The Princess and Me

The media in the UK is in a bit of a froth and a frenzy over the Royal Engagement. In the midst of coalition woes, strikes, budget cuts, FIFA-fixing, cold weather, floods, not to mention Wagner, it helps the nation to have something positive to look forward to.

The merchandisers have been going overboard with enough commemorative Will ‘n Kate crockery to sink a ship. The first item I saw, which made me laugh, was a mug with two handles. I wondered if that was in honour of the father of the groom-to-be who has, rather unkindly, been described as resembling a VW with the doors open.

Image from thejjb.com

Typically, British bookmakers have been bursting with speculation about where and when the wedding will take place, who will design the wedding dress, what title the couple will take on after the wedding, who will be the best man, who will be the maid of honour, how many viewers will tune into BBC to watch the wedding live, what colour the wedding dress will be and – my personal favourite – the colour of the Queen’s hat.

All of which reminds me of Diana and me. Princess Diana was born one week before me. And honestly, if I had a pound for every time someone told me that I looked like her, I would be basking on my yacht in the tropics somewhere, sipping on an expensive, chilled cocktail, waiting for someone to peel me a grape, and enjoying the company of my gorgeous husband who, thankfully, looks nothing like Charles.

I can’t remember when it began. I didn’t do like Julie Walters’ client in Educating Rita and take a magazine photo of Diana with me to the hairdresser and say, “I want to look like that.” I guess I just do look like that. A bit. Or so some people think.

I think the first time was when I visited my new boyfriend’s family, who grew up to become my parents-in-law. They had a delightful, also Scottish, neighbour who was often, as my granny would say, full of hops. The more she tippled, the more slurringly talkative and tearfully sentimental she became. In a particularly emotional moment she wiped a tear from her eye as she looked at me and said, “Och, you’re affy like Leddy Di.”

From that moment on, I became Leddy Di. Even after the leddy became Princess. It was quite sad, really, that sometimes in her blurred reality, I became Diana. She gave me a beautiful, expensive bottle of perfume and said, “This is fer Leddy Di.” I thanked her and then told her to curtsy and in future not to speak to me unless spoken to. (Just jokes.)

She and her husband came to our wedding, and I’m sure she thought she was coming to a royal occasion, although it must have been a little confusing that this was happening in Bulawayo.

Another time, when my older son was a baby, we went out for Sunday lunch at our favourite Italian restaurant in Harare. When we’d finished our meal, my husband went to settle the bill and I went outside, our six-month old son in my arms, to wait in the sun for him. I happened to stand next to a giggly bunch of female senior citizens who had emerged from the same restaurant where they had enjoyed a few too many fizzy drinks with their lunch.

One dear lady approached me and asked me about my cute little baby. She choonched his cheeks, told me he was gorgeous and wanted to know how old he was. You know, the usual. As I was answering her questions, one of her friends approached me from the other side and said to her friends, “You know, she looks just like Princess Diana!”

She then took my face in her hands and turned my face to show her friends, “Don’t you think so?” she said. I kid you not.

At which point the baby-ogler asked me another question. So I turned my head to answer her, and as I began to speak, my face was again showcased in the other direction in the middle of two ageing palms. The ridiculous charade continued for a short while, my face going this way and that.

I guess I could have shouted, “LEAVE ME ALONE, THIS IS MY FREAKING FACE ALREADY!” but I couldn’t find those words, and, to be honest, it was really really funny. My husband came outside and rescued me from the face-grabbing aunties a few minutes later, and we both laughed as I recounted what had just happened.

A few years ago, I was shopping in a supermarket in Rondebosch in Cape Town. I noticed the cashier staring at me before I got to her to make my purchases. As I approached, she said to me,

“You know what? You look JUST like Prince Di-ANNE!”

I smiled coyly, as one does when you’ve been told that, I don’t know, a MILLION times.

The cashier was quite overwhelmed. She called to her colleague at the next till.

“Hey, Bronwen! Look who I’m serving. Prince Di-ANNE!”

Her friend looked across at me and said, “Yoh,” as one does, in Cape Town.

My cashier then said to me, “Are you related?”

To which I said, “No.” (I had wanted to say, “To Bronwen?” but I figured the sarcasm would be lost.)

She said, “Pity, hey? They got lots of money.”

People tell me almost conspiratorially that they think I look like Princess Di. And like they are the only ones who have ever thought that. It’s quite difficult to respond graciously, and to retain an element of fresh surprise when I’m thinking “If I had a pound…”

So Kate – all the best for your royal future in the spotlight. I tell you, it’s tough. And if I can give you some advice, steer clear of slurring aunties at Italian restaurants – they sure squeeze your cheeks.

Sunshine signing off for today.

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She’s mad about the royals

I had heard about his mother’s 42nd cousin, twice removed, and we were set to meet her and her husband in their home on the west coast of Scotland. I had heard hints of “royalist” and “talkative” but nothing prepared me for the day we would spend in her company.

We arrived at her wee croft that nestled on the water, sapphire blue Scotland at its finest. We picked our way down the steps to the front door where we were welcomed by a warm, effusive and enthusiastic Scottish woman. I’ll call her Betty. She hugged us and told us she hated what we were wearing. Look, it was the 80s but not everyone loved the big, permed hair, flowery pants and pink, plastic shoes of that era. And my husband, mulleted and moustached, was dressed in his Miami Vice best.

We were invited indoors and soon saw that “royalist” was no exaggeration. “Talkative” took no convincing either. Her little home was beautiful from the outside but sadly tasteless inside. The brightly patterned, textured linoleum flooring screamed in competition with the striped and floral wallpaper, and every corner of the house was filled to bursting with recent royal memorabilia.

The walls were adorned with framed photographs of the royal family, her kitchen boasted tea towels bedecked with smiling monarchs, and a glass-fronted dresser groaned heavily under the weight of her prized possessions. Charles and Diana smiled from mugs, plates, cups, scarves, towels and pictures, while Elizabeth and Philip, along with the Queen Mum, greeted us from more. Betty giggled with excitement at her forthcoming trip down to London for the wedding procession of Andrew and Sarah (Fergie, as she was fondly known).

“Ma frend’s go’ us a seat on the route,” she told us. This, evidently, was access to an office or apartment that overlooked the road along which the royal wedding procession would travel.

Betty talked. Non-stop. For the entire day. When she was wondering what to say next, she would think on her feet and say, “Och, well, so there y’are, well, I don’t know, so, tell me.” That usually stretched sufficiently to bridge her to the next thought, and so she would continue. Sometimes she would just repeat “Och, well, so there y’are ….” until another thought popped into her head. And that way no-one else could get a word in edgeways either.

Mr Betty arrived home from work at 5pm. He walked in the door and, without saying a word or greeting anyone, went through to his bedroom, undid the top button of his work-shirt, removed his shoes and replaced them with slippers, and returned to the dining room table. He sat down and waited for his tea (evening meal). That’s what happens every day. She took him his tea, talking to us through the house as she did so. He said nothing. He never does, apparently.

Betty returned to the sitting room and perched herself on the arm of the sofa, where my husband’s long-suffering aunt with whom we’d travelled that day, was sitting. Betty sat next to her and began her segue-monologue. While she did so, she took out her handkerchief from the cuff of her cardigan and, with a hint of drama, shook it out in front of aunt’s face.

“D’ye like ma perfume? …. It’s a new one. …. It’s called Fergie.”

Och, well, so there y’are …. the colourful tartan of my married-into family. I just love it.

Sunshine signing off for today!