By Naomi Serviss
What a long, strange trip it’s been.
I’m not referring to our annus horribilis.
I’m talking Princess Diana and her embattled kids.
Reading biographies and keeping tabs on the unfolding royal soap opera are two ways I’ve been coping in the pandemic’s wake.
I only watched the Diana episodes of The Crown.
Getting lost in Audrey Hepburn, Burt Lancaster, Carrie Fisher and Princess Diana tomes has been a tonic.
I binged movies like I was cramming for a lit final.
Classic black and white Barbara Stanwyck films crashed my dreams.
Watching documentaries, comedies and dramas filled my days.
This was a good distraction from the unavoidable death toll statistics.
Burt Lancaster’s trapeze training paid off handsomely.
His circus background served him well on screen.
Those toned shoulders, muscular body and mesmerizing speech patterns made him irresistible.
Lancaster’s screen presence remains timelessly captivating, even in the clunkers.
Princess Diana has fascinated me since she made her world stage debut at age 19.
She was adorably naïve, in her black sheep sweater and country outfits.
Yet I sensed an underlying sadness.
She smiled wistfully, as though real happiness would be elusive.
Of course, I’m projecting.
I also married at age 19. Hoping for a prince, I got stuck with a toad.
Fortunately, I broke the bonds as soon as the scales dropped from my eyes.
Diana seemed lighthearted and normal during those early courting days.
Even when her intended gave a stupid answer about being in love.
Maybe Charles was a late-bloomer and would grow to appreciate the young woman he was destined to wed.
Diana was smitten with an older cad.
And not even out of her teens.
Diana was shy and fertile.
The perfect maiden waiting.
Her wedding was a dreamy fantasy.
She radiated youthful beauty.
The Disneyesque, puffy-sleeved gown was trailed by an ethereal train.
Watching the ceremony was a vicarious thrill.
I was a few years older yet felt benign kinship.
Diana’s troubles were literally broadcast world-wide.
The fickle media stalked her incessantly.
She stole all the royal thunder from her self-centered mate, who seemed pouty and distressed.
I hoped that by her providing an heir and a spare, Charles would end it with Camilla.
My kids are a little older than William and Harry.
I felt sad whenever Diana left them to fulfill palace responsibilities.
I was grateful to have my kids near whenever Diana traveled kidless.
When news about her eating disorder and suicidal ideation surfaced, my affection for her grew.
I, too, lived with life-threatening disordered eating. And had considered self-harm.
Fortunately, years of therapy gave me the tools to reclaim my life.
Diana didn’t get the support and encouragement she needed, and floundered.
Charles was not her savior.
He hadn’t a clue or inclination to help Diana navigate her emotional minefield.
She needed to hone self-preservation skills. Not an easy task when unsupported by supposed loved ones.
Diana made headway by speaking out about her mental and physical trauma.
But her marriage was irrevocably broken.
Her public disclosures didn’t bring her closer to the Queen’s heart.
She remained an outlier, beloved by her adoring public but virtually shunned by The Firm’s inner sanctum.
Thankfully, public mental health discussion is no longer taboo.
William and Harry are forever scarred by Diana’s tragic life and senseless death.
Harry is his mother’s heir apparent.
He wears his sorrow like an unwanted inheritance.
His mother was cruelly taken from him as he was approaching adolescence.
A time when little boys need their mother’s love and support the most.
William seemed more stoically designed, though he too must have been crushed when Diana died.
Harry is more his mother’s son.
Volatile, passionate and out of control in his early twenties.
Now married to another outlier, he’s divorced from the monarchy in spirit.
He’s compelled to speak out about his own mental challenges.
This is a good thing.
I feel sorry for the Queen.
She’s trying to keep it together because, it’s tradition!
William and Kate were to the manor born.
They seem genuinely smitten with each other and their kids.
Picture perfect, Kate’s spot-on outfits are beautifully tailored.
She looks like she’s having fun.
William became more endearing as he settled into royal married life with his soulmate.
Harry seemed a boisterous, mischievous kid.
The toxic trauma of his mother’s senseless death is visible in his eyes.
Harry’s been spilling the royal beans on Oprah.
He’s vocal about his emotional turmoil and conflicted family relationships.
That takes gumption and a willingness to be publicly judged.
Harry’s still a kid, learning to construct a meaningful life out of castle shadows.
When he announced his engagement to Meghan, an American, woman-of-color divorcée actress, the royal smelling salts were passed out.
He, Meghan and Archie are making a go of it in California, close to her mother.
They seem attuned to the vibe, acclimating to life outside The Firm.
The Diana biographies are among my favorites.
I’ve reread three since March.
Documentaries with actual footage are heartbreakingly sad.
Still, there’s so much for me to be grateful for.
I’m tentatively emerging from my pandemic cocoon, fortified by science and common sense.
Emmy recently stayed with us for a week.
We hadn’t seen her since Thanksgiving 2019.
There was much jubilation and hugs galore.
We ventured out for brunch on Restaurant Row in Midtown.
Her first eating-out venture since Boston’s lockdown!
She accompanied me on a Central Park walk and met some of the regulars.
We had heartfelt talks.
I shared my struggles with mental health and eating disorders.
She spoke honestly about mother-daughter issues.
I rubbed her back and we hugged some more.
Emmy applied silver-tipped nail strips to my fingers. We bonded over nail care and she videoed her nail art technique for Facebook.
It was a glorious week, ending too fast.
After she departed, my thoughts turned again to Diana’s unconditional devotion to her children.
She would be proud of Harry’s outspokenness.
He’s taking a giant step towards self-realization by laying bare his emotional struggles.
I’m grateful my children are well and safe.
They know they are unconditionally loved.
Diana’s birthday is July 1st.
She would be turning 60 this year.
I hope William and Harry reconcile.
Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com