Monthly Archives: March 2011

Diana, A Celebration, Union Station Kansas City: Princess Diana’s parents: A troubled relationship has its consequences

Princess Diana’s father, John Spencer — or Johnnie as he was known to friends and family — expected a son and heir. Her mother, Frances, expected to provide one. This all sounds simple and straightforward enough, but, as so often happens in human affairs, there were complications.

To begin with, Sarah Bradford recounts in Diana, Finally the Complete Story, Frances delivered two girls, Sarah in 1955 and Jane in 1957, before she had a boy. When the boy, John, finally arrived, he was born with problems that took his life after only 10 hours in this world. Frances was not even given the opportunity to hold her son, and she never fully recovered from the loss.

Unfortunately, beyond the pain caused by the loss of her child, Frances also had to bear her husband’s accusation that she was somehow at fault for not having a healthy son. Under duress, she underwent gynecological “tests and treatments” that were, Bradford writes, “humiliating.”

Quoting Diana’s younger brother Charles, Bradford writes: “It was a dreadful time for my parents, and probably the root of their divorce because I don’t think they ever got over it.”

When Diana was born, Bradford continues, her parents’ marriage was already far gone. The situation was only worsened by the arrival of one more little girl. Whether anything was ever said to Diana about what a disappointment she was is unclear. But she clearly did get the message.

“Diana convinced herself that she should have been a boy and that, being a girl, she was a disappointment and regarded as a lesser being,” Bradford writes. She quotes “a Spencer relation” on the subject:

“I do know that in the Spencer family the gender issue is a big one and even when there was a son and no pressure to produce an heir, the female children are of less account that the male.”

Apparently, Diana carried this impression of being “second-class” much of her life, long after her parents finally had their son and heir, Charles, who was born in 1964, and eventually divorced.

The cause of that divorce can be attributed as much to boredom as to Johnnie’s temper and Frances’s infidelity. Bradford writes that rumor had it the couple fought, sometimes violently. Johnnie loved his staid and predictable life, but it chafed Frances who, still in her twenties, wanted more excitement.

More on events leading up to Johnnie and Frances Spencer’s divorce in the next post.

Diana, A Celebration, at Union Station Kansas City now through June 12, 2011, offers a look at Diana’s childhood, with home movies shot by Johnnie. It is one part of a much larger exploration of Diana’s life and work.

Tickets for Diana, A Celebration, are available through all Ticketmaster locations, the Union Station ticket office, the Sprint Center box office and


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Diana, A Celebration, Union Station Kansas City: Princess Diana and Prince Charles go to war in the press

It would not be too much to say that, when it came to managing his relationship with the press, Prince Charles could be somewhat obtuse. This fact became painfully obvious when Princess Diana and he were at odds around the date of the their 10th wedding anniversary.

At the time, Diana was using the press to make the case that Charles was not a particularly good father. At one point, writes Sarah Bradford in Diana: Finally, the Complete Story, the Daily Mail carried this headline: “Charles the Absent Royal Father,” and asked, “Why do we not see from him the demonstrations of warmth, affection or closeness Diana frequently displays towards her sons in public?”

This kind of bad publicity should have been a warning to Charles to mind not only what he did but also how what he did would be perceived by the media and the public. For someone in the public eye, perception of behavior is as important as the reality of behavior. Charles did not make this connection and paid the price.

No example of Charles’s carelessness about public opinion is clearer than in the case of his son Prince William’s golfing accident. It happened at Ludgrove, the private boarding school the young prince was attending.

William was struck by a golf ball, which caused a depressed fracture of his forehead, Bradford writes. The prince was taken immediately to a hospital, and Diana and Charles went with him. There, William would have surgery.

As it turned out, the surgery was not particularly risky, and the prince was expected to recover completely. Because he saw no danger to his son, Charles decided to attend the opera Tosca with some British and European officials. The outing had been in the works for a long time. Charles then left of an overnight trip to Yorkshire on another official mission, which had also been planned well in advance.

As Bradford describes the ensuing news coverage, the press jumped on this apparent dereliction of duty. The Sun screamed, “What kind of dad are you?” The Daily Express called Charles “a phantom father.” Other coverage showed Diana and implicitly compared her pain to Charles’s seeming indifference by pointing to “the exhausted face of a loving mother.” By all accounts, Diana did little to counter these accusations and might well have encouraged them.

Had Charles been provided the advice he so clearly needed (or, if it was given, had he paid attention to it), he might have come out of the situation far less damaged in the eyes of the public. As it was, Diana gained significantly in the race for favorable public perception, and Charles was, so to speak, left in the dust.

