June 25, 2012

{End of the Myth} Book Excerpt Part One

[This is the introduction to the End of the Myth section of my upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride. Other parts of this chapter will follow.]

Dreams of being rescued by a prince were not only part of Diana Frances Spencer’s girlhood fantasies, but queens, princes and princesses were real people in her world. The descendant of Earls and Lords, she was born at home at Park House, part of the grand 20,000-acre Sandringham estate owned by the royal family. The Spencer family is one of the oldest in the British aristocracy—a dynasty, much older that the Windsors, that stretched back to the sixteenth century—and the Fermoys, Diana’s mother’s family, was one of the wealthiest. Diana had an aristocratic title from the age of fourteen, becoming “Lady Diana” at the time her father inherited his earldom.

Growing up with the royal family as neighbors and with Prince Charles’ younger brothers as occasional playmates, Diana, as a fantasy addicted sixteen-year-old, got to meet the heir to the throne himself while he was briefly dating her oldest sister Sarah. Diana and Charles met in the middle of a field at Althrop, the Spencer family ancestral home, when he was invited up for a shoot; reports from the time suggest that she was thrilled, but no sparks for him—yet.

“‘[Diana] made no secret of the fact that she wanted to become a member of the Royal Family,’” Lady Colin Campbell wrote in Diana in Private. She had even been “earmarked” by her family to marry Prince Andrew, the second son. But once she met Charles and once he stopped dating her sister, then Diana—patient, practical and ambitious in these matters—set her sights on the top prize.

 “Looming large in her romantic haze,” Tina Brown wrote in The Diana Chronicles, “was the face she had framed in her school dormitory, a real Prince Charming…the most eligible bachelor in the whole United Kingdom, the twenty-first Prince of Wales.” Charles was known for his “daring exploits on the polo field and ski slopes…parachuting out of combat planes,” making him a heart-throb for the country’s young girls. Did Diana fall in love with the dashing image when she thought she was in love with the man?

In her 1992 biography of Diana, Lady Campbell speaks of friends who knew the prince well and commented how it was understandable why girls would fall in love with him. In person “he crackles with a wonderful physicality, is warm and charming, with a seductive quality that owes much to his earnestness and intensity.” Quoting a friend of Diana’s, Campbell continued: “‘There isn’t any doubt that she was exceedingly ambitious, far more so than her abilities warranted, and while I have no doubt that she did fall in love with him—she’s very romantic and wouldn’t allow herself not to be madly in love with whomever she set her cap at—I am also sure that she would never have given him two moments’ pause if he hadn’t been who he was.’” Campbell also cited a former member of the Royal Household who was around at the time and had a similar account about Diana’s attraction to the prince for the sake of being a prince: “‘Is that love, or love of position?’”

Biographer Sally Bedell Smith wrote that “during the courtship, [Diana] seemed enchanted mainly by the idea of becoming a princess.” Then added these insights: “Diana idealized marriage as a fantasy that contrasted sharply with Charles’ elaborately considered view. In contemplating marriage to Charles, Diana supposedly told friends that she felt secure for the first time in her life.” 

But it would have been hard for Diana to imagine—even if she had been mature and clear in her thinking—how  difficult life would be with the man raised to be, according to Anthony Holden’s description, “heir to the loftiest position on earth still determined by heredity” all the while attempting to find his own way out of such a “claustrophobic, if comfortable life of inherited imprisonment.” Or, in feminist writer Beatrix Campbell’s words, how would the young Diana know that she would be “done down by the bad behaviour of a man behaving like a king”? From birth, Charles was raised in rigid “royal protocol, and the display of power that it prescribed,” with little family affection (as a young man “he said he could not remember one incident of maternal love from childhood”). And his inherited Prince of Wales mantle—a bequeath from a long line of princes-behaving-badly as kings-in-wait—included marrying for duty (position, property, procreation) with love, sex and other comforts and pleasures of life coming through sanctioned affairs (preferably with a married lady of society). Charles was trained well in King George III’s legacy to the Windsors: “‘ritual splendor, an appearance of domesticity, and ubiquity,’” as Campbell cites Linda Colley from Britons. Did Diana think she was “the cure” for the Windsor pomposity?

After their wedding, with different expectations of love, partnership, royal duties and marriage, the couple’s relationship began breaking down early. “But this was the marriage of the heir to the throne, and Diana and Charles were locked into position,” Smith explained. “They would both keep pretending, without fully understanding the consequences of their charade.”

But would it have been any different if they had been more aware of their differences, had been willing to be more patient during their courtship, had even been encouraged to “get to know each other”—or was the relationship, in some form or another, simply destined to be? “The family drama bears all the marks of a Greek tragedy,” remarked Michael Anderton in the anthology When a Princess Dies. “It is almost as if from birth and the events of childhood, there could not have been a very different fate.” Diana wanted to be rescued and become a princess; pressured to marry, Charles, although not intending to come to anybody’s rescue but his own, needed a princess bride. ~

[This is the introduction to the End of the Myth section of my upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride. Other parts of this chapter will follow.]

