Silent, Awkward—and Reeking of Royalty

I was convinced at the time (and how right I was) that the princess should, like all good troubled regal personages, move to Manhattan, where the living would be easy and the press relatively unobtrusive.

A decade ago, when Princess Diana was still alive and in the midst of her ignoble divorce proceedings, I happened to find myself in the lobby of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, nursing a crushing hangover. My goal was to find the museum’s Frank Lloyd Wright Rooms, which had been improbably disassembled and transported there, pine panel and all, from Pittsburgh.

A frowzy desk attendant was guiding me through a large incomprehensible map when she suddenly gasped, paled considerably, and drooped into a messy curtsy. At my side, looming large, was Diana: tall, beautiful, and heavily made-up. She had skinny long feet and big equestrian hands. The princess leaned in and asked the attendant for a Mr. So-and-So, who was to give her a tour “of the rooms where the benefit will be.” Mr. So-and-So was dutifully summoned, and there, awaiting his arrival, the three of us stood — silent, awkward, and in my case reeking of gin.

I was convinced at the time (and how right I was) that the princess should, like all good troubled regal personages, move to Manhattan, where the living would be easy and the press relatively unobtrusive. Cursing my stutter-inducing hangover, I saw my opportunity here was fleeting, as a mole-like nervous wreck of a museum attendant was rapidly hotfooting it in our direction. I turned and blurted, “Look, you really should move to New York. It would be so much easier for you there.…” Before I could continue to make my case, the princess was drawn away. But she did turn back to acknowledge me as she went off. We locked eyes. She cocked her head to one side and gave me that, “I love you — get away from me” smile.

The smile we recall so fondly.

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