The press war would continue as Charles and Diana grew farther and farther apart on their long journey to divorce. It was a battle that not only recorded the descent into dissolution but also, to a large extent, helped cause it.

The pain and sadness of Diana’s life are part of her story. But there is much more to consider. The exhibition Diana, A Celebration, which runs from now through June 12, at Union Station Kansas City, provides a vivid picture of Diana’s life that includes examples of her loving nature and generosity.

Tickets for Diana, A Celebration, are available through all Ticketmaster locations, the Union Station ticket office, the Sprint Center box office and


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Diana, A Celebration, Union Station Kansas City: More on Princess Diana and land mines

Christina Lamb, a reporter for the Sunday Times, played a role in the last post about Princess Diana’s work against land mines. When Diana traveled to Angola to see for herself the damage the mines were doing to the civilian population, Lamb was one of a number of journalists who went along.

Like the other journalists, Lamb was rather cynical about the whole enterprise, seeing it more as political grandstanding than humanitarian mission on Diana’s part. She began to change her mind when she saw how Diana interacted with and was able to comfort the most horribly mutilated victims.

Before the trip was over, in fact, Lamb had lost her cynicism entirely. In Diana: Finally, the Complete Story, Sarah Bradford describes the reporter’s change of heart, partly in Lamb’s own words:

“By [then], Christina Lamb admitted, the visit had ‘wiped out’ all her past cynicism about Diana. ‘That Lady-with-the-Lamp performance wasn’t just for the cameras,’ she wrote.

“Once, at a hospital in Huambo when the photographers had all flown back to their air-conditioned hotels to wire their pictures, I watched Diana, unaware that any journalists were still present, sit and hold the hand of Helena Ussova, a seven-year-old who’d had her intestines blown to pieces by a mine. For what seemed an age the pair just sat, no words needed. When Diana finally left, the young girl struggled through her pain to ask me if the beautiful lady was an angel. . . . At the end of the Angola trip Diana said that the lasting image she’d take away was of that terribly ill young girl.'”

Despite the horror of land mine injuries, Diana managed to keep a sense of humor. Later in the same year she visited Angola, Bradford writes, Diana went to Bosnia, another country polluted by abandoned land mines. She and her party were joined there by Jerry White and Ken Rutherford, both Americans.

White and Rutherford were the founders of the Landmine [sic] Survivors Network. The men were themselves victims of land mines. Their encounters with the explosives left White with one leg. Rutherford lost both legs.

When they met Diana, the men were wearing artificial limbs. They believed it would not be proper to appear before royalty without them. However, the prostheses made it difficult for them to climb into the back of the Landcruiser in which Diana was riding.

As they struggled, Diana turned to them and said, “You can take your legs off, boys!”

Not long after that incident, Diana would travel to a Sarajevo cemetery, where she would find a mother at the grave of her son. The two women, strangers and unable to speak because of the language barrier, would embrace silently. “When we parted,” Bradford quotes a bystander as saying, “the widow seemed restored to life.”

When to laugh, when to weep, when to be silent: Princess Diana seemed to know. It was one of the qualities that has made the world remember her.

More about Diana’s charitable work is on view at Diana, A Celebration, at Union Station Kansas City through June 12, 2011. Tickets are available through all Ticketmaster locations, the Union Station ticket office, the Sprint Center box office and


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Diana, A Celebration, Union Station Kansas City: Princess Diana takes on land mines

Princess Diana’s interest in preventing the devastating effects of abandoned land mines began before her famous trip to the war-ravaged African nation of Angola in January 1997. She had been angling for a position as “roving ambassador” for the British Foreign Office to help address the issue, but she was turned down.

Undiscouraged, Diana tried a different tack, writes Sarah Bradford in Diana: Finally, the Complete Story. She had been talking with the head of the British Red Cross about starting to work with that organization again after some time away. Out of those discussions came the Angola trip.

Diana was hardly alone when she landed in Africa. With her came a BBC television crew to film a documentary for the British Red Cross Landmines Appeal, Lord William Deedes, representing the London Daily Telegraph and a bevy of reporters, including Christina Lamb of the Sunday Times. The reporters tended to be quite cynical about the adventure and Diana’s motivations. It looked to them like a personal publicity stunt.

