A BLACKROCK woman who helped with Princess Diana’s dress fittings recalled their bitter-sweet time together on the anniversary of her death today.
Joanna Courtney held a prestigious front of house role in Selfridges where she often assisted with the royal’s fittings.
The iconic Royal, who died in a car accident on this day 21 years ago, had struck up a special friendship with staff at the store.
Joanna recounted how a young and shy Diana was during their initial encounters.
“It’s a lot different to you or I measuring up something in a store,” she explained.
“Everything was made to fit. I remember Diana coming in with a check dress that had been made for her. Her face would be red and she was looking down.”
This wasn’t the Cork woman’s first brush with royalty. “My brother was in the airforce so I had met Prince Charles on separate occasions. I would never have put them together.
“My brother used to talk about how much he loved Charles, but I couldn’t understand.
“I never saw any spark in Charles. For me, there was nothing there. Diana was young and full of life while Charles seemed very dour.”
Joanna described how the Princess of Wales was not only beautiful but humble as well.
“She was the most down-to-earth, beautiful human you could ever meet. When my colleague at the time, Claudia, remarked on her beautiful teeth she explained that they had been braced all her life.”
The 72-year-old admitted that news of Princess Diana’s engagement had sparked concern.
“The minute they got engaged I felt it wasn’t going to work. I saw a change as soon as she got married. She missed her normal life. Before she’d meet her friends in Harvey Nichols and I’d often ask her if she was going out to lunch.
“Many of her own friends would come into the store for events like Ascot. However, you saw a drop-off and she stopped seeing so much of them.
“The queen’s envoy also put massive restrictions on her. When you end up in a situation like this it can be very boring. She was always with her friends before Charles, as she didn’t have a boyfriend.
“When I look back at wedding photographs of Diana I can see that sadness in her.”
She remembered Princess Diana’s generous nature. “None of us could get any pictures with Diana as security would have been on top of us,” she laughed. “But instead of photographs we had thank you cards.
“She sent thank you cards to anyone who had made something for her and held a garden party for all the designers.”
Joanna told of how customers in the store had the “best of everything.”
“There were two little dogs in the store named Nina and Frederick for customers to fuss over when they came in. While there were only three of us in the front of house area there might be as many as 16 people in the back beading the gowns.
“They would just sit there for hours and do their business while enjoying everything from a cup of tea to wine or champagne.”
Joanna and her friends had never been phased by encounters with the royal family. She laughed at the memory of one particular dining experience at a restaurant in Knightsbridge.
“I remember being at a dinner in Knightsbridge with a friend of mine who was a bit of a ticket. She was from France so the waiter told her not to look at Prince Phillip. She argued that she was paying them £200 so could look where ever she wanted. She was very strong.”
According to Joanna, one of the ways Princess Diana rebelled was through her fashion choices. “She started going to Harvey Nichols and buying off the rack. It got her into trouble, as it was frowned upon to not wear British designers.”
Joanna puts much of the positive changes in the monarchy down to Diana’s legacy.
“Her death certainly changed the royal family,” she added.