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People Top 5
LAST UPDATE: Wednesday June 19, 2013 07:10PM EDT
PEOPLE Top 5 are the most-viewed stories on the site over the past three days, updated every 60 minutes
- June 17, 1996
- Vol. 45
- No. 24
Some Kind of Magic
Divorce or No, a Rousing Royal Visit to Raise Money for Cancer Research Proves Chicago Is Di Kind of Town
You might think average Americans had had their fill of the whiny Windsors. But then Diana shows up on the doorstep, and otherwise rational people suddenly go all goofy. "All she has to do is just stand there and wave, and people go nuts," says Northwestern University sophomore Robert McGuire, 20, who braved a rainy afternoon to meet the princess during her June 4 visit to the school's Evanston, Ill., campus. "She was walking down and shaking hands, and people were jumping up and down. I saw people crying. I mean, for some people this is the best thing they'll ever do in their life. It might be in mine!"
Hundreds packed the streets around Chicago's Drake Hotel, where the princess hung her tiara in the $l,750-a-night, six-room presidential suite, specially equipped, at Di's request, with a Lifecycle exercise bike and an ample supply of mineral water. "It's the second most important day of my life after my wedding," said Kathi Carr, 28, who had driven 1½ hours from Huntley, Ill, for a glimpse. Hordes of others—many snapping pictures and screaming, " Diana!"—staked out Cook County Hospital, where Di chatted with patients and checked out the facility's trauma center, the inspiration for TV's ER.
But Diana drew the biggest raves at a black-tie fund-raiser at the Field Museum of Natural History (see Inside People, page 6). Stunning in a sleeveless, purple (for Northwestern) ballgown, the princess descended the museum's curving staircase to a standing ovation from the crowd of 1,300, including such notables as Gloria Estefan, Phil Donahue and Tony Bennett. Even Michael Jordan's mother, Deloris, seemed to catch Di fever, dropping in on the way to her son's NBA championship playoff game to meet the princess and present her with autographed Bulls souvenirs for Princes William and Harry. "I said hello to the princess, and now I'm off to the game," said Mrs. Jordan.
Diana's three-day visit was expected to raise $1.4 million, to be split among three charities: Northwestern's Robert H. Lurie Cancer Center; Gilda's Club—named for the late Gilda Radner—a support network for women with cancer; and London's Royal Marsden Hospital, of which Diana is president. But the tour offered the princess something personal as well: the chance to promote herself as a serious ambassador for her various causes. "The princess will do herself no harm by playing out on the world stage the role she hopes to pursue once her marriage is officially over," BBC correspondent Jennie Bond noted. And the pilgrimage let her escape, for a brief time, the pressure of her impending divorce from Charles, if not the further embarrassments contained in British journalist Nicholas Davies's just-released biography, Diana: The Lonely Princess, in which he alleges Di's involvement in several previously unreported extramarital affairs.
But the crowds in Chicago were focused on the parties at hand. When the princess stepped out of her black Rolls-Royce for a brief tour of the Northwestern campus and a reception at the home of its president, Henry Bienen, 3,000 onlookers cheered and clapped. Diana, in a mint-green suit and pearl choker, Bienen, squished across the soggy lawn in her bone-and-black sling-backs to gather up the flowers being offered her and shake hands with well-wishers. "She'll be popular till the day she dies," said Pam Velasco, 48, who had driven in from the neighboring suburb of Wilmette. "We should say, 'Up with Di; down with Charles.' "
The few who got the chance to converse with the princess were even more impressed." 'Breathtaking' undermines the experience," gushed Roderic Williams, a 20-year-old sophomore and an officer in Northwestern's student government. To his embarrassed delight, the princess teased Williams about his obvious discomfort in a suit and tie. "She looked at me and said, 'I have boys of my own and I can tell, you don't usually wear jackets,' " says the Fayetteville, N.C., resident. "I was just, like, stunned! It was like something my mom would say. It showed that maternal instinct she has."
Perhaps playing to those instincts, 13-year-old David Studnitzer finagled, against the rules of protocol, a royal hug. "I just asked," he said afterward. Joseph Zaghal, a 36-year-old engineer, was allowed to peck the royal cheek ("It was my lucky day, he said later). That was followed by hugs for sick children during a stop at Cook County's Children's hospital the following day. "She kissed the kids and picked them up," says hospital administrator Ruth Roth-stein. "I was pretty surprised by her."
The princess also surprised royal watchers with her serious remarks at a cancer symposium at Northwestern's School of Law in downtown Chicago. In her talk, Diana praised researchers for their efforts in battling "the dreaded C word" but warned "our work is not yet finished.... I would suggest that now might be a good time to consider another C word which may threaten us. It is the word 'complacency.' " Said cancer researcher Dr. Sharon Murphy afterward: "Just her presence focused the attention of everyone. She spoke from the heart."
With her speech behind her, Di seemed flirtatious and relaxed at the Field Museum gala, where guests paid according to their proximity to the princess's table: $35,000 for a "well-placed" table for 10, along with other perks; $25,000 for less attractive "prime" tables. Guests dined on salmon and trout timbale with artichoke relish and rack of lamb, Bennett dedicated the song "Fly Me to the Moon" to the princess, and she danced a fox-trot with Donahue. "She made it very easy," said the retired talk show host, who was chosen for the honor by virtue of his marriage (to fellow guest Mario Thomas) and adequate height. "It had to be a happily married man over 5'11" because [Diana] is uncomfortable dancing with short men," explained an organizer. "And he had to be married because anytime a single guy dances with her, it hits the gossips."
Diana was to return to London June 6 and will likely be an ex-royal before her next stateside visit, which probably won't make a difference to her newfound fans. "She gave us some good inspiration to try to live better," says gunshot victim Lester Barlow, 35, who met Diana at Cook County Hospital. "She said, 'Try to keep a low profile and live a good life.' " Good advice—but the first part, at least, may be hard for a princess to live by.
GIOVANNA BREU, LEAH ESKIN, LUCHINA FISHER, LORNA GRISBY and ELIZABETH SPORKIN in Chicago and LYDIA DENWORTH and MARGARET WRIGHT in London
- Giovanna Breu,
- Leah Eskin,
- Luchina Fisher,
- Lorna Grisby,
- Elizabeth Sporkin,
- Lydia Denworth,
- Margaret Wright.
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