Lord Deedes was perhaps the first to notice how Diana was able to focus attention on the issue at hand. Bradford tells the story, partly in Deedes’ words:

“‘Nobody took a blind bit of interest in landmines [sic] until she came along,’ he said. The journalists, accustomed to accompanying royal visits in daintier surroundings than Angola, were, Deedes said, ‘dismayed’ by the state of the capital, Luanda, with stinking rubbish piled high in the hot streets.”

But the fact that Angola was hardly a vacation spot did not convince everyone of Diana’s sincerity. She had to do that herself. Veteran war correspondent Christina Lamb, for one, soon dropped her cynicism.

Bradford writes, “She was impressed: despite the heat and the smells Diana had come to work and work she did. Angola, said Lamb, was one of the few remaining places in the world where most people had no idea who [Diana] was, and therefore it was all the more remarkable to see the effect she had on the amputees she went among.”

Lamb herself describes the scene in Diana:

“The Red Cross whisked us from one hospital to the next. . .each with ever more horrific scenes of skeletal figures with missing arms, missing legs, and blown off heads — victims of some of the 16m landmines [sic] scattered round the country. Many of the injuries were so gruesome I could not bear to look, despite years of Third World reporting. But Diana never turned her head away. Instead, she had something I’d only ever seen before in Nelson Mandela — a kind of aura that made people want to be with her, and a completely natural, straight-from-the-heart sense of how to bring hope to those who seemed to us to have little to live for.”

More on Diana’s fight against land mines in the next post.

The land-mine effort was just on of many causes Diana took on, especially after her divorce from Prince Charles. The exhibition Diana, a Celebration, has much more information about the princess’s charitable work.

Diana, A Celebration, runs through June 12, 2011 at Union Station Kansas City. Tickets are available through all Ticketmaster locations, the Union Station ticket office, the Sprint Center box office and

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Diana, A Celebration, Union Station Kansas City: Princess Diana and the famous photographer

In a previous post, Meredith Etherington-Smith was mentioned as a mentor to Diana during the princess’s last year. In fact, Etherington-Smith seems to have been a guiding force in shaping Diana’s new image, the one that would catapult her from celebrity to 20th-century icon in a few short months. In part, the change seems to have come about because Diana was able to combine her celebrity with something more genuine.

Etherington-Smith did two things, in particular, to bring about the change, according to Sarah Bradford in Diana: Finally, the Complete Story. First, she told Diana she looked better when she was not wearing make-up and was wearing everyday clothes, such as jeans and T-shirts.

“You know you look so much better like that rather than with all the lacquered hair and the make-up,” Bradford quotes Etherington-Smith’s telling Diana. “You’ve got wonderful skin, you don’t need to slap all that stuff on.  It’s not modern.”

Second, the mentor arranged to have Diana photographed by Mario Testino, one of the world’s best-know fashion photographers. What Etherington-Smith wanted in the photos was not what a fashion photographer would expect:

“. . .I wanted much more the girl who walked through the minefields ,” Bradford quotes Etherington-Smith as saying, referring to Diana’s work fighting the devastating effects of land mines on civilian populations. “I wanted the woman I saw who looked amazing and modern.”

Bradford quotes Diana agreeing with Etherington-Smith: “. . .I want to look how I feel inside. I feel like I belong to the twentieth century now, I really do. I’m doing modern things and I’m trying to lead a modern life, and I’m a single woman and that’s how I want to look.”

The photo shoot with Testino was, Bradford quotes Diana as saying, “. . . one of the happiest days of my life — and I really mean it.”

As the shoot came to a close, music played loudly in the background. Bradford writes that Diana “started playing around, arm in arm with Mario Testino, imitating Naomi Campbell doing catwalk and Kate Moss doing catwalk.”

About the incident, Etherington-Smith told Bradford, “Everyone was screaming with laughter, including her [Diana], and she went that amazing rose pink colour [Diana always had blushed easily] and she looked fantastic, so full of energy and life.”

Diana’s new “energy and life” at this point brings a question: What would she have become and what would she have been able to accomplish had she lived? It is impossible to know, but the signs point to a new self-awareness and growing strength in a woman who was becoming more herself every day.

Diana’s growth as a person is evident in the progression of photographs and other memorabilia in Diana, A Celebration, which will be at Union Station Kansas City through June 12, 2011. Tickets are available through all Ticketmaster locations, the Union Station ticket office, the Sprint Center box office and


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Diana, A Celebration, Union Station Kansas City: The reviews are in

Today, a brief departure from discussion of Diana’s life and work to see what people are saying about Diana, A Celebration, the exhibition running at Union Station Kansas City from now through June 12. It appears that reaction to the 12,000-square-foot, nine-gallery exhibition is overwhelmingly positive.

