The Sunday Mail (Queensland)
Swept away by the theatre of royalty
TOMORROW, it’s 18 years since Diana, Princess of Wales died in a Paris car crash.
There’s been so much written about her before, and since she died, it’s hard to separate fact from what our ever-diminishing memories may tell us.
Right now, royalty is all the rage, with metres of newsprint devoted to the anticipation of the historic date on which the Queen, Elizabeth II, might take over as the longest-serving monarch in British history. On September 9 she will officially take the record from her great-greatgrandmother, Queen Victoria.
So it’s worth remembering that sometimes royalty isn’t about the royals but the people who get a bit of entertainment from them.
In 1983, long before Expo, a monumentally daggy Prince of Wales squired his wife, Diana, to Queensland. We’re now told the tour was a living hell for the anxious young woman, but at the time, there was nothing but adulation.
Putting aside the stifling fashion of the day – back before royals start- ed to pretend to dress like everyone else – it looks like it was so much more casual, more joyful, more … amateur?
On April 11, warmish by English standards, the pair set off for what the press were sure would be “the best walkabout of the tour”.
“The police estimated there were 80,000 people here, but wise old locals estimated there were nearer 100,000,’’ said a BBC correspondent.
Down the Queen St Mall they went, Diana in a blue and white frock and a feathered white hat, and Charles in some sort of suit.
BBC News intoned to the audience “back home” that crowd control was a major concern.
To our eyes it doesn’t look like anyone had given a passing thought to it. In these days of cordons and screening and thermal imaging, the idea that crowd control mainly meant making sure kids could touch the dignitaries before the adults seems astonishing. Someone threw a garland over Diana’s neck, someone smacked a kiss on Charles’ mouth.
“A plonker,” the kiss was dubbed by the BBC.
The footage of the day shows people sitting on top of an Orange Telecom phone box, climbing traffic lights, standing in window openings as if no-one had blocked them off after a bomb check.
But the crowds were stifling. There was genuine danger of a crush. Charles can be seen to be quite nervous. In a rare breach of royal protocol, the couple made it from the Mall to Town Hall in half the allotted time and took refuge inside.
That night they attended a reception at which Diana broke out a tiara and a family order (a kind of medal) to accompany her pink shoestrap gown. Here’s a curious thing – accounts differ as to whether it was at the Crest Hotel or the Hilton. It can’t have been the Hilton because it wasn’t finished until four years later but the illustration is a good lesson on how easy it is for history to be muddled.
Those were different times but the royals provided a bit of entertainment for the public – a bit of fun that plenty of people still remember. Someone sometimes glances at a set of traffic lights and remembers standing on them for a glimpse of the long-departed Princess Di.
One photographer who covered a small part of that 1983 tour recalls that, even in pretty ordinary climatic conditions, his wife, not a royalist, stood in line for a glimpse. There must have been plenty of people who turned out for the Queen’s last Brisbane visit in 2011 – not long after the big floods – who weren’t royalists but who liked being part of a big crowd. Likewise when Prince William and Catherine showed up last year. Nothing like a bit of theatre – and a bit of something to remember. firstname.lastname@example.org
SOMEONE SMACKED A KISS ON CHARLES’ MOUTH . . . DUBBED A PLONKER