It was a day much like any other. I’d travelled down by coach the day before from Beverley with my grandmother and was full of fluttering terror and trepidation as we walked through the gardens in the middle of Lincoln’s Inn. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I thought I was going to be sick as we walked along. I’d been collecting magazines, books, pictures and postcards of Princess Diana since her wedding in 1981 and today, finally, I was going to meet her.
My grandmother paused for a moment in the midst of the flower beds to make me rehearse my curtsey for the thousandth time. ‘No, too low! Too low!’ she shouted as a passing man turned his head to stare at us. ‘It’s like this…’ She performed a graceful curtsey and, blushing, I copied her. ‘That’s right, that’s it.’
In my hand I held a bouquet of pink roses, bought from a florist by the tube station. Unbelievably, incredibly, I had been asked to present flowers to the Princess after she had attended a degree ceremony at the Royal College of Surgeons. I wasn’t just going to be yet another face in a walk about, thrusting my hand out towards her and garbling a few incoherent words as she drifted past. No, she was going to be mine, all mine.
I watched from a balcony above as the degree ceremony went on, with the princess dressed in red with a traditional gown and mortar board on top, smiling and nodding as the graduates filed past. She may even have given a speech – I was too sick with dread to take it all in.
Afterwards, I was taken through a side door to the bottom of a flight of stairs, down which the princess would come on her way out of the building after luncheon. I remember waiting there, wondering if anyone would notice if I fainted, until finally a rush of security, photographers and officials signalled that the princess was on her way down. Before I had time to panic, she was there in front of me, a hand on my back pushed me forward and before I knew what I was doing, I was wobbling my way through the much rehearsed curtsey and handing over the flowers.
A sort of panic descended on me at that point and I floated through the next few moments as if in a blur. I remember shaking her hand and thinking how super soft it was. She smiled and said something about my red dress and red hair, remarking that I clashed with her suit and that if she’d known, she’d have worn something different that day. Everyone laughed. I hope I did too.
I remember sneaking a look up at that famous, smiling face and noticing how much blue eyeliner she was wearing before in another instant she was gone…