August 31 was the 18th anniversary of Princess Diana’s tragic death in a car crash in Paris. The whole world was in shock when this glamorous, philanthropic, albeit troubled international royal icon died at the tender age of 36.
It’s been reported that there were an estimated $25 million in floral tributes spread around the Palaces in Britain and a quarter of a billion dollars in charitable donations were received in the first week following her death.
She loved the United States and, at one point, suggested to Charles that she might move here following the break-up of their marriage. He scoffed at this as it seems he did about a lot of her ideas. This was never a match made in heaven with Camilla looming in the background.
Anyway, I will always remember her visit to Chicago in June, 1996. She stayed in the Presidential Suite at the Drake Hotel (then at a cost of $1750 a night). On June 5, she was honored at a Gala Dinner at the Field Museum of Natural History that Chuck and I also attended. She drew a full house of more than 1,300 guests who paid $35,000 for a table of ten.
The event was titled “The Royal Visit Celebrates Chicago” and the venue was filled with flowers and candlelight. Singer Tony Bennett noted it was the third time he’d waived his fee to sing for the Princess.
She was stunning in a floor length purple gown with a diamond, sapphire and pearl choker (the color purple worn as an homage to Northwestern University). She received a standing ovation from a crowd that included Joan Rivers, Emilio Estefan and Phil Donahue (who was tapped as one of her escorts since he was married and therefore “safe.”)
Later in the evening, our good friend Michael Wilkie, a millionaire tool manufacturer/president and chairman of the board of DoAll Company, made his move for a dance “heard ’round the world.”
People Magazine wrote a scathing article about him and the “dance” titled “Boor War” and he wanted to set the record straight. He sent me a letter that contained all of his correspondence with the Magazine and the Princess including a note she had sent to him. Here’s Michael’s story:
The article you wrote about my dancing with Princess Di in your June 24th issue puts People Magazine in the same category as the tabloids. Here are some facts of what really happened:
I sent a note to the Princess explaining who I was with four dozen roses. At the gala, I didn’t go up and ask her to dance as you implied. I was a good thirty feet away and asked her security to tell her that the man who wrote the note and sent flowers would like to dance. The security, I believe he was Scotland Yard, went and whispered in her ear, she looked down the table 30 feet away at me and nodded “yes.”
It would’ve been just as easy for her to nod “no” but she didn’t. The Princess then stood up and walked over to me and we had a brief dance. We were cut in on about four minutes later by a man I didn’t know. He said “may I cut in”, I said “no, it’s up to the Princess.” The Princess said, “I would love to dance” and that was my brief dance. I later found out the man who cut in was Grant McCullagh who was apparently on an approved list to dance with the Princess. I had no idea at the time there was any such list.
I may have broken some type of British Protocol and for that I apologize. This however is the United States of America and, in this country, if a bachelor wants to dance with a pretty lady and she accepts, he is free to do so. There was no pressure
on the Princess to say “yes or no”, she chose to say “yes.”
Jane Atkinson, Princess Di’s press secretary said the Princess of Wales “certainly enjoyed dancing with Mr. Wilkie, as she totally enjoyed the entire evening and her entire visit to Chicago.”
I think the Princess enjoyed our brief dance and she told me the flowers were lovely. When I returned from a trip to California, I had the following thank you note in my mail:
Dear Mr. Wilkie,
The Princess of Wales asked me to write to thank you very much for the beautiful flowers you so kindly sent her. Her Royal Highness was most touched by your kind thought and sends you her sincere thanks and best wishes. The Princess has also
asked me to tell you how much she is enjoying her visit to Chicago.”
I followed up with a letter to the Princess that reads.
Dear Princess Diana,
I want to apologize for all the press our little dance received during the Charity Fund-Raising Gala at the Field Museum in Chicago. In my wildest imagination, I never would have thought it would cause such a commotion. It must be very difficult for you to be under such a continuous microscope of your every move.
Fortunately, I left town the next day because the press were all over my company, residence and friends. On my return, a man in my building asked me if I would do it all over again and I said “No.” But, I will say it was a great pleasure to dance with one of the most beautiful ladies in the world. You made a great hit in Chicago. The “City of Big Shoulders” loves you.
I feel People Magazine owes me an apology for writing such a mean article over a four minute dance.
I watched her dance with Donahue and I saw her dance with Wilkie. Believe me, the look on her
face showed me she was bored out of her gourd with Donahue and happy to dance with our friend. (Side note: Mr. Wilkie is now married to Teri Leontios).
It was a night I’ll never forget….Diana’s beauty, charm and magnetism were like nothing I’ve seen before or since.
I still have the invitation from this glorious evening and will always treasure it as I do her memory. So glad Michael took this chance, I’m sure it was a highlight of her evening.
RIP beautiful Princess.
(Side note: A letter I wrote in defense of Michael appeared in Chicago Magazine in October 1996).
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