When I was twenty, or very nearly, Diana married Prince Charles. Her cheeks, I remember, reflected the puffed fullness of the arms of her silk dress. As Princess Diana grew older – she turned thirty the year I turned thirty – her cheeks lost their soft blush. Her clothes and her figure slimmed down and her wardrobe mushroomed as she tried to concentrate on what she felt mattered most.
Thousands of books and newspaper columns have been written about Princess Diana. And yet, for me, the most telling fact surfaced in a diary written by a Housekeeper at Highgrove, Prince Charles’ country estate. Princess Diana, the Housekeeper wrote, had a thing about her underwear. Every time her underwear came back from the laundry, her maid was under strict instruction to throw out any piece that showed a hint of greying, and to immediately replace it with new underwear.
I envy this kind of ruthlessness – even if the environmentalist in me winces at the waste. Princess Di didn’t always know what she wanted, however she had clear views about what she didn’t want. Like the girl in ‘The Princess and the Pea’, Princess Di was sensitive to the tiny compromises that daily tug at us, and that quietly and imperceptibly threaten our self esteem. She wouldn’t put up with it. Off with its head!
I joke. And yet this story gets at something that touches us all, the dilemma we all feel at having to look after ourselves. We want order and beauty in our lives. We want a reasonable degree of comfort. However precious few of us has a maid whose job it is to keep an eye on the brightness of our underwear.
No matter how concerted we are, how proud we manage to be, how organised we are, few of us feel up to the sheer management that a well-run life assumes. When we read the glossies, or the Royal Housekeeper’s diary, it’s not to oggle at Royalty, but surreptitiously to track our own self-esteem amidst the circus that is our own life. And all the while we daydream about having a patch of uninterrupted time in which to go through our drawers and, with Princess-like disdain, to bin any stretchy greying underwear.