June 13, 2012

{What Does a Fashion Icon Wear to Her Own Wedding/s?}

[This is a reprint of my article from the Summer 2012 issue of SEASON MAGAZINE about the weddings of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. There are a few "Jackie stories" in my upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride....]

During the presidential state visit to France in the spring of 1961, “more than a million Parisians lined the parade route, chanting ‘Jacqui! Jacqui!’ as the Kennedys entered Paris,” Kathleen Craughwell-Varda recalled in Looking for Jackie: American Fashion Icons. As the charismatic wife of the U.S. president, Jackie Kennedy’s chic, elegant style—copied by women around the world—even won over the toughest fashion critics, the French!

However, the woman who revolutionized a stodgy fashion industry and headlined the best-dressed list for years had not worn the wedding gown of her choice. Jacqueline (Jock-leen) Bouvier was a young bride in 1953 when it was typical for the bride’s mother to plan the wedding, dictate or greatly influence what her daughter would wear (as well as whom she would marry), and basically run the show.

Of course the headstrong Jackie was not just any bride of the fifties. She was the future wife of one of the wealthiest men in the country and one whose father had great political plans for his oldest son’s future. So not only did the Newport wedding become a huge Kennedy-orchestrated, high society spectacle (instead of the small affair the bride and her family wanted), but the bride’s gown reflected what the groom requested. “Jackie wanted to wear a sleek, modern gown, in keeping with the pared-down style she preferred,” Craughwell-Varda explained, “but Jack persuaded her to select something more traditional and old-fashioned.”

The bride’s mother chose Ann Lowe, an African-American designer in New York City “who catered to society women.” From her workshop on Lexington Avenue, the designer created an elaborate gown of ivory silk taffeta with a portrait neckline, off-the-shoulder cap sleeves and big ruffled swirls on the full skirt. Jackie also wore the long rosepoint lace veil worn by her mother and grandmother attached to their wax orange blossom wreath. Perhaps the only time the glamorous Jackie looked “traditional.” (If Jackie had gotten to choose, don’t you think her gown would have been very Givenchy-ish? And with all that Kennedy money at her young fingertips, perhaps she would have gone directly to the master French couturier himself!)

Her second wedding dress was indeed her own choice. Hoping to have “‘freedom from the oppressive obsession the world has with me,’” Jackie married Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis in 1968. The shocked public still couldn’t get enough. In a short Valentino beige lace and chiffon two-piece dress, images of Jackie leaving the Skorpios chapel with Onassis were broadcast around the world. Valentino sold 150 copies of Jackie’s wedding dress within two months, becoming his most successful couture piece ever.

Model wearing Valentino dress like
Jackie Onassis wore in 1968.

At the time of her only daughter’s wedding in 1986, Jackie encouraged Caroline to take the lead in the discussions with designer Carolina Herrera. Jackie didn’t want her daughter to go through what she had endured. Nevertheless, the public seldom allowed their favorite fashion, taste and style icon to stay in the background for long. ~

[This is a reprint of my article from the Summer 2012 issue of SEASON MAGAZINE about the weddings of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. There are some "Jackie stories" in my upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride....]

June 5, 2012

{Royal Mothers} Book Excerpt

[In honor of Queen Elizabeth's Jubilee Celebration, I post this excerpt from my upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride, from the chapter on "mothering"....]

Diana was not the first late twentieth century media-star princess to have “being a good mother” on the top of her list. “Princess Grace of Monaco may well have been the most hands-on royal mother in recent history,” exclaims Grace’s friend and favorite photographer Howell Conant in his 1993 book. “Shortly after Caroline was born in 1957, Grace declared to a reporter that she would not let ‘public life or anything else push me out of my job as a mother,’ and she didn’t.”

Of course, there are all sorts of mothers. There are mothers who love their children but are more aloof; they are encouraging, but aren’t hands-on with affection and hugs. Like many upperclass families, Queen Elizabeth’s children spent more time with nannies than with their parents and more time away at boarding schools than with their family. And she loves her children. She “promised on her 21st birthday to dedicate her life to her people,” Andrew Roberts wrote in November 2010 about the monarch “and then spent the next 63 years doing exactly that.”  (This was from an article about what Kate Middleton was getting into by marrying into the British royal family.)

Not unlike other monarchs and countless “regular folks,” Queen Elizabeth gives her life to what she considers her duty. She does it with passion, warmth and humor in her reserved, well-trained manner, and with a keen sense of service and responsibility; but perhaps like no other, with an amazing work ethic. “In the calendar year 2009,” wrote Roberts, “Her Majesty the Queen undertook no fewer than 409 official engagements, i.e., more than one a day. She is 84 years old. Except for Christmas Day and Easter Day, she never has a day away from her government red boxes, which follow her everywhere.” And she loves her children. Just as much as she is devoted to her people (her work, her duty), the queen is committed to her family.

