The wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (William is my 3rd cousin) is fast approaching and I am reminded of the day, 31 years ago, when I almost became William’s aunt and Princess Diana’s sister-in-law –
Flash back to the night of July 27, 1981 – right before the wedding of William’s parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. I arrived at Buckingham Palace with my mother, H.R.H Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia, to attend a ball in honor of the royal couple. I still remember my dress – It was a knee length, ruby-red taffeta dress, layered ruffles, with a bustier and gold and black swirls – Signature 80’s! Actually, the length was a point of contention, as my mother and I tugged down on the dress to ensure that my knees were covered – but then discovered, to our dismay, that the top became too risqué!
I had never seen such opulence in all my life – Buckingham Palace had been transformed into a royal fantasyland. We were handed a map upon arrival, presumably to prevent us from getting lost in the palatial labyrinth. There were 3 ballrooms, each playing a different style of music – jazz, classical and pop – so that every generation could shimmy to their preferred tempo. Most of the guests danced until the wee hours, and the buffet, which spanned the length of an entire stateroom, morphed from dinner into breakfast.
Every royal imaginable was in attendance. My mother had instructed me since i was little, that as the daughter of a princess, the protocol, according to my standing in the royal pecking order, was that I had only to curtsey to kings and queens – not to princes or princesses. The fewer the better! I hated curtseying and always felt as if I was going to lose my balance. The only royal I made sure to give a wide berth to was Princess Grace of Monaco – she had given me, Prince Andrew and her son, Prince Albert, a stern lecture earlier that night, at a pre-ball dinner held at Claridges’ Hotel, chastising us for our appalling manners – she had caught us throwing bread rolls at each other during dinner. Food fights were a bad habit amongst young members of the upper crust! I must admit that I had enlisted Prince Charles to throw giant Dublin prawns on another occasion!
Prince Charles is my mother’s 2nd cousin, and they maintain a close friendship. Just to give you an idea how convoluted royal lineages are – Charles’ great-grandfather, King George of Greece was my great-great grandfather. Queen Alexandra of England was my great-great-great aunt and Charles’ great-great grandmother. Charles’ father, Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh was my grandmother, H.R.H Princess Olga of Greece and Denmark’s 1st cousin, and, King George VI’s (Charles’ grandfather) younger brother Georgie, the Duke of Kent (both brothers had the same name – confusing?!) was married to my grandmother’s sister, Princess Marina – are you still with me?!! but I had never met Lady Diana before.
Charles took me by the hand and brought me over to meet her. She was standing alone, in the corner of the ‘pop’ ballroom – Duran Duran was blaring over the sound system– probably a first for that room! I will always remember the giant disco ball spinning drunkenly from the middle of the ceiling, in lieu of a chandelier. The strobe lights magnified the iridescent shimmer of her clingy, sequined gown. She was statuesque and I had never seen any royal dress with that kind of slinky style! Diana and I shook hands and exchanged pleasantries, but she seemed nervous and distracted. Her eyes betrayed something that surprised me – this was not the look of a princess convinced her future held a fairytale ending.
Later that evening, I stepped out onto the balcony – the famous balcony that we always see the Queen waving from – with Prince Andrew – I neglected to mention that Prince Andrew had been courting me, filling my hotel room at Claridges’ with boxes of dozens of bouquets of long stemmed roses.
It was a beautiful night, and from our vantage point, we could see the hundreds of thousands of jubilant well-wishers, celebrating this historic event. Andrew gently took my hand in his and gazed into my eyes.
Why hadn’t I anticipated this? I don’t know, but he caught me completely by surprise. And whenever I’m nervous, or caught off guard, I resort to giggling and/or glib humor. I flipped his hand over and started reading his palm. I told him he had long life, a good heart, and absolutely no brains whatsoever. He laughed whole-heartedly, and undeterred, he proceeded to propose to me.
“Would you be interested in marrying me or would you prefer to be an actress?”
Without hesitation, I said to him, “quite honestly Andrew, I’d really rather prefer to be an actress.”
I was 18 years old at the time, 3 months younger than Diana to the day. I had just graduated from high school and had decided to defer for a year from Harvard University to pursue acting and modeling in NYC.
Prince Andrew didn’t seem too distraught by my refusal, in fact, he seemed to sympathize, and we danced on into the early morning. He continued to correspond with me after that, once sending me a letter written on toilet paper while he was stationed in The Falkland Islands. I have been asked, “why toilet paper?” And I guess the answer might have to do with where he was inspired to write to me from! (joke!) I felt sorry for anyone who had to use that paper for that which it was intended for – It looked more like parchment paper and was probably better suited for writing than wiping anyways!
Exactly a year later, I was in NYC pursuing my dream. My 2nd audition happened to be for the role of Princess Diana in the CBS TV movie, “The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana”. The producers weren’t aware of my relationship to the British royal family, but my look was similar and I had a great British accent. As unskilled and relatively untrained as I was, I miraculously gave a great audition, and I remember the precise moment that the reading came alive. I could see out of the corner of my eye, the producer and the casting director looking at each other with the expression of “we’ve found her.” I got a call almost immediately after the audition telling me that I had the offer. It was my first acting role and I was ecstatic.
However, the thrill of success dissipated, when my mother told me that she was extremely anxious that I would be ostracized by my royal cousins. I received a severe reprimand in the form of a letter, from the King of Greece, who felt that it was disrespectful for me to impersonate Diana. Panic set in. My mother kindly called Prince Charles and told him that I had been hired to play his wife. His gracious response was, “well, they are going to make the film anyway, at least she can bring dignity to the role.” I was so relieved. It was as close to a blessing as I could have hoped for.
Accepting this first role as an actress signaled a major crossroad in my life and closed the doors on palace life. And it would eventually strike me as ironic, that if I wasn’t going to be a princess, I would be impersonating one on screen! And more than once!
As I looked back at that moment over the years, I was always shocked that my response was so immediate. Granted, I knew how hard life in the royal fish bowl was – as did Andrew- which is why he gallantly gave me an out – but why didn’t I even take a minute to mull over his proposal?
As I am reliving this memory, it evokes all sorts of feelings that have lain dormant for years. I am feeling the broken part of my heart, the part that would never be able to love a prince because of the betrayal by another prince.
It wasn’t until recently that I put all the pieces together – and I really would prefer not to mention this at all – it would be so much easier and prettier. But it is pertinent. It took me years to uncover a deeper, darker explanation – I had been molested as a child by a royal prince. Of course I would react like that. The last thing in the world I would want – would be to marry a prince, after all, the belief embedded in my subconscious was that a prince = a perpetrator.
What shocked and saddened me, is how insidious childhood wounding is. Traumas we might not remember for years have the power to shape our adult lives without even realizing it.
It took my current husband to point out another reason I should not have married Andrew – we were 2nd cousins – even if it was once removed! A fact that escaped both me and cousin Andrew!
And truth be told, I did end up marrying a prince – one that came with a loincloth rather than a crown!
This evening was indelibly etched in my memory forever. Not only was it a historic event for 100’s of millions around the world, but for me personally, it held some rather extraordinary details which would be hard for anyone to forget.