Publisher's Letter

updated 02/20/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/20/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

It's what every mother frets about as she stubbornly drills her offspring on table manners and basic decorum: Someday you may eat with the Queen. Well, last week the editor and publisher of PEOPLE came pretty close: We shared a box with Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales (Di, don't you know), at the opera and, later, her table at dinner. As the principal corporate sponsors of a gala evening to benefit the Brooklyn Academy of Music (see story, p. 42), managing editor Jim Gaines and I were able to chat with the princess during breaks in the Welsh National Opera's performance of Verdi's Falstaff and again at the dinner that followed the show, which was held amid the glass and palm-treed splendor of the New York Financial Center's Winter Garden atrium. And yes, Mom, we used the right forks.

We are also pleased to report that the princess was absolutely gracious—and tireless. She shook hands and greeted people for hours, her poise never faltering. She's especially conscientious with children, like the ones who are selected to present her with flowers at nearly every stop—there is always lots of eye contact and genuine, tender feeling.

"She's a delight to talk to—much warmer and more human than I had expected," says Gaines. "I guess I expected a future Queen of England to be distant and reserved. But I was dead wrong. She's very young, fresh and charming. Also every bit as beautiful as she is in photographs."

Diana was surprised to find that she had to manage about 40 steps down a sweeping marble staircase to reach the dinner. But like everything else that happened on her frantic 44-hour trip to New York, she took the dramatic descent in stride. Rarely looking at her feet, she glided down the staircase like an angel. Despite jet lag, the three stops she'd made that day, the 3½-hour opera she'd just sat through and the minireceptions that came during each break, the princess showed no signs of turning into a pumpkin as midnight approached. This royal training is for real.

Gaines, who also hosted Di's sister-in-law Fergie when the Duchess of York visited the U.S. for a royal gala performance of Phantom of the Opera last year, is feeling a familiar regret in the aftermath of our evening with the princess. "The whole evening was off the record, as it was when Fergie was here. It's standard operating procedure when dealing with a royal family event, and there's no way around it," he says. Still, he sees definite benefits from Di's visit for PEOPLE readers: "Getting a chance to meet and talk to her was invaluable. I know our readers can count on our coverage of Diana in the future to be more informed about who the princess is and what she's really like."

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