Today marks the 15th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death in a car crash in Paris. At the time her car wrecked in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel, Princess Di was a princess in name only—”the People’s Princess”—and the world’s most photographed and intriguing celebrity.
I’ve never really been able to articulate why I cared about Diana so much, being a) not British b) not a royalist and c) not all that interested in people who were not me ath the time she died. (I mean, I was 16 – is there really a more narcissistic age outside of your toddler years?) But when I came home from an evening out with friends to find my best friend’s mom on the couch watching the news with a blank look on her face, I realized I did care. A lot. Diana was good at making people care.
She had a relatability that evaded the rest of the royal family. Diana was far from perfect—she showed emotion where other royals displayed a more customary upper-crust stoicism. She battled an eating disorder, a huge self esteem problem, and a deep need to be loved. She ended an unhappy marriage—a choice most royals don’t make easily unless their name is Henry VIII—and people celebrated her for it. She held babies dying of AIDS before it was common knowledge that you couldn’t catch it that way. Figuring cameras were going to follow her wherever she went anyway, Diana pointed them toward the things she wanted us to pay attention to—disease, famine, the minefields of Angola.
So, yeah, I cared when she died. I cared even more when I saw how profoundly it affected others around the world.
15 years later, the dust has settled enough that a biopic called Diana is on its way, starring Naomi Watts in the title role. While TV movies and miniseries have flogged aspects of her story to death already, the upcoming film is a feature motion picture headed to the big screen and will focus on the final two years of Diana’s life, including her relationship with Dodi Fayed and rumored affair with Dr. Hasnad Khan.
But I care less about that than I care about your Princess Di story. Where were you when you heard the news? If you don’t remember that or it’s not worth telling, did you watch the funeral in your parents’ house with a box of tissues on your left and a box of Fig Newtons on your right like I did? I asked some past and present MamaPop writers to share their memories, but most of them were really high on drugs at that time and couldn’t tell me much:
John Cave Osborne: I was absolutely hammered at a Beck show in Seattle and found out while leaving, then went to a restaurant in Eastlake called Bandeleone and drank kicken-chicken with a splash of water while discussing the tragedy with the other (also-drunk) patrons before finally going home and embarking upon a 48-hour CNN bender which made me realize i kinda cared about Princess Di more than i’d realized.
The Muskrat: I’d just moved to Atlanta for my first job after school. My folks were helping me move furniture into the place from a U-Haul, and we’d hooked a TV up to the wall and set it on the carpet so I could see the first Alabama football game (where I’d just finished four years of school) on Saturday. We were up late finishing arranging furniture when we learned of the car wreck on that TV sitting on the carpet. We didn’t realize she’d died until Sunday morning. Like John, I didn’t think I gave a shit about British royalty when I was 22, but when I learned about all the great things she did from CNN that Sunday, I realized I did, in fact, care.
Miss Banshee: I was home from college, on the phone with my psychotic boyfriend when the news broke. I was shocked, but never said anything to him because I was afraid he’d make fun of me for caring. And I wonder why I’ve given up dating. Sheesh.
Julie Marsh: I remember getting in a fight with [my husband] at a Denny’s in Puerto Rico where we got stuck en route to our honeymoon, because he didn’t understand why her death bothered me so much.
Adam Avitable: I remember the Princess Diana jokes I told afterward. Her death, just like her life, had absolutely no impact on my life. Yes, it’s sad, as any death is, but I didn’t find it more tragic than anyone else’s.
Laurie White: I was sitting at a stop light leaving my gym. Drove home crying. I was one of the little girls who got up and watched the wedding live, I had books about her, all of it. I was happy for her that she’d seemed to come out of that really hard period of her life, had gotten healthier, was doing so much for others, maybe in a place to find love again. And then, done. So, so sad. I also wish I had a story as good as JCO’s, so now I’m crying again.
Amalah: I don’t remember where I was when Princess Di died, but I remember watching the funeral in the cafeteria just a couple days after arriving at college. Girls were crying at the next table. Crying! It was the first time I was attending a *secular* non-Christian college and I felt really weird for not “getting” what the big deal was or caring as much as most people seemed to. And in that moment I pledged to fully commit myself to popular culture and never feel left out again and one day launch a website dedicated to stupid celebrities, bad television and finally provide a forum where people could talk about where they were when Princess Diana died the end.