Thursday 21 November 2019

How Friday could have differed with Diana

William was the People's Princess' male constant so would she have felt usurped or flattered by Kate, asks Sarah Caden

Princess Diana's wedding day in 1981 was,
in hindsight, a very sad occasion
Princess Diana's wedding day in 1981 was, in hindsight, a very sad occasion

Sarah Caden

Though Friday's wedding, like all weddings, must be taken to mark a new departure, a fresh start for a young couple with all manner of happiness and hurdles ahead of them, many minds cast back that day to another wedding, another bride and that other, sadder, occasion when the Windsors and Spencers gathered together.

There were few in Westminster Cathedral on Friday who cannot have thought of the late Diana, as her DDG (Drop Dead Gorgeous), as she called William, got married.

Charles, who reportedly helped the bride choose a hymn from Diana's funeral to be the first song; Camilla, who must feel awkwardly aware she is Catherine's closest thing to a mother-in-law; William and Harry, who must have wished their mother there; and Kate, who might well have wondered what the People's Princess would have made of her. And wonder she might.

Friday might have been a very different day had Diana been alive. Friday might not have happened at all. We'll never know if Diana's desire for William to live a life that was not bound by duty would have seen him sow more wild oats, or if the strength of their relationship would have trumped any romantic attachment, or whether any woman would have been good enough.

We'll never know, because we'll never know how Diana would have aged, how she would have evolved as a mother, how she would have learned to let go of the little boy who was her soul mate in the manner that his father never managed to be. But, one hopes, Diana might have been proud of William's vow to "love his wife" on Friday, in marked contrast with Charles, who choked on such sentiment when the young Lady Spencer became his betrothed.

Diana was 36 when she died, only seven years older than Kate when she legally joined the Windsors last week. It's not much of an age difference, but what a difference in the lives they led before becoming royalty. Diana was barely 20 when she married Charles, a teenager when they became engaged, without the university education Kate enjoyed or the years the latter had to mature without the world watching her to any extreme extent. Diana was fascinating for how obviously and immediately different she was to her in-laws, instantly embraced by the public and, it seems, unhappy in her marriage. By the time she was the bride Kate's age, Diana was only two years shy of the official announcement of her separation from Prince Charles, but she had been through more than most 29-year-olds. And by the time she died, Diana was in the throes of the second chapter of her life, which would have led her who knows where.

The not knowing what might have become of his beautiful but often troubled mother has to have weighed on William. One would like to think that she would have found happiness again, given her relative youth and her great desire to be loved. One would hope she would have sat on the groom's side of the church on Friday and not wanted to throttle Charles and Camilla, not wanted to wreak havoc on the Windsors' big day as they welcomed the next potential queen. One would hope that Diana would have been happy in her 40s, rather than embittered and with her best years behind her.

Anything we now know of Dodi Fayed -- who, by dying with Diana, has become, possibly, a more significant player in her story than he was in her life -- suggests that he was more fling material than the marrying kind for a woman such as Diana. We know now, too, that she had all manner of other romantic entanglements, both during and after her marriage, and that she had a history of falling hard, of being fickle with her affection, of turning cold as quickly as she turned hot. And we know that the male constant in her life was William, who, as children must, would have grown more independent and more his own man as he grew up. That growing away from his mother would have been happy if she were happy herself, but may not have sat so well had Diana failed to find her own peace post-House of Windsor.

But what Diana might have brought to Westminster Abbey on Friday was a pride in William to which Charles and his family cannot lay claim. No doubt they take pride in him, but any credit for the modernity of William, his apparent openness and his unashamed affection for his new wife, has to go to his late mother. Even stuffy old Charles is a softer, more likeable person when he's around his boys.

William the man is the boy she brought to hospitals, introduced to the poor, sick and ordinary people he would never have met otherwise. She took his mind and his heart outside of the walls of Buckingham Palace, the posh schools and social circles that would have made him more of the same in terms of royalty and turned him into a man who hugged his bride in official photographs and halted courtiers' attempts to turn his wedding into a dull, dry ding-dong for the old guard.

For Kate, now Catherine, the absence of Diana is different than it is for anyone from the family she married into. For Catherine, Diana will only be the woman whose picture and image, life and death were in the newspapers and magazines of her childhood. In a way, Catherine knows Diana no more than any of the People's Princess's other subjects and, yet, she is the woman poised to become the People's Princess Mark II. Already, she has displayed hints of Diana's ability to spread warmth through a crowd, to make strangers feel like she knows them, to spread the feeling that she cares.

If Diana were alive, she might well feel usurped, but in death, maybe this is the greatest tribute her son could have paid her, to have married a woman quite different to the first woman he ever loved, but one who might continue the work his mother began; in the hearts of the British public, and in the heart of William.

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