They were both blonde and beautiful, they both married into royalty, they both were younger than their husbands. What else did Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco and Diana, Princess of Wales have in common. J. Randy Taraborelli’s book ‘Once Upon a Time: Behind the Fairytale of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier’ points out that “both were chosen (in part) because they appeared to be capable of having children (and both having to be physically examined to ascertain the fact); both recieving little assistance about protocol from their royal in-laws; both devoted mothers; and both meeting untimely deaths in car accidents.”
Grace had been living in the goldfish bowl that was to become Diana’s lot as well for twenty-five years when, in March 1981, she flew to London to give a poetry reading at Goldsmith Hall, an event at which the newly-engaged Prince Charles was to be guest of honour. For the occasion – her first public appearance with her husband-to-be after the engagement announcement – the nineteen year-old Diana chose a black, very décollté strapless evening gown. If she’d turned up in an overcoat, the paparazzi would have been satisfied but the sight of Diana struggling out of the car in that dress sent them into a frenzy!
Taraborelli reports that Princess Grace’s companion, Gwen Robyns, recalled: “Her breasts were on display and she was quite a wreck”. And the panic was still evident at a reception afterwards at Buckingham Palace. It was then that Grace asked the young Diana if she would accompany her and Gwen Robyns to the ladies room for a chat. According to Gwen Robyns, while Diana was touching up her make-up standing in front of the mirror, she burst into tears. Taraborelli explains: “The dress she was wearing was so revealing, she explained, because it was two sizes too small; the intended outfit had not arrived in time – an unnerving situation to occur for her first formal appearance. She also said she now realised more than ever how unbearable it would be to have so many people jostling for her attention, asking questions, not only of her but of anyone who knew her. She saw a life totally devoid of privacy. She was frightened. What could she do?
“She was certainly asking the right woman for advice. Grace had always known how to use her celebrity to her advantage whereas Diana seemed to shrivel under the spotlight’s glare. No matter how troubled her private life, once the spotlight shone upon her, the former Grace Patricia Kelly transformed into Her Serene Highness – the greatest role of her life.”
Grace put her arms around the distraught Diana and patted her on the shoulder. She then cupped Diana’s face in her hands. “Don’t worry, dear, ” she said with a gentle smile. “You see, it‘ll only get worse.”
Diana next saw Grace when the Monaco Royals attended her wedding in St Paul’s Cathedral in July the following year. She later told biographer Andrew Morton that she had found Grace to be wonderful and serene . . . but there was troubled water under her.” The following year Diana was to find herself in Monaco for Grace’s funeral after she had died in the aftermath of an accident in the car she was driving with daughter Stephanie as a passenger.
Taraborelli’s book traces Grace’s life from adolescence, through film stardom to the “fairytale” romance and marriage with Rainier. He presents both the Kelly and Grimadli families – warts and all – and considers Rainier and Grace as man and wife, not just Prince and Princess.
Grace is displayed in all her complexity – the daughter whose heartbreaking relationship with her father coloured her every decision; the down-to-earth young woman who accepted a marriage proposal from a man she barely knew and leapt into an unknown culture and destiny. The Grimaldis, including the children, are treated as flesh-and-blood human beings . . . and that’s a change.