Once upon a time, far away from home

2011-04-23 12:15

It all started with the movie Mary, Queen of Scots. I don’t remember Vanessa Redgrave playing the title role. It was 1971 – I was six years old.

But what I do remember is the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the hay turning crimson .?.?.

Then there was El Cid, Lawrence of Arabia and all the other historical movies of my childhood.

I spent many nights at the drive-in in the back seat of my Dad’s Ford Fairmont, tucked underneath a blanket, with the soundtrack crackling over the little soundbox clipped to the window.

Some I only saw years after they first reached the silver screen.

Were the seeds for my royal obsession sown in the drive-in, where, in the days before television, the visual impact of the big screen was overwhelming?

I don’t know, but when Springbok Radio had a long-running series about the doomed queen of France, Marie Antoinette, I was glued to the radio.

I love history. And reading. Or as a friend of mine loves to say: “You love dead people.”

Biographies are my weakness?– from the Mughals of Ancient India and Marco Polo’s travels along the Silk Road to Xanadu to Marie Antoinette’s death at the guillotine.

Imagine, then, an impressionable 16-year-old (me) being captivated by the arrival of Lady Diana Spencer on the scene. Slightly plump, with rosy cheeks, and such a beguiling smile.

She wore quirky jerseys, and magazines published patterns on knitting a jersey full of sheep just like Lady Di’s – plus the one black sheep, of course.

On the day of her wedding, 30?years ago this year, she emerged from the glass coach. A fairytale princess. See, fairytales do exist!

Years later, while I was slugging it out in a newspaper production office, the first cracks appeared in her marriage. I took notice, and started buying the so-called tell-all books. One book became two; two became three. I stopped counting.

Then the accident. August 31 1997. I sat in stunned silence in front of the television.

Three days later I was on a plane to London.

St Joseph lilies became my silent cry of heartbreak. My fairytale princess was dead.

As the months ticked by, my collection of books grew.

Having never been able to see her in person, my attention turned to her sons, William and Harry?– princes of royal blood, growing up in the 21st century.

Instead of rebellions, there was the paparazzi. Instead of courtiers spying for their own gain, the superzoom cameras of the British press.

Just human, they still mourn the loss of their mother, just as I still mourn the loss of my father.

William and Harry are never scared to show that special humility and humanity that made their mother the exceptional person she was.

Perhaps that’s why I adore (only certain!) members of the British royal family.

They’re just human. Like us all.

Next Friday I will be participating in a historical event in London.

I will see the pomp and ceremony of a dynasty first-hand, hear the gravel crunch beneath the state landau wheels carrying Prince William and Catherine.

I will be waving my South African flag.

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