The 31st of August was just a normal day for us in London, rather unusually bright and sunny, not grey and wet like the day before so we went to Kensington Gardens for a picnic at around 1PM to enjoy the warm sunshine. We were in our usual spot, behind The Orangery, and just as we were about to eat our ‘Chinese take-away’ (we don’t always eat sandwiches and crisps every time we go out for a picnic, you know!? 🙂 ), we spotted and heard a helicopter hovering above us. We were then reminded that it was Princess Diana’s 20th death anniversary. After eating I grabbed a book from my handbag and started reading it but the sound of the helicopter bothered me so much that I decided to put it away and told Jared I was going to walk around the park towards the front gates of Kensington Palace.
I wasn’t expecting to see a huge crowd but there were at least 200 or more people standing around the gates plus a hundred more sitting on the grass in front of the palace. As I was starting to read a few letter tributes I spotted a familiar face — Andrew Morton — the official biographer of the late Princess of Wales. He wrote the explosive book that shook the British monarchy to its very core — Diana, Her True Story. I’ve read some other books he wrote over the years and I’ve seen him on tv being interviewed about his books numerous times hence, he looks familiar. I was too shy to approach him but thought there might not be any other opportunity like this. So, I mustered enough courage and walked towards him. Rather bashful I said, “Hi. You’re Andrew Morton, right?” He gave me a warm smile big and a reply, “Yes. I am.” With a silly grin, probably even blushing a little, I said, “My name is Elna Smith. I’ve read some of the books you wrote and my favourite so far is ‘Diana Her True Story’ which I’ve read in 1993.” “Have you, really? He replied, “You must be very young then. Are you just visiting London?” he asked. “Oh, no.” I interrupted, “I am originally from the Philippines but I’ve lived here in this neighbourhood for over 17 years. You mind if I ask you some questions about Princess Diana?” He gave me another big smile and said, “Sure. Go ahead.” And I sure did take the opportunity to ask him some questions about the late princess, and he candidly answered them all. It was a really nice chat I had with him. He was incredibly gracious and kind. A real gentleman indeed.
I thanked him and asked if I could have a photo with him; he was happy to do it and even asked a lady standing nearby to do it for us. Interestingly enough, no one else other than myself recognised him. But a lady who took our photo, she was standing right next to us, overheard our conversation and she introduced herself as a German tv/radio host, and asked Andrew a couple of questions about Princess Diana. He then asked where the nearest loo is and I told him, The Orangery or Royal Garden Hotel. He smiled, said thank you and walked away. Afterwards, I ran back towards The Orangery thrilled to tell Jared about my rare encounter with the famous royal biographer. 🙂
At around 6PM Jared and Trystan were already tired playing football while I was about to finish reading my book when we decided to pack up and go home. But I told Jared, ‘I’ll walk towards the front gates and have another look at the crowd. I might spot another famous personality, may be someone very close to Princess Diana. I’ll see you in half an hour!’ 😉 And off I went back to the palace gates . . .
Wouldn’t you know it? As soon as I got there, I saw Ken Wharfe, Royal Protection Officer of the late princess — just saw him being interviewed on ITV a couple of days prior. He wrote two books ‘Diana Closely Guarded Secret’ and ‘Guarding Diana Protecting The Princess Around the World’ — I’ve read the first one but not the newly published 2nd book.
I tried to do what I did to Andrew Morton — introduced myself, asked some questions, and asked for a photo with him. Unlike Andrew Morton, Ken Wharfe was very serious but kind enough to stop and have a little chat. But he was with someone, a younger man, probably his assistant or bodyguard (who knows? 🙂 ), who told him they have to go. They seemed to be in a rush that I only managed to ask him one question: ”What was Princess Diana like behind the camera?” His answer was, “Complicated but witty.”
I then walked over towards the front gates to check some of the tributes and take some photos. And as I was heading home, I spotted another familiar face! This time, it was Arthur Edwards — a journalist/royal photographer who became Princess Diana’s trusted friend. He wrote a memoir, ‘Diana: The People’s Princes – A Personal Tribute in Words and Pictures’ — another great book I’ve read about the late princess.
Mr Edwards was having a serious conversation with someone, probably another photographer, when I spotted him. I lingered for about 10-15 minutes and waited until he walked away; then I ambushed him. 🙂 No, I didn’t. He’s an elderly man — probably in his late 70s; as he walked away I simply followed him and started talking to him.
I had a brief but nice chat with him. He’s such a charming old man — gentle, sweet and kind — what I envision a grandfather should be. I truly respect and admire him. Mr Edwards didn’t make any money from his book — proceeds go to Princess Diana Memorial Fund. Apparently, he is in good terms with the royal family and especially with Diana’s two boys who sometimes invite him to special occasions. It was really heartwarming to hear a few stories about Princess Diana from a man who captured not only the joys but also the heartaches of the late princess.
The next morning, 1st of September, I did my morning run at the park and saw more people leaving flowers in front of the palace gates. While running, I got a phone call from Tina; she wanted to see me at Kensington Gardens where she was heading with Lucia. We then met up and sat in one of the benches in front of the palace. Tina’s grieving over the recent death of her sister-in law and niece and was greatly distressed so I listened to her talk about it and just tried to encourage her.
In the evening just before the park closed down, Jared and I walked over to Kensington Palace once again to have one last look at the tributes before they are finally removed.
There were more flowers, handwritten notes, photographs, candles and other tributes on display. So much more than what I saw earlier in the day.
I was telling Jared on our way to the park that during Princess Diana’s funeral twenty years ago I skipped work and was glued on tv for almost a day; and when I spotted the funeral cortège moving solemnly down the streets of London I cried the first time I saw William and Harry walking behind their mother’s casket. It reminded me of losing my own father at a young age and I tried to imagine myself in their shoes — what it would be like for the young princes to have lost their mother. I said to Jared, ‘I have meet you a few months after she died, and who would have thought back then that three years after Princess Diana’s death I’d be living in London, in the same neighbourhood where she lived for many years.’
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that one day I would end up marrying a foreigner, much less a British-American. You see, I didn’t dream about living abroad or marrying a white man. My goal was simple — to marry a Filipino, someone who could support a big family so I wouldn’t have to work, I wanted to be a housewife and raise three beautiful and smart kids. But life happens not according to our plan but God’s. And yes, His plan is always the best. I promise, I’m not gonna bore you with my love story though I must say that it’s a rather amusing story full of drama and comedy including death threats, church division, etc.
Sorry I digress. Back to KP, it was starting to get dark and there were only a handful of people hanging around. Jared insisted on taking some photos of myself; I was barefaced and refused but relented after he told me this might be the last time the whole nation will celebrate Princess Diana’s death anniversary. Jared showed me the photos he took of and said, ‘You have to blog about this occasion, about meeting those book authors yesterday, and include this beautiful picture of yourself.’ I had a big laugh and said, ‘Sige na nga!’ (Okey then). 🙂
Note: Although royal sighting has been the norm around here, and I’ve seen some of the most senior royals (blogged about it last year — here’s the link), I have yet to see Prince Harry in person.