Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Diana -- A Celebration" both joyful and sorrowful

by Janet I. Martineau
Did you know that one of Princess Diana’s hobbies was playing the piano? 
That Marmalade, a cat, was her favorite childhood pet and is buried near her on the family estate in England.
And that at age 5 she took home a report card with good marks for everything...except, well, the teacher wrote, “she must be careful where she puts Capital Letters.” At age 5! Give the kid a break!
Thirteen years may have passed since the car crash death of the People’s Princess, at age 36. But, apparently, her star has not dimmed. The Grand Rapids Art Museum is reporting sold out days for its run of the touring exhibition “Diana -- A Celebration.”  And, in a visit to it this week, more than a few sniffles were heard along its path of nearly 200 objects from her life. Maybe the visitors had colds, but we think not...noticing also that most of them lingered a long time at each artifact or informational panel.
Princess Diana's wedding gown
There are many highlights in the show -- including the information about her piano playing, a portrait of the cat which was commissioned as a gift from a grandparent, and the critical report card.
A notation in a 1979 diary reads  “write to the queen.” The typewritten speech her brother delivered at her funeral shows the penciled-in additions and deletions he made at the last minute -- the deletions the most telling. There are several sparkling jewels worn by Spencer ancestors.
Images of her charitable work remind us she was, in 1987, the first high-profile person to shake the hand of an AIDS patient. There is her collection of animal figurines. And since she was quite possibly the most photographed person in the world ever, the show is rich with video and still images. Even her father well documented her during her childhood.
But nothing quite grabs the breath when, after turning two sharp corners from one section of the exhibition to the next, there it is in all its royal splendor. Diana’s wedding dress. Seen by an estimated 1 billion television viewers back in 1981. And yes, the  massive 25-foot train is included. Nearly taking up the entire length of that room.
Amazingly, the dress only cost $1,900 -- a steal, even with prices back then, if you ask me. And as you gaze upon its elegance, a large-screen video plays the wedding ceremony while nearby enlarged candid photographs relive that fairy tale wedding. It is at this point, the exhibition tugs at both joy and sorrow.
And then sorrow takes over completely in the section dealing with her funeral, the sounds of Elton John singing “Candle in the Wind” as yet another video screen showcases images of massive grief. Interestingly, a panel tells us 2.8 billion watched that funeral -- more than double the number who watched her wedding to Prince Charles 16 years earlier, so had grown her popularity.

The critical report card
Thankfully, the exhibition ends on a high note -- a display of 28 of the gowns and other outfits Diana wore, and wore so well, over the years, along with photos showing her in them and description panels about their designers and on what occasions they were worn. Unfortunately none of her dynamite hats are included. But seeing those dresses puts a smile back on the face.
Just past the gift shop (offering a special tea cup with a rose on it as well as other tasteful things) are two floor-to-ceiling bookcases, crammed with all the books of remembrances people signed throughout the world when she left us.
Somewhere in there is my name and a message. I was seeing plays in Stratford, Ont., when one of Canada’s circulating remembrance books stopped at the city hall. I stood in a line to sign it back then, wondering what would become of it and would her family even care. I now have my answer.
So here we 2011 we will tune in another royal wedding, with Diana’s eldest son, William, as the groom. Will his wife, Kate, become our next Diana....a fairy tale princess we still seem to need in our lives?
IF YOU GO: “Diana -- A Celebration” continues through Feb. 16 at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, 101 Monroe. The advance purchase of timed tickets is advised, priced at $20 for adults and $18 for seniors and students. For more information, log on to
Her brother, Charles Spencer, will visit the museum on Jan. 10.  There also are two special teas, a ladies night, and a Valentine’s dinner connected with the show.
The commemorative tea cup


  1. Thanks for the info Janet!!! It sounds very interesting...I MUST GO!!!! Thank you so much for taking the time to keep us all informed!!! I appreciate you!!!

  2. I will be first in line to purchase the CD or the ticket to the concert featuring Darlene Mikoleizik and Bryan Latimar. I have known both of these individuals for many years and know of their personal acheivements, but together they really did have a magical connection. When is the concert? I will also be in attendance at the concert with the gospel quartett. I closed my eyes and it sounded just like the Gaither Vocal Band.