It's all wrapped up in a love story...
I'll get to the details of how my husband and I purchased not one, not two, but three Princess Diana dresses and how that inspired us to create a Princess Diana Museum to preserve Princess Diana’s legacy. First, I would love to share the story of how I grew up loving and meeting Princess Diana -- not once, but twice -- and how I obtained my Princess's Platypus!
YANDINA GINGER FACTORY - QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA
12th April 1983
It was 1983, shortly after Princess Diana gave birth to Prince William. It was the first overseas trip the Royal Family took and it was a big deal as Diana had William fly on the same plane as her and Prince Charles. This had never been done before; usually the “heir and spare” flew in a different plane than the Prince. That was when I knew Diana was different.
I was 12 when Diana came to Australia.
Their tour was often described as “children come out to meet royalty” and everywhere Diana and Charles traveled in Australia, kids came on field trips to meet them. When the royal family visited a Gingernut Factory in Yandina (a small rural town in Queensland, Australia, just 10 minutes from my hometown of Eumundi), my school was invited to go.
Most of the kids in my class treated it as “just another field trip” but I was beside myself with excitement. Ever since watching the Royal wedding on TV in 1981, I was enamored by the real-life fairytale of this uncommon “commoner” becoming a princess. This field trip would be an extraordinary opportunity for me to meet my princess!
As Diana and Prince Charles arrived at the ginger factory, I pushed my way to the front of the crowd. Charles was on my side of the path and Diana on the other, I was really focused on getting the chance to shake her hand. They both stopped right in front of me and she stopped to smell flowers that someone had given her. I had a tiny pocket camera with me and was shaking with excitement trying to capture as much as I could. After they walked by they moved into the factory for lunch. We "field trip kids" were supposed to go eat lunch as well.
As the rest of my class was led away, I slipped away from the group and went under ropes to sneak around the back of the factory where a big garage door was open. Inside, I saw Diana standing behind display boards (though she was blocked by the boards, I could see her feet in white shoes). Naturally, I took a photo of them (which you can see in the Princess Diana Museum). I stayed right there for the entire duration of lunch. After they finished, I found myself standing next to a group of paparazzi and I was now on the other side of the walkway from my schoolmates.
Diana emerged from the factory on my side of the walkway and I was the first person in line after the photographers. The Princess came directly to me, shook my hand and waited for me to say something. I was SPEECHLESS! She waited for what felt like an eternity for me to speak before moving to the next person.
As Diana finished saying farewell to the people lining the exit, I went under the barricade again, now following Charles and Diana down the dirt path toward their awaiting black Rolls Royce. A friend yelled out, “Renae! Diana dropped something!”
I bent down and picked up a clay platypus that someone had given her. Diana and Charles were about to get into the car and I ran up to the policeman who had shut the gate and said, “Lady Di dropped this!”
I expected him to open the gate and let me run over the car and give it back to her. Instead, he gently closed my hand and said, “She must have dropped it to give it to you.”
I was in heaven. #whereistheprincessplatypus
OMG! I went back to school and was in a lot of trouble for missing roll call, lunch, etc. But it was totally worth it. I showed my friends the platypus and told them that “Lady Di dropped this to give it to me!” I left the platypus safely in Oz when I moved to the United States but I told the story of it to my kids many times over the years. When I finally had the platypus shipped to me, their first reaction was, “That’s it?”
You would think that this once-in-a-lifetime chance would have been it.
ST. ANDREWS CATHEDRAL – SYDNEY
31st January 1988
I was 18 the second time I met Diana. It was 1988 and I was living in Sydney, Australia. It was a bloody hot, hot day and a group of friends and I were headed to Bondi Beach. I was wearing a white bikini tube top and white shorts. We all got off the bus at St. Andrews Cathedral and there was a massive crowd outside. I asked someone what was going on and once I found out that Prince Charles and Princess Diana were at church for mass that day, that was it! I was in position to meet my princess not once, but TWICE in my lifetime.
I quickly found a milk crate to stand on so I could see over the crowd. I had my camera with me and said to my girlfriend Kim, “Please get a photo of me shaking Lady Di’s hand.” Thankfully, Diana was on my side of the walkway this time. Excitement was in the air and I was jubilantly screaming, “Lady Di! Lady Di!!” This time around, I was definitely not speechless or shy at all. When Diana saw me she reached up over the crowd and shook my hand!! As you can imagine, that was a dream come true, and definitely the beginning of a long journey… a lifelong passion for the Princess.
When I got the film developed, I found that I was almost completely cut out of the photo but you can definitely tell it’s my arm. James Whitaker, a famous royal photographer, was interviewed for the national news that night and said, “This is how Australian women come out to meet royalty,” referring to a close-up of me screaming fanatically in my white bikini tube top and white shorts. Ha!
After shaking Lady Di’s hand, a friendly policeman drove us to Bondi Beach in the back of his police van.
Best day ever!
Over the years, people have asked why Diana is so important to me. Here’s why: Diana stood for change. Growing up in Australia, I was part of the commonwealth and I felt heavily influenced by the royal family and England even though we were half a world away.
Diana made choices that reflected her willingness to unite people and yet she was ROYAL; a princess.
She was the first royal to remove her gloves and shake the public’s hands. That was huge. She brought much-needed attention and sympathy to the AIDS crisis, helping to diminish the fear and stigma associated with the disease by hugging visibly ill AIDS patients at a time when everyone else was scared to touch them. Over the years, Diana brought so much awareness to charities that it inspired celebrities to be more visibly philanthropic. She touched millions globally and even 20-plus years after her death, I can think of no one who has the same positive effect on the world that Diana did during the short time she was alive.
That special moment...
…when Princess Diana reaches out to shake your hand and looks directly in your eyes! It changes your life FOREVER!
Diana somehow allowed people to feel close to her even though they didn’t know her. I know I do.