I have a confession to make. From the ages of 8 until 12, a time when many of you were gazing lovingly at your Beatles, David Cassidy, Duran Duran, or Backstreet Boys album covers, I was harbouring a deep, dark secret. No, it wasn’t a misguided crush on Boy George. In fact, I cared very little for the boy bands of my time. I was too busy cutting out pictures for my scrapbook and pouring over books featuring my REAL interest: The British Royal Family.
Yes, it’s true. I was a staunch 10 year old mini- monarchist. I would have worn kid gloves and a tiara to school if my mother had let me. By the time I went to middle school I could rattle off the birth dates and full names of most of the principal members of the royal family, the schools they went to and the names of their polo ponies. I knew what they liked to do in their free time (polo and skiing) and the intricacies of their social circles (polo team players and managers). The wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana on 29th July 1981 in St Paul’s Cathedral (see what I mean?) intensified my interest, but I was hooked long before that. I blame it primarily on my grandmother, a devoted anglophile and devout monarchist. When I stayed with her and my grandfather in their tiny D.I.Y Tudor-style cottage, my bed time stories were from books with catchy titles like, “The Six Wives of Henry VIII in Excruciating Detail” and “Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage for Insomniacs”. For me, this was compelling stuff. Certainly not average reading material for a pre-teen girl, but there you have it. I was an odd child.
As a consequence of this early indoctrination, I dreamed of having a life surrounded by the people in these books. They were my fairy stories, only they involved people and places that really and truly existed. By the time I was 11 my imagination had me married off to Prince Edward, the youngest son of the queen. Never mind that I hadn’t yet even been to England and I was the daughter of a grocer, living in a town the size of a postage stamp in rural Canada. My parents cared passionately about good manners and social graces and endeavored to prepare me for whatever situation might come my way. I have always thought myself lucky that they did.
When I was 27 I moved to the UK, and briefly married a British diplomat. During those few years, I became a part of the world I had only dreamt about. Garden parties in Kensington, balls and receptions at Whitehall Palace, dinner conversations with people called “Sir” and “Lady”. Frankly, I faked my way through most of it by pretending to be Princess Diana. Most of the time, I felt accepted. And it was wondrous. I had unexpectedly become a part of the world I had always dreamed of and had, until that time, only really existed in my childhood scrapbook.
It all came crashing down when my husband and I divorced. That world had always seemed too good to be true, and now it was gone. But the little girl inside me wasn't able to let it go. Not entirely. For the next few years, I continued to visit the UK . I felt the need to return to what I knew and the places that brought me such childlike comfort. The people and places in my scrapbook were so much more real to me now, and I could still see and touch them, even though I was once again on the outside looking in.
On one of those flights to London last fall, I was seated next to an English gentleman and we struck up a lively conversation. I was on my way to the UK to spend time with Scottish partner, he was on his way home to Wiltshire after a conference in Toronto. He was older than me, a great conversationalist with amusing stories to tell. He told me about his wife and sons, his career in the military, the time he spent in India. We each had a couple of those lovely mini-bottles of wine, our rectangular beef or chicken frozen dinners, and a good old chat as we crossed the Atlantic. By the time we reached Heathrow and started the race to immigration, we were fast friends. As we parted ways, he handed me his card and I tried not to smile as I saw the insignia.
“Any time you and your partner are in London and you want to come see me at the House of Lords, just drop me an e-mail. I would be glad to give you a personal tour,” he said as we waved good bye.
I stood and stared at the name on the card, just for a moment. And then, right there in the middle of passport control at Heathrow, I did a little dance, before calmly placing his card in my wallet and continuing on my way. I still had another flight to catch. And possibly a scrapbook to update.
(Stay tuned folks, for the story of me attempting to keep my cool on a private tour of the House of Lords.)