Sunday, September 7, 1997
Royal family gets glimpse
of the real world

The Cincinnati Enquirer

In Toronto's SkyDome, before the big-screen televisions in Atlanta, Times Square in Hong Kong, most of all in England - everywhere the cameras looked there was weeping. Men, women and children. Tattoos. Leather jackets. Pearls. Crutches. Wheelchairs. Hats with veils. Lots of well-used tissues.

I'm feeling a little weepy myself, aren't you?

The queen is baffled. You can see it in her face. "What did we do wrong?'' she asked, according to the royal biographer Sarah Bradford.

Did anybody in the royal family cry? I'll bet Fergie did. She didn't wait a week to say that her heart was broken. She didn't have to be told that the nation needed a sign that their monarchy grieved the passing of the "People's Princess.''

Princess Diana's coffin, atop a gun carriage, draped - as we were told a thousand or so times with "the Queen's standard'' - moved through the streets, and a million people stood to watch. In near silence. No airplanes overhead. No T-shirts were sold. A very ruly crowd.

A Welsh honor guard carried their princess to a beautifully orch-estrated service at Westminster Abbey. More than a thousand years old, it has been the scene of 38 coronations, including Queen Elizabeth's in 1953. Pomp and ceremony, of course, are the crown's specialty. They are very good at this, as well they might be after hundreds of years of study and practice.

Charismatic personality

But there are some things you can't learn. Or manufacture for a photo op. You either have it or you don't.

Our Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, for instance, had it. It was greater than his position or power or even holiness. People who met him loved him. This Prince of the Church connected with them. He was human and real and people felt it.

A friend of mine stands nearly alone in his admiration of the paparazzi. Or, if not of the vulgar and predatory thug-photographers themselves, he says at least he admires the truth they capture. "Their pictures are not posed. They are not staged. They are real.''

Earl Spencer, Diana's brother, spoke bitterly of the irony of "a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age.'' She had virtually no privacy, and the truth is that we never saw any ugliness. Weakness, but not ugliness.

Beautiful gowns, a hundred hairstyles. But she was always more than, say, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, those most useless of royals, united in relentless pursuit of good jewelry.

Her brother said she had an instinctive feel for what was important in all our lives. And we could see that she did. It is something you can't study to get. You can't hire it done, no matter how much money you have. It is automatic, a kind, personal response.

People are important

Charles, it has been said, is a decent and dutiful royal. But he always appears to be looking just above the ear of the person next to him. Anyone could see that Diana's eyes were fixed firmly on the faces of the people.

We have seen Diana holding a wounded child. One wonders if the queen's lap has held anything besides her purse and her Corgis. There are film clips of Prince Charles, at age 3, shaking hands with his mother after a long separation.

"Mummy'' read the card on the wreath of roses atop the coffin borne from Westminster Abbey to the Spencer estate. This mother took her boys to a homeless shelter. "Tonight,'' she told the men, "I am Diana. This is William and Harry.''

She defied her in-laws to shake hands with an AIDS patient - without gloves. She danced with John Travolta. She was godmother to a child with Down's syndrome. She wrapped her arms around sick children - and her own. She touched the lepers. By doing so, she touched those of us who were watching.

We commoners have never been told that we cannot have feelings. So we did what people do when they're sad. We cried.


Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.