Since she first appeared on the worldwide stage in the early 1980s, I have been a big fan of Princess Diana. I remember getting up in the wee hours of the morning in 1981 to watch her wedding. I have collected books, newspaper and magazine articles, mugs, matchbooks, dolls, you name it – as long as it was Diana-related, I wanted it! When I got engaged, my husband even got me an engagement ring that looks like Diana’s (although of course it is smaller – hers reportedly cost $63,000 in 1981!).
In 1993 a teacher friend and I took a tour of London, and I researched several Diana-related sites that we could visit. Keeping in mind that several years have passed since my visit and some things may have changed, here are some highlights of “Diana’s London.”
This cathedral, a masterpiece of architect Christopher Wren, is the site of the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Just being there, after seeing so many pictures of the place, was almost a religious experience for me. I walked down the aisle slowing, humming Trumpet Voluntary to myself. The place is huge; words just cannot describe it. Most royal weddings (William and Kate’s, most famously) are held at Westminster Abbey, but St. Paul’s was chosen for Charles and Diana’s because of the greater seating capacity.
While Diana did not spend a lot of time here, it is still a must-see on any royal London visit. Be sure to be there at 11 a.m. for the changing of the guards ceremony. Also, in the front of the palace notice the large balcony: this is where all the royals come out to wave to their subjects after weddings, parades, and other big events.
Kensington Palace (“KP”)
This huge palace is the home of several members of the royal family, and it’s where Diana and her boys spent most of their time when they were in London. You can tour the “state apartments” (the historical part), but obviously not the parts where royalty are currently living. When I visited, I approached a guard near the gate and asked if Diana was there at the time. He was very nice and said she had left by car 30 minutes before – ah, I was so close to catching a glimpse! A neat thing here is that you can see Princess Diana’s actual wedding dress on display – at least you could in 1993. In 2006 I saw it again at a traveling exhibition of Diana memorabilia from her childhood home, Althorp. There is a restaurant in the basement at KP where you can eat, and therefore say you “ate at the palace”!
Coleherne Court, Flat 60
This is the apartment (“flat”) where Diana and her buddies lived prior to her engagement to Prince Charles. We visited a nearby real estate office which leased these flats, and the employees were really friendly to us; making us copies of news articles concerning Diana’s apartment. They had a scrapbook full of articles about their most famous customer.
This street, in upscale London, is full of merchants frequented by Diana. Visit Janet Reger, where she bought her undies; Butler and Wilson, where she went to pick up costume jewelry (the clerk had waited on both Diana and Sarah Ferguson and said they were both quite friendly); and San Lorenzo restaurant, where she used to lunch with friends.
This ritzy toy store, pictured at the top of this post, is where Diana most liked to buy toys. The owner confirmed to us that, yes, Diana did “pop in” occasionally. The shop is upscale but not unlike many here in the US. The employees were friendly and I loved imagining William and Harry playing with the stuffed frogs and wooden toy soldiers carefully arranged here. (I’m sad to see that apparently it is no longer in business).
This is the Pimlico preschool where Diana worked prior to her marriage. It is next to St. Savior’s church, and when I visited the spot I could hear children inside singing and having fun.
Even eighteen years after Diana’s sad and unexpected death, I still find it hard to believe she is gone. I find it comforting to know that we can still visit places that were special to her during her life.