Princess Diana, aside from being an icon, was a truly decent human being. The image of her that stays with me is the Princess shaking hands with HIV patients without wearing gloves. This may not seem like a big deal now, but in April 1987 it was groundbreaking. At that time there were medical staff refusing to treat people and so much misinformation about how HIV was transmitted. That one touch, that moment of kindness changed public opinion and pushed politicians into action.
Even from a distance, you could see her joy in being a mum. That she was doing what she could to make their lives as normal as possible, and that she adored her boys. When she passed away, the world was heartbroken for the two young Princes, and the images of them dominated the news.
Thirteen days later, my boyfriend died unexpectedly. Dean was funny and kind. I loved him. The grief which made the world come to a standstill, and left me quietly crying alone in my kitchen felt so polar opposite, yet intrinsically linked in my mind. What got me through the grief and the guilt of not being physically with him when he died, was my family and Dean’s mum, Valerie, who made me feel like part of the family even after he was gone. Every year to follow, when they would talk about Diana’s anniversary on the news, it was just a reminder that Dean’s anniversary was on its way.
Fast forward 21 years and Val, who I had remained close to, is given a stage 4 cancer diagnosis in the same month that I am asked to organise the entertainment for the Royal reception in Victoria Park to welcome Prince Harry and Meghan to Dubbo. I knew Val was excited to see the young Royal couple. Thirsty Merc seemed like the perfect choice for the entertainment, given base player Phil Stack grew up in the area.
It was the night before the Royals were due to arrive. Val was in the hospital, and it was clear that she was not well enough to come down to the park. I have been to plenty of events like this over the years and know that the likelihood you will get close to the guests of honour is pretty slim. I thought if I got a photo of them on stage and took it up to her in the hospital she would be happy.
I woke the morning of the event to a phone call just before 7am. It was the kids to say Val had taken a bad turn overnight and might not make it through the day. Ten minutes later, she was gone. I was heartbroken, but I’m in the kind of job where things don’t stop because you are having a bad day. I have learned to hold things in until work is over. I cried in the bathroom; I made sure the band were ready to go, and we drove into the reception. The kid was by my side as she always is – looking the part with a tiara firmly planted on her head!
As Prince Harry and Meghan arrived onsite, the sky opened, and the rain began to pour. As we stood to watch the welcome ceremony, I looked over, and there was Prince Harry and Meghan, standing right next to my baby girl. Harry opened his umbrella and looked down at the kid as she shivered from the cold and motioned to Phil Stack from Thirsty Merc who was standing on the other side of her to take his umbrella to keep her dry. The footage that played worldwide of Meghan lovingly sheltering her husband from the rain was made all the better as only those of us standing there knew what had just happened. A small act of kindness, not because anyone was looking, just because he is a decent man.
As we left, the kid looked up at me and said: “I wish Aunty Val got to see them”. In my heart, I know she did. On the same day, she saw her baby boy for the first time in 21 years.