Diana 20 years on: Memories of a princess visiting our region

Reporter:

Jamie Bowman

EXACTLY 20 years on from her death in Paris, memories of Princess Diana’s visits to the region are still crystal clear for those lucky enough to have met a woman who captivated the world.

Diana was just 20 and a newlywed when she first stepped off the royal train at Shotton station in October 1981 to a crowd of thousands all wanting to catch glimpse of the young princess.

Her visit to Deeside Leisure Centre was the first part of a three-day tour across Wales with her new husband Prince Charles and came at a time when the area was reeling from the news of steelworks closures and high unemployment.

The royal couple’s arrival was filmed by ITV cameras who praised the young princess, who was wearing a red and green wool suit, for doing “her homework” and realising that many in the crowd were affected by the recent closures.

As the prince and priness stepped off their train onto the platform at Shotton, the commentator continued to describe a rather bleak view, saying: “Beyond them (the royal couple) the flat outline of Shotton’s beleaguered steelworks, a reminder of the problems of modern Wales.”

Diana listened to a children’s choir before unveiling a plaque at the leisure centre and joining her husband on a ‘walkabout’ to meet the many thousands who had turned out to greet them.

The tour ended with Diana giving her first ever speech – part of it in Welsh – in Cardiff City Hall and in the days in between, the newlyweds were greeted by huge crowds in Rhyl, Caernarfon, St David’s, Camarthen and Cardiff.

“I was a young reporter working for NWN when Charles and Diana visited Rhyl,” recalls Jan Roberts.

“They arrived at Rhyl station with all the usual crowds gathering and high security, however one sole cyclist managed to slip by the guards and cycle right past them.

“Photographer Terry Williams and I covered the story and it was my first big story as a cub reporter and the boys from the nationals were there asking the only female in the group to describe what she was wearing.”

On November 26, 1982, the Prince and Princess of Wales returned to visit North East Wales with a trip to Wrexham before Prince Charles visited the new titanium plant at Deeside and Princess Diana went to Buckley for the official opening of Clwyd County Council’s new residential home for the elderly, Marleyfield House in Nant Mawr Road.

“I gave her a bunch of flowers,” recalls Debbie Gavan Castle, of Wrexham. “It was in the car park in front of the court and swimming baths. She was lovely.”

“I waited for ages but I got to the front and she smiled, said hello and shook hands with me,” remembers Moira Owen, from Mold.

“She looked even more beautiful than she looked on TV and it had a profound effect on me when she died – those fleeting moments became even more precious.”

Another famous visit to the region by Charles and Diana was when the couple attended the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in 1985.

Betty Roberts, from Johnstown, Wrexham, worked at the festival for over 50 years as a very active member of the Eisteddfod’s Hospitality Committee, half of that time either as secretary or chairman.

Betty remembered: “Diana, who was a very nice girl and seemed to have done her homework about the Eisteddfod, said she hoped I’d be getting tickets for the evening performances as I had been working so hard.

“I recall telling her that we hardly ever got to see the performances because we were too busy, although we do now because we have a TV screen in our hospitality building on which we can watch them as we work.”

Diana, Princess of Wales was also the Countess of Chester and visited the city many times, including a royal visit and ceremony in May 1984 to open the hospital named in her honour.

Email:

jamie.bowman@nwn.co.uk

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