Guests who have been honored with an invitation from the Queen to a house party in the country at Sandringham or Balmoral have shared how she “makes everyone feel at home,” wrote Lady Colin Campbell in Diana in Private. “She never loses her dignity, not even with her closest relations, but that doesn’t mean that she’s stuffy…. She’s a very warm person, cosy almost, though, of course, majestically so,” Campbell continued. These were family homes and the house parties always reflected that; before their marriages, the Princes would bring their dates to these festive events. “The Queen is not an intolerant parent. On the contrary, she’s always indulged all her children. I think she feels that their lives are so restricted and duty-bound that she shouldn’t add to the restrictions,” Campbell concluded.

There are all sorts of mothers and they love their children—and communicate that love—in all sorts of ways.

In the midst of a male dominated, post-war world “a princess was coming to the throne,” wrote Josephine Evetts-Secker. It was 1952 and news that changed the people’s lives in Great Britain solemnly declared: “George VI was dead. The King is dead; long live the Queen.” Ending the radio age, with this new television phenomenon, people could now see all the grand pageantry of “one of the first real media events…the actual crowning of a monarch, a young Queen.” Recalling her childhood remembrances and “first experience of television,” Evetts-Secker said that Elizabeth’s “coronation dwarfed her wedding to the handsome Greek” and with international royalty and stars filling Westminster Abbey, it was as magical and mythical as anything she “could dream of.” In those years, Elizabeth had been their “people’s princess” and now “her youth had gone. She did her duty, dutifully, Athena’s own. Her service to the polis was practical and staunch,” Evetts-Secker continued in When a Princess Dies. And Elizabeth fulfilled these duties becoming “a new kind of people’s Queen,” her every move being followed through the years and perhaps she had just “run out of maternal steam” when the young Diana, desperately in need of mothering, came on the scene. Diana became a trailblazer for women, but as Evetts-Secker reminds us about Elizabeth: “Let us also bear in mind that she has been a carrier of new feminine energies.”

In the book, Dreaming of Diana compiled by Rita Frances, one of her contributors, Janet Hodges, after sharing a dream she had of the princess, spoke of how many people misinterpreted Diana as not clever. But in Diana’s support, Hodges explained that “you don’t need to be a scholar in order to communicate. I remember seeing a picture of Charles aged about four,” she continued, “shaking hands with his parents on their return from a trip abroad, and can’t help comparing that with the image of Diana scooping both her boys up in her arms.” Is how we communicate our love more a reflection of how much we love or how love was expressed to us or how we want to be loved ourselves?

I’m reminded of something I read that Jacqueline Kennedy shared about her reserved mother-in-law Rose Kennedy. “‘It’s the upbringing,’ she said of Rose’s seeming inability to connect with anyone emotionally,” cited Christopher Andersen in Jack and Jackie: Portrait of an American Marriage. “‘You see those pictures of her mother with the whalebone corset and the high collar—you’re brought up like that and you don’t reveal yourself. To reveal yourself is almost dangerous for people like that. I’d say Jack didn’t want to reveal himself at all.’”  Indeed the rich or the royals aren’t the only ones who may have had mothers with stiff whalebone-like emotions, a difficulty in expressing intimacy. Or had mothers whose children didn’t feel complete with tender mothering care and had to find, if they could, that part of themselves that a mother’s loving attention nurtured and revealed; they had to look elsewhere to learn the ways of intimacy of the heart.

Diana and her two grown sons would make great “role models” for Kate Stone Lombardi’s new book: The Mama’s Boy Myth: Why KeepingOur Sons Close Makes Them Stronger. When hearing the author speak, I thought of Diana’s close, physically affectionate relationship with Princes William and Harry—they were fifteen and twelve when she died—and the well-balanced, manly, kind and openly tender-hearted young men that I’ve seen in news clips and have read about the last few years. A summary on National Public Radio’s website says that the book “challenges the ‘mama’s boy’ taboo, exploring the societal pressures for mothers to push away their boys.” How else would Diana’s sons have learned her deep emotional intelligence—that all reports agree they have in spades—without their mother “holding them close”? This compassionate and feeling characteristic is the magnificence of Diana’s world-changing legacy. And one of the key points that Lombardi’s book considers is “how men with close bonds to their mothers can show higher levels of emotional intelligence”—exactly what the world needs more of from all men and women, sons and daughters.

Queen Elizabeth may be the end of an era of a particular style of British monarch as well as ending a more gilded cage type of upbringing for royal children—and perhaps even for raising all children. Nonetheless, without her unwavering commitment to duty and unconditional love for her people and without, ironically, her confounding late daughter-in-law’s charismatic public appeal, there may not have been a sustainable British monarchy. Then we would have missed the opportunity to have a modern royal couple like William and Kate to take on archetypal roles in the nature of relationship and marriage (and perhaps parenting) that they have or will have—roles and a world stage that can affect global change and continue his mother’s open-hearted legacy.

There are all sorts of mothers and they love their children—and communicate that love—in all sorts of ways. ~

[In honor of Queen Elizabeth's Jubilee Celebration, this excerpt from my upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride is from the chapter on "mothering"....]