I remember my mom telling me, back in the eighties, that she remembered exactly where she was and what she was doing the moment she heard that JFK was shot in 1963.
I remember thinking that that was rather sweet, but I didn’t know a famous figure who would have such an impact on my memory. Until the day Princess Diana died…
31 August 1997
I woke up at my boyfriend’s flat in Cape Town to the sound of the phone ringing. It was my sister but she was crying so loudly that I couldn’t make out what she was trying to say.
“Please come home, Sash” she sobbed. I panicked. Was it bad news about someone in our family? Had she been attacked in the flat we shared in Kenilworth?
“Princess Diana’s dead”
Eventually she calmed down enough to tell me. “Princess Diana’s dead”.
Whaaat? She was only 36, in the prime of her life, and the world had just been poring over pics of Diana and her latest beau on holiday on his yacht.
I returned to our flat and we clung to each other – inconsolable in our grief, genuine desolate grief for a woman we’d never met
She was a woman we felt we knew – from the days when we collected pics of the 19-year-old nursery school teacher who was dating Prince Charles, the young woman we watched walk down the aisle to marry her prince (we were given the day off school and watched at home with cake to celebrate) and the desperate young wife who threw herself down the stairs because she was so miserable in her marriage to a royal who, it turned out, married her as his second choice…
I remember that we had breakfast at the Wimpy in Rondebosch. People stood in groups on the pavement and huddles in booths inside – all stunned, shocked and overwhelmed by grief. Some were silent, some cried quietly
I remember that we had breakfast at the Wimpy in Rondebosch. People stood in groups on the pavement and huddles in booths inside – all stunned, shocked and overwhelmed by grief. Some were silent, some cried quietly.
We watched on TV as the world was plunged into mourning, as flowers covered the entrance to Kensington Palace, fans sobbed in the streets, The Prime Minister paid tribute to Diana – and the Queen’s initial silence drew criticism from many.
6 September 1997
On the day of the funeral, two 20-something sisters held hands with our dad as we sat on our couch and tears streamed down our cheeks to watch the two brave boys walking behind their mother’s coffin.
When Elton John sang Goodbye English Rose, my dad’s cheeks were wet too
It was an event that stunned the world, and showed us that you don’t have to have a personal relationship with someone to truly mourn their death.
Years later, our little family of three (my husband, me and our 11-year-old daughter Emily) cried together when we heard that Nelson Mandela had finally breathed his last breath. I wonder if Emily will remember where she was on ‘The Day Mandela Died’ – and share the details with her family one day?