“Once upon a time in a faraway land, there was a tiny kingdom, peaceful, prosperous, and rich in romance and tradition. Here in a stately chateau, there lived a widowed gentleman and his little daughter, Cinderella. Although he was a kind and devoted father, and gave his beloved child every luxury and comfort, still he felt she needed a mother’s care. And so he married again, choosing for his second wife a woman of good family with two daughters just Cinderella’s age, by name, Anastasia and Drizella. It was upon the untimely death of this good man, however, that the stepmother’s true nature was revealed. Cold, cruel, and bitterly jealous of Cinderella’s charm and beauty, she was grimly determined to forward the interests of her own two awkward daughters. Thus, as time went by, the chateau fell into disrepair, for the family fortunes were squandered upon the vain and selfish stepsisters while Cinderella was abused, humiliated, and finally forced to become a servant in her own house. And yet, through it all, Cinderella remained ever gentle and kind, for with each dawn she found new hope that someday her dreams of happiness would come true” (Cinderella).
“Life is not a fairytale,” my husband soberly reminds me. But in my heart, it is not a futile dream.
My royal infatuation began with Cinderella which I watched religiously, year after year: overcoming obstacles, good vs. evil, innocence vs. experience, social status, fairy godmothers– the royalty & happily ever after.
Fast forward to29 July 1981, I assembled my closest friends for a get-together at my home, at5 a.m.to witness the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer– a fairytale, “love affair” I’d been following since the start, collecting photographs and articles (assembled neatly in a scrapbook– to which I would add this day).
I continued to follow Princess Diana, and grow to love what she stood for– a sweet princess unprepared for her role; she was the real life version of who Cinderella would have turned out to be in a sequel, if there had been one. I followed her through her sisterhood with Sarah Ferguson (the original “Fergie”), who refused to conform to the rules of the monarchy. I admired them both, as women, for being convicted to holding their grasp on their identities. In anticipation, I rooted for Diana through the public downfall of her marriage and her simultaneous rise as a humanitarian. A REAL face of the monarchy was shown to me through those years… one whose ending did not always end happily ever after.
In my early years, my love of old films lead me to a brief curiosity of Princess Grace of Monaco– only to learn of her difficulties with Prince Rainier III… another indication that not all things end blissfully.
From these experiences– I read up on the Kennedy’s lives, Ted’s sordid past, Jackie O’s idyllic life, Camelot, Kennedy’s indiscretions, his assassination & later, Bobby’s– America’s version of the royal family, and OH what a checkered past they have had. Solidification that being admired and in the public eye, possessing great wealth and opportunity does not necessarily lead to happiness.
So, my journey to dig deeper continued… first with reading up on all that I could, particularly in regard to Charles & Diana. I read Andrew Morton’s books, I watched the interviews that Diana conducted to learn about what the REAL life of a royal was like.
In 1997, when news broke of Diana’s accident, I had been watching t.v., to which I remained glued into the early hours of the morning when they declared she had, in fact, been killed. I believed it was some Royal conspiracy to do away with her in order to cease the stain she imposed upon the royals with her so-public lifestyle. I remained, curled up in my bed, on the day of her funeral with a box of tissues by my side. My heart went out to those, now motherless, boys as they so regally walked with their father & uncle behind her casket. Though, she wasEngland’s princess, she made the warmth of her spirit felt throughout the world. Not only did I let her into my living room, she seeped into my heart.
In 2005, I had the opportunity to visit Château de Versailles with my friend, Amy. There I learned about the grotesque opulence that went into the design & building of that estate, which took generations to complete. As I walked through the Hall of Mirrors, I learned that room was built solely to show off King Louis XIV’s wealth & that a room, today, would cost what a room lined in diamonds would cost. I also learned that it was an honor to empty the King’s bed pot, that people would line up for the privilege. The paintings of the kings and Marie-Antoinette and the salons dedicated to each of the gods are what most stuck with me, as did the ornate, if not gaudy, decor of the palace.
I found myself obsessed by the works of Philippa Gregory, especially The Other Boleyn Girl & The Boleyn Inheritance. While fiction, they are based on much research of the Tudor Monarchy. King Henry VIII is arguably the most fascinating of the royals.
