While not a royal-watcher in the truest sense, hell yes, I watched most of the major celebrations and life passages of the British monarchy, and many of these moments were spent alongside my dear friend, Kirsten, giving commentary and opinions and predictions. So much news coverage of funerals and weddings were in wee hours of the mornings here stateside, but we were okay with that — we were momming young kids and we were probably just about to wake up anyway. If you have a history with a friend that is framed by watching royal history unfold, side by side on the sofa in the pre-dawn dark, eating scones and having tea, huddled in a Toy Story comforter, you do in fact win the crown of friendship. It’s a mighty club.
Actually, the very first royal event I watched on television was from a hospital, in 1981, when Diana married Charles. I was working as an aide, on an early morning shift, and it was on every single television set, in synchronized stereo silence — patients in their rooms or ER bays, nurses at stations, techs at monitors, all following along. It was big news, not just in my social circle, but in that circle we did feel particularly connected: we were 19, Diana was 20. We were hooked for life. And what a life.
True confession: in college, after maybe a few beverages, my friend Maria and I revised the John Mellencamp “Jack and Diane” lyrics to be a little ditty about Chuck and Diane. We recorded it (again, there were beverages involved) on a cassette tape, and put it in our friend Bobbi’s clock-radio tape-player as a joke. I don’t remember the rewritten song we created except for the line, “Hold on to the scepter as long as you can…”. We didn’t even know we were prophetic at the time. Anyhow, Bobbi still has the cassette recording, so we are extra nice to her. (All this to say, I was not alone in royal watching, even in the chaotic college years.)
Years later, working my first job out of college, Kirsten was a new hire and we immediately bonded — mostly over books and recipes and that we both had our own weddings coming up. We had both just watched Prince Andrew’s wedding to Sarah Ferguson, and shared all kinds of thoughts and opinions. Just like that, major life events aligned. The years unfolded, and we had our first babies within weeks of each other. Then our second babies just months apart. We figured out a lot of parenting side by side, at the playground, in each others’ living rooms and backyards, on the phone in the dark after bedtime (trust me, that is how we did it back then, pre-google. We called it ‘doing the best we can’.). Along the way, we watched Diana’s life be criticized and dissected, then were mesmerized by her stunning interview with Martin Bashir, and had opinions and insights on that, too.
On the last day of August in 1997, I had my baby daughter in the infant bathtub and heard on the news that Diana was in ‘grave condition’ after a car accident. Because I couldn’t leave my baby in the tub, I picked up the whole shebang and carried it to the kitchen (where the phone was, back in the days when the phone was attached to the wall), and called Kirsten. Kirsten was hosting a dinner party, and she was like “I can’t turn the TV on so call me back if there’s more news”. I told her people don’t generally get better after being called ‘grave’, so be prepared. It took a while for the news to be official, and we were on the phone long after the dinner party ended, in all kinds of shock and disbelief.
A week later, on what was actually the week of both of our ten-year wedding anniversaries, she knocked on my back door in the dark, and we had scones (or english muffins) and tea on my couch, under the Toy Story blanket, quietly alone until my baby daughter woke up and joined us, watching like millions of others all over the world as Diana’s funeral unfolded, mourning this princess we felt we could have been friends with, not celebrating anything except that girlfriends need girlfriends, and how unmoored her boys were, and holding our own babies tighter, and how surreal and disjointed it all felt. We were 35, Diana was 36.
Fourteen years later, I was in Des Moines, Iowa for Drake Relays. In a hotel on the outskirsts of town, in prairie darkness, figuring out my very first iPhone, Kirsten and I were texting in the wee hours of the morning, watching Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding. We had a lot of thoughts and opinions, plus we were both processing that our own first babies had just turned 20 years old. Time ticks by, sometimes slowly, sometimes at warp speed. It is no small thing that we can place ourselves in space and time around these royal events, like mile-markers on a highway.
Nowadays, we are still watching, but are wiser and more aware of the far reaching inequities in the history of this monarchy, and that most countries that celebrate an independence day celebrate independence from British rule. History gives a more complete picture, less pomp, lots of circumstances, and we pay attention to that, too. We still love a good story, and love a complicated story even better — we are so human like that. Did we watch every season and every episode of ‘The Crown’? Of course we did (props to HBC as Margaret, btw). Did we text this morning, and news of the Queen unfolded? Again, yes. And it is no small thing that Kirsten is the one who broke the news to me, via text, that there is now a King of England.
Due to travel, I won’t be at her house at 5am for scones and coffee on Saturday to watch the funeral. But if you wonder about history and tradition, rest assured, there is a grand-daughter keeping company on her couch now, full circle from that morning a quarter century ago: us (plus a baby), paying respects, watching one history unfold while living our own story in the company of kindred spirits in friendship. We are the queens of that.