Here are a few of the comments gleaned from Ticketmaster “Fan Reviews”:

“In Kansas City at the Union Station, the Princess Diana exhibit was certainly worth seeing. I would highly recommend taking all of the family. It would be suitable for the kids and the grandparents. The atmosphere and ambience of the exhibit make you feel like what it would be to grow up and live in English aristocracy. But, most importantly, you get a real sense of Diana, the person and the personal. I am glad her family shared those aspects of her life with us. Also, what made the rest of the afternoon even better, after the exhibit, we went upstairs to have lunch at Pierpont’s Restaurant. . . . What a great day it was!!”

“Stunning collection of designer gowns. Extremely well presented. Well worth a visit. The Spencer jewels are exquisite.”

“Favorite moment: Having my husband (who was not looking forward to attending!) admit he really enjoyed the exhibit and purchased a souvenir cup for me!”

“Fantastic representation and celebration of Diana’s life. I will definitely be back to walk through the exhibit again.”

“A lovely tribute to an amazing lady. Definitely worth your time to organize a group of friends to see this display.”

“The Diana Exhibit was terrific. Very well done & very moving. There was a wide variety of items on display. I would definitely recommend this to a friend!”

“My mother and daughter-in-law and I all enjoyed the Diana exhibit. They had displays from all her ages, and we learned many things we didn’t know about her. As a former bridal designer and custom dressmaker, I really enjoyed the CLOTHES!”

“Beautiful, emotional, unforgettable. We are fortunate to get the exhibit in KC.”

Tickets for Diana, A Celebration, are available through all Ticketmaster outlets, the Union Station ticket office, the Sprint Center box office and The exhibition is open Tuesday through Sunday and will also be open Memorial Day.

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Diana, A Celebration, Union Station Kansas City: The Honourable Diana as a difficult child

The Honourable Diana Spencer, as the future Princess of Wales was known from her birth until 1975, did not always behave honorably or admirably. Part of the reason for her antics can almost certainly be traced to the divorce, in 1969, of her parents, Edward John (Johnnie) Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer, and the Honourable Frances Burke (Roche) Spencer. The official cause of the divorce was infidelity on the part of Frances, but whoever was to blame, the effect on the children was not good.

“Both parents were so traumatized by feelings of guilt (on Frances’s side), humiliation and despair (on Johnnie’s), that they spoiled the children and exercised little parental control,” writes Sarah Bradford in Diana: Finally, the Complete Story. “Like many children of divorce, the Spencers manipulated their parents to get what they wanted.”

By their own admission, as well as reports from people who knew them at the time of their parents’ falling out, none of the Spencer children was a model of decorum. Along with Diana, the other three children, Elizabeth Lavinia Sarah, Charles Edward Maurice, and Cynthia Jane, all apparently took advantage of their parents’ guilt and hesitation to apply discipline.

Diana was not the worst offender, according to Bradford. That designation belongs to Elizabeth Lavinia Sarah. Sarah, as she was called, became “a horror,” Bradford quotes a Spencer employee as saying. For example, Bradford goes on: “[S]he would bring her pony into the kitchen and ride it round the table despite the cook’s protests.”

But Diana held her own in the naughtiness department, as Bradford illustrates:

“Diana remembered being extremely badly behaved towards the young and inexperienced ‘nannies’ who were imposed on them [the children], sticking pins into the seat cushions and throwing their clothes out of the window.”

Despite the disruption caused by her parents’ divorce, Diana can hardly be said to have had a tragic childhood. “The children, according to people who knew them, had an ‘awful upbringing’ with no rules beyond eating everything on their plates and writing thank-you letters,” Bradford writes.

However, Bradford also cites an author who knew Diana, in support of the theory that the future Princess of Wales also experienced many happy times as a child of divorce:

“As Mary Clarke wrote: ‘A child who was truly, deeply traumatized, would not be able to maintain the contentment Diana continually displayed, apart from those occasional hiccups, throughout the time I knew her.”

Does all this help explain the two sides of Diana that became apparent as she grew into adulthood and became a wife, mother and princess? Perhaps. More on that in other posts.

Diana, A Celebration at Union Station Kansas City from now through June 12, 2011, helps tell the story of Diana’s childhood through artifacts and home movies. It chronicles the changes she went through as she matured and became one of the most admired people of the 20th century. Tickets for the exhibition are available at all Ticketmaster locations, the Union Station ticket office, the Sprint Center box office and


Bradford, Sarah. Diana: Finally, the Complete Story.

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