Assigning The Other Boleyn Girl as summer reading for my British Literature students gave me the format to delve into the Tudor Dynasty in addition to gaining the insight of its connectedness to so many other works in my curriculum. When The Constant Princess was published, I attended a book talk with Philippa Gregory, who spoke of her experiences as a consultant for the film adaptation of The Other Boleyn Girl which provided her the opportunity to meet the royal family. The way she told her story, with humor, particularly in regards to Elizabeth & Charles, softened the bitter taste for them that I had acquired in light of the Diana incidents, and Charles’ subsequent marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles.
In 2005, my first tour toEnglandincluded witnessing the change of the guard at Buckingham Palace– something that sent chills through me to see in person. That year, we also touredLeedsCastle, one of King Henry VIII’s summer retreats andWarwickCastle, which Madame Tussaud’s Wax Works represents the Victorian Era in tribute to QueenVictoriaandPrince Albert.
A return tour in 2011 took us toWindsorCastlewhere we also witnessed the change of the guard. The guards were so close, we could touch them, but we didn’t dare. I swear I saw the Queen walking her dogs in the gardens– though I can’t be sure it was her, in my mind it will always be. This trip also gave us the opportunity to visit The Tower of London which housed a host of the Royals, in addition to the crowned jewels. We visited Westminster Abbey, the church where many of the royals took their coronation, exactly one week prior to the next world renowned celebration of the wedding of Prince William to his fiancé, Kate Middleton. They were placing decorations of trees and garland and hiding cameras in them. Outside of the church, stadium seating had already been placed, in anticipation of the guests who could not fit inside the church. News cameras and reporters already flooded the outside of the church, capturing footage of the set-up. Will and Kate memorabilia could be found in any store, and, of course, I indulged myself in some (for my one-day grandchildren).
A week after our return to the states, just as I had done 30 years prior, I awoke at 5:00, roused my daughter, and, together, we watched the next King of England betroth the Princess of Wales in yet another fairytale extravaganza. Will and Kate seemed to restore what had been lost with Diana’s death.
On my wedding anniversary, my husband took me to MGM Grande to see the Diana, Celebration exhibit, chronicling her life & works, put together by her sons and her brother. So many photographs, artifacts, and her iconic wardrobe was there, in addition to the original copies of the eulogies from her funeral. What struck me the most was two-fold, one was the zest she had for life, living, helping & educating others. For all the heart-ache she endured, she had an amazing amount of compassion and love to give– which will long be her legacy. Second, was the volumes of evidence of the lives she touched through the journals that had been compiled from the outpouring of sympathy over her death. Cases upon cases of scrapbooks– a testimony that, while she was a short-lived royal, both literally and figuratively, she had just as strong an influence on the world as those who surpassed her by years.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee: River Pageant commences on 3 June 2012. People lining the River Thames as a parade of boats heralding the 60th anniversary of her reign pass by. It reminds me of Edward Rutherford’s London, commemorating the inception ofLondon to present day in an historical fiction novel where he weaves real life events and people, filling in the gaps. Ironically, just Friday (1 June 2012), my class paid homage to this novel in a London Alive Festival where they brought to life various aspects of the eras of London’s history including the Battle of Hastings, The Cutty Sark, Gin Lane, Dog’s Head, the Druids, various Trading Companies, Shakespeare’s Othello, British tea shops and pubs, the Festival of the Yuletide, the Monarchy, the Reformation, and the British Museum.
Queen Elizabeth, the second longest reigning monarch, second to Queen Victoria’s reign of nearly 64 years, stands on her Yacht Britannia, dressed in her white suit and hat, waving to the crowds amidst the rain, quite appropriately- traditional English weather.
Despite the death of her father, the grueling obstacles placed before her by a wicked step mother, enforced & outnumbered by two evil step sisters, Cinderella emerges — rising above, with her Prince Charming at her side. While Fairytales and Royalty are not immune to the realities of life, they symbolically represent the ideals we strive to achieve — and there is nothing wrong with trying!