Seemingly from no where Carl and I were asked if we would like to help out at an event, The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute Dinner Dance that would be held on October 31, 1996 – a little while ago! We weren’t exactly told what we would be doing but we did hear loud and clear that we wouldn’t be paid. We weren’t the only ones asked to volunteer but a few turned down the offer to work for nothing. Carl and I thought it was a cause worth supporting so we agreed to help.
And we’re very glad we did.
Because the guest speaker was Princess Diana who was recently divorced and had just had ‘HRH’ removed from her title. Princesses are a very rare breed and we don’t have any in this country so to have one on our shores and to be present in their company was an incredible honour.
Adding to the excitement of the event was the fact that one of the Princess’s favourite artists would be in Sydney at the same time performing a series of concerts at The State Theatre. As a surprise to all guests, he would appear on stage and sing a couple of the Princess’s favourite songs. And what’s not to love about Sting!
The event was held at the Entertainment Centre that is typically a venue for concerts but on this night the rows of seats were being hidden behind long black curtains and the floor area was turned into a dazzling ballroom. On the day we had to attend a rehearsal. I found out my role was to check the attendees with a surname starting with ‘W’, into the venue at the beginning of the event and later be on security inside the venue. Carl was to do backstage help and be Sting’s minder, ‘This way to your dressing room sir’, and ‘Follow me to the stage, sir’ – that kind of thing.
At the rehearsal we were standing at the back of the ballroom and being given our instructions. I was watching the tables being set when suddenly Sting appeared on the stage with his band and began rehearsing the songs he would sing later that night. For some reason we all found the need to gravitate to the front of the stage and just loiter, pretending to be inspecting table cloths for dust, that sort of thing, while really, just staring up in awe at an incredible performer.
If only the iPhone had been invented in 1996; I would have had a phone full of images to share with you but alas, these were the days when one mobile phone (that didn’t have any ability to take photos) per household was considered living extravagantly.
We rushed home from the rehearsal, fed the toddlers, collected the babysitter, took off the Levi 501’s and slipped into a Morrissey Edmiston slinky black frock and popped into a taxi.
There was a huge crowd in front of the venue. I stood outside and did my job of checking in the ‘W’ people including Sydney identities such as Neville Wran and Mike Willesee and then the Princess arrived. She had an incredible impact on people and some burst into tears upon seeing her and others audibly gasped.
She had chosen to wear a stunning electric blue over-the-shoulder dress as she had become known for wearing this style while in Australia. She was given some flowers and was then whisked away into the ballroom. After the last ‘W’ had arrived I entered the ballroom and did my job on security in theory but really I spent a lot of time gazing at all the beautiful people who’d paid $1,000 to be there that night.
At the beginning of the night Sting performed with his band and sang ‘Every Breath you Take’ and ‘Fields of Gold’. He then apologised for having to leave but his audience at The State Theatre was waiting for him. As Carl was leading the band back to their dressing rooms he told the guitarist how incredible and awesome their performance was. He gave Carl a look of being incredibly relieved and said in the broadest of cockney accents, ‘Oh cheers mate, I’ve never played for royalty before so I was so f…ing nervous’.
After the meal that I think was tuna the Princess went on stage to deliver her speech. I didn’t record it! But I do remember it was heartfelt, personal and witty. At the beginning she said something like, ‘It’s twelve years since I’ve been here and I’m surprised and delighted you still recognise and remember me’.
At some point in the evening I wandered off and was heading back into the venue when I heard the ‘swish swish’ sound of someone walking in beautiful fabric and I turned my head and there, walking beside me was the Princess. Right next to me! She was taller than I expected, a lot taller than me and I’m considered tall. She had the most beautiful blue eyes and she was so perfectly groomed I felt rather shabby by comparison. The fabric on her shoes matched the fabric on her dress that matched the handbag on her wrist, and I remember thinking, ‘That is a look I have never yet achieved’. And on her nails she was wearing the palest of blue nail polishes. I’ve looked for a colour like it ever since and have never found it.
I let her step in front of me and followed behind thinking all the time what a privilege it was to be in her presence but no one there that night could have ever believed not only would she never visit us again but that she had less than a year to live. At this event she had just celebrated her 36th birthday.
When I look back on that night I realise that working for nothing doesn’t necessarily mean nothing will be gained.
Have you ever had an encounter with a princess?
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