What Princess Diana’s mum told me

The death of Diana, Princess of Wales changed my life. Three years later, I sat across from Diana’s mother in a small bungalow on the Isle of Seil in Scotland. The Honourable Frances Shand Kydd talked quietly, tears brimming, about the tragic night she lost her daughter in a car accident in a road tunnel on 31 August 1997. We drank tea. It got dark. I came home and hugged my ten year old son extra tight.

I went on to co-author her biography Frances and Lilac Days, a book about Diana’s American grandfather, Maurice Roche, 4th Baron Fermoy.

Meeting Frances undoubtedly changed my career but in the midst of writing about her and Diana, my father died suddenly. His loss was devastating. I didn’t know how I would escape the crushing grief of being without the dad I adored and meet an imminent publishing deadline. I had never written a book before and my mum had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. My world was in chaos.

I wanted to keep the news from Frances. Why? Because my dad was 77 when he died and had seen his children and grandchildren grow. He had lived a full, good life. I thought his loss was incomparable to losing a daughter aged 36 as the world watched. Frances had also had a baby, John who lived only a few hours and her own father died when Frances was 18 years old. Her younger brother, Edmund committed suicide. Not long after, her former brother-in-law Sir Anthony Berry was killed in the IRA bomb in Brighton.

Death was all around her.

The truth is, I couldn’t hide anything from Frances. We had grown close and she had a quick sense for people. She knew something was wrong. I tried not to break down as I told what had happened: Cancer. Fast. No-one knew.

She listened. Then said, “Sometimes doing nothing is all you can do.”

This simple but profound truth changed everything. It gave me space to breathe. It meant I could allow myself to grieve.

A lot has been said and written about Frances. You will have your own opinions. But when judging her as the mother of the most famous woman in the world, it’s worth knowing this: she was named executor in Diana’s will and guardian to her boys.

Throughout her life despite growing up an aristocrat, living on the Sandringham Estate and marrying a Viscount, Frances wanted to be “Just Frances.” Daughter. Wife. Mother. Granny. Friend.

She had an indomitable free spirit and incredible joy for life. She was also one of the most down to earth people I have ever met. And that laugh…

I miss her.

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