In 1981, she rode to her wedding to the Prince of Wales in a glittering 70-year-old "glass coach" on a sunny July day. Yesterday, she rode to her death in a Paris tunnel with a boyfriend in a gleaming limousine.
In between, whatever she did and wherever she did it, Diana, Princess of Wales, was the center of world attention, ever the focus of loving publicity and venomous gossip.
Diana burst on the scene as a beautiful, leggy teen-ager, the unsullied aristocrat Buckingham Palace had long sought as a bride for Prince Charles. Her father called her "a girl who has a history but not a past."
Their gilded wedding remains among the most indelible memories of that tall, slender young woman, the retiring "shy Di" who matured into an ardent spokeswoman for many causes, including the fight against AIDS and the campaign to ban land mines.
For many the wedding day reached its peak after the processions and the ceremony at St. Paul's Cathedral with the kiss, as the newlyweds acknowledged the chanting thousands crowded in front of Buckingham Palace.
"Kiss! kiss!" the crowd chorused. Finally Charles and Diana turned their heads and their lips met -- to waves of applause.
For those who were there and those who watched it on live television, the images are forever. The world adopted her for what she wanted to be, "the princess of hearts," which she remained despite the messy divorce from Charles a year ago.
Britain was a festival that summer 16 years ago for the "fairy-tale romance" between the crown prince and the girl teaching nursery school. It was one of the happiest occasions since the end of World War II, certainly since the queen's coronation in 1953. Pre-nuptial festivities went on for three days, and "The Day" was a national holiday.
After months of preparation, The Day arrived, July 29, 1981, and the sun emerged to shine on what was called "the wedding of the century."
The carriage procession, led by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip, surrounded by brilliantly uniformed Horse Guards, emerged from the massive iron gates of Buckingham Palace for the drive to St. Paul's down the Mall, along the Strand into Fleet Street and up Ludgate Hill to St. Paul's Cathedral.
Prince Charles and one of his brothers, Prince Andrew, both in naval uniform, moved out in an open carriage, waving and smiling to the hundreds of thousands of people who lined the route ten-deep, waving Union flags from the sidewalks and the windows of buildings. Some people had camped for days to ensure a place for themselves.
Then came the veiled Diana, leaving Clarence House, where she had been staying with Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and her father, the Earl Spencer, in the scarlet, gold and black Glass Coach, so-called for its large windows.
As the carriage reached St. Paul's, Diana emerged, gathering up the wrinkled folds of her beige silk wedding dress with its long train, and began to mount the steps, accommodating her the faltering steps of her ill father.
The procession of royalty, churchmen, dignitaries and other guests had wended its way down the aisle to their seats when trumpets sounded a fanfare and the organ swelled with "The Prince of Denmark's March." Diana appeared in the great doors of St. Paul's, Sir Christopher Wren's 17th-century masterpiece.
She smiled, a smile we came to learn much later was hiding tears and the heartbreak that led finally to her divorce from Prince Charles a year ago.
On her father's arm, Diana moved down the aisle toward where Charles and Andrew and the Most Rev. Robert A. K. Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, in silver-green cope and miter, stood waiting.
Diana looked shyly to either side through her veil; Earl Spencer smiled to acknowledge old friends as he walked very slowly. Finally, they reached the altar, where the earl surrendered his youngest daughter to the royal family.
As the couple exchanged their wedding vows, their nervousness became evident. She called her new husband, "Philip Charles Arthur George," instead of Charles Philip Arthur George." As Charles placed the gold ring -- made from the same nugget of Welsh gold as his mother's and grandmother's rings -- on Diana's finger, he forgot to say "worldly" when he vowed to share "all my goods "
The ceremony ended and to the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance No. 4," by Sir Edward Elgar, the Prince of Wales and his new princess passed up the aisle and out through St. Paul's west door.
They stood atop the great steps and waved to the cheering thousands gathered in the street below. The peal of the huge bells of St. Paul's was soon joined by the bells of other churches as they entered an open carriage for the return to Buckingham Palace for the balcony appearance and the unforgettable kiss.
No happier scene could have been imagined.
Pub Date: 9/01/97