Di's dresses

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 March, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 March, 2000, 12:00am

Diana and her dresses were conspicuously absent from a reunion at an earthly paradise last week. Her school friends, including some of her cousins, had gathered to say farewell to our wonderful headmistress at our school in Norfolk, England. Three decades melted away as we roamed through old dormitories and daffodil-strewn woods, resuming friendships as if we had never left this most special of schools led by the extraordinarily enlightened woman we had gathered to mourn.

The shy, mousy Diana Spencer was among us in memory, a very different person to the glamorous princess known by the rest of the world. Diana in fancy dress would certainly have been out of place at this gathering of the unglamorous.

Princess Diana, nearly three years after her death, is still making news. In our newspapers we read of the bodyguard's story, while on television tonight we learn of the ridiculous aura surrounding the garments she once wore, in Diana's Dresses (World, 10pm).

In June 1997, Diana sold 79 of her dresses at a Christie's auction house in New York.

Buyers paid US$2,000 (HK$15,520) for a leather-bound catalogue and up to $200,000 for a dress. Later that summer, after Diana's death in Paris, the rich who bought those bundles of silk, satin and sequins found themselves even richer, and owning goods some would regard as near holy relics.

This documentary tells the story of those dresses and of the celebrated occasions when they were worn by a princess. I did not know the woman who wore them. But I did know the ordinary child she once was and some of that character probably remained beneath the turbulence and glamour of her position. Diana was, after all, so uncomfortable owning so many glitzy dresses that she sold this wardrobe and gave the money to charity.

Of course, by the summer of 1997 such a girl was as much an illusion as the princess. I had not given the past much thought, until a week ago when sitting in our school church in Norfolk. For the first time I mourned her not being there, and of her ever meeting her prince and Dodi Fayed. If she had not she would have remained a less remarkable Englishwoman, and would have been among an ordinary collection of friends.

And I am sure that before the end of her tragic life she, too, would have preferred it that way. The price of fame is seldom worth paying.

The moon remains as enigmatic as the mixed-up persona of the luckless Diana. Tonight's episode of The Planets (Pearl, 8.30pm) delves into the deepest mystery of our solar system. Why does the Earth, unlike our sister planets, have a single moon that rules our nights, months and ocean tides? Our voyages to the moon failed to provide any conclusive answers and scientists are still coming up with new theories as to its momentous origins, explored in Moon, this episode of the BBC series.