where I, along with a few other people, had been requested to meet the Princess to talk about our work in the field of HIV and AIDS.
We arrived at the theatre and took our seats in the front row of the dress circle. The lights dimmed and a few ‘latecomers’ took their seats two seats away from us on the right hand side. It wasn’t until we rose to sing the national anthem that we realised it was Princess Diana and her entourage who were in fact – two seats away.
The ballet was a charity event to raise money for much-needed research into HIV disease – the great and good of the ballet world were performing and the glitterati from the world of HIV and AIDS related work were watching. If you like ballet then it was a great evening’s entertainment, if not, then it was at the very least an opportunity to mix in non-familiar circles and experience a world far removed from our day-to-day reality.
Arriving at the reception, Luis and I were shown into a grand, sumptuous room where drinks and canapés were being served by numerous pristine and courteous waiting staff. After circulating for 10 minutes or so I was ushered into a private room just off the main hallway. Unaccustomed to such protocols I thought we would be led into a room to meet with Princess Diana, chat for a few minutes then shown out… How wrong could I be?
There were about 15 of us who had been selected to meet the Princess. An older gentleman entered the room and called us to order. We were instructed on the order of the meeting, where to stand, how to greet her royal highness, the rights and wrongs of physical contact and how our two minutes of ‘chat’ would end as she moved along the line. Drinks were confiscated and we waited in silence and anticipation. We all stood in near silence and shuffled as we admired the stunning works of art on the wall and tasteful decorations.
On time, Princess Diana entered the room accompanied by two unknown gentlemen. In turn we were introduced to the Princess and as planned, she talked to the individuals and couples in turn along the line. I felt a little nervous but it was clear from early on that she was very relaxed and much less formal than the protocol briefing had led me to believe. One of her chaperones introduced me and to my surprise she seemed to know everything about my work for the English National Board of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting and me. The Princess and I chatted for several minutes on a range of subjects related to nursing, sex education and HIV; plus she told me of a little snippet I wasn’t aware of…
We waited in line until the royal party had finished. Princess Diana was led away and we were asked to re-join the main reception. I spotted Luis in a small group of people busy chatting away, sipping champagne and nibbling canapés. Stood next to Jeremy Irons and a couple of other ‘celebs’ I must say he didn’t look out-of-place in his black tie and suit. I rejoined him and we enjoyed the remainder of the reception and left a respectable 15 minutes before the end (Carriages at 12.30am).
I was impressed with Princess Diana, or should I say, Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales. She was very well briefed, knowledgeable about the issues and interested in what we had to say. Despite how the press has since shaped our memories of her, I for one, found her to be genuinely warm and friendly, knowledgeable and wanting to make a difference.
Footnote: The Picture of Diana and I (on the right) was taken by an official photographer, in such circumstances it is difficult/impossible to whip out your camera and ask someone to take a snap although it did cross my mind.