In June 1983 Charles and Diana, Prince and Princess of Wales, came to St. John’s on the Royal Yacht Britannia. Two years before, I had woken up early or stayed up late, can’t remember which, to watch their wedding on television.
I was very excited that they were visiting and couldn’t wait to go to the harbour front to see them. I didn’t want to go alone – it felt like an event that should be shared with friends. Turned out the only people I knew who were going were Irish Republican supporters going to protest. Well, you have to make the best of things, I thought.
So when the yacht arrived, I walked down to the waterfront with about ten people carrying placards and a rolled-up banner. We found a good spot as near the yacht as we could get, with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary staying near us, keeping a watchful eye.
Placards were distributed and the banner unfurled. Ten feet long, it read “England Out Of Ireland Now”. I have no idea why they gave me one end of it to hold.
When the Royal couple came on deck, the crowd went wild. Diana sparkled – well, like a princess. Even at the distance we were, you could see her astounding beauty. I too clapped and cheered and jumped up and down. The banner bounced awkwardly so I tucked the stick under my arm to keep it steadier while I clapped.
I turned around to look at my companions. In this huge crowd, only they were standing stock still, with long morose faces. Oops! I tried to curb my enthusiasm, but it wasn’t enough. One of the guys came to me and said, “stop clapping! We’re not here to clap!” Well, I was, and I hadn’t made a secret of it! Still, I tried to keep still and look serious.
The Yacht without the Royal Couple
A few days later, the yacht was in port without the Royal couple. Friends and I were in a downtown bar and some of the Royal Navy crew came in. They sat with us. Much later that warm summer night, going swimming seemed like a good idea. So we did. A sailor, fooling around, grabbed a girl’s ankle. She twisted and the ankle was seriously sprained. We had no car and she couldn’t walk. Thankfully, we had fit young men to carry her.
They felt bad for what happened, so invited us aboard the Royal Yacht the next day along with St. John’s dignitaries. Unfortunately, the injured girl couldn’t navigate the gangplank with crutches. The rest of us did and told her all about it afterwards. Our sailors showed us the salons, kitchens and bridge – everything but the Royals’ private quarters.
I was sad when Britannia was decommissioned as a Royal vessel. She was magnificent and deserved royalty. In 1997 I also got up early or stayed up late to watch the funeral of Diana, former Princess of Wales. This Friday I’ll do the same to watch her son marry Kate Middleton.