It is seventeen years ago that Diana, The Princess of Wales died. And in memory of her life and death I thought it appropriate to include a few thoughts here on Astrolutely.com. They come in the form of a chapter in my book, Starstruck.
On 30th August 1997, at seven thirty pm, I boarded the 'red-eye' from New York to London. The journey of three thousand, four hundred and seventy-one miles, cruising at an altitude of thirty-seven thousand feet and taking roughly six hours was all too familiar to me. I had been flying the Atlantic, to and fro, like a human boomerang for the previous three years. This flight, however, was going to be one I would never forget.
Anyone who has done this night-sky crossing will know that sleep is difficult on a 747. Even with the lights in the cabin dimmed, a comfortable seat, eye-masks and earplugs, you never enter that deep level of slumber necessary for a restful night. The next day bloodshot eyes are the least of your problems. At six in the morning and some one hundred miles off the West Coast of Ireland, the lights came on and the captain's voice announced: " I am afraid I have some very sad news for you all." In the split second it took him to gather his thoughts, two possibilities flashed into my mind - the Queen Mother had died or there had been some catastrophe necessitating a diversion from Heathrow. Out of the ether came the words, "The Princess of Wales has been killed in a car crash."
The interior of an aircraft is a noisy place, the drone of the engines may eventually become a gentle background buzz but you can only clearly hear the person next to you. Yet, as the Captain's words echoed in my ears, it seemed as though a hush had descended on the whole plane. Time had certainly frozen for me, and as I looked around at my fellow passengers, everyone appeared very still. Now, in 2005, I might have logged on to the Internet via my wireless connection in order to obtain more information but then I simply sat in my seat, trying to take in the awful news.
In some ways her death was not a surprise to me. I had been concerned about several potentially violent factors in her chart that year, and although I had shared my fears with friends, including one of my editors, Sue James, and I had penned a piece for the Norwegian magazine, Norsk Ukeblad, on my concerns for Diana, I was not sure how that danger would manifest precisely. Now, with just the barest of facts to go on - her accidental death a matter of hours before - my mind raced alternately from the astrology of events to the Diana I had known. It seemed inconceivable that arguably the most famous woman in the world had been killed in a car accident, a result of human error. Surely, some lightening bolt had descended from the heavens, and struck her down.
I was still in a state of disorientation as I wheeled my baggage out of the Arrivals Hall and headed towards the welcoming arms of my friends, Kimberly and Robert Sylvester. They were not alone, however. Behind them stood a camera crew and a journalist, "What are your thoughts on this terrible accident, Penny? Was it in the stars?" It was the beginning of one of the strangest weeks of my life.
The television stayed on all day. I unpacked, my boys returned from their holiday with their father, I went to the supermarket, I cooked, we ate. And throughout it all, the telephone rang constantly - friends and family, journalists with requests for comments and producers asking me to appear on news programmes. A combination of the shock of her sudden death and conflicting accounts of events - an early report maintaining that she had walked away from the accident with a broken arm - added to the wave of sheer disbelief flooding the day. Images of the crushed Mercedes being towed away on a truck from the Pont d'Alma, footage of her last moments with Dodi Fayed at the Ritz Carlton, Diana in shorts in Sardinia, the arrival of her coffin at Northolt Airfield, the stricken face of Prince Charles, a sombre and dignified Tony Blair and an ashen and angry Mohammed Fayed. These are the images that remain. I also thought constantly about Princes William and Harry. With my sons, Alexander and Dominic, of a similar age - Alex having been born a mere three weeks after William, and Dominic some three months after Harry - and both so close to me, I could hardly bear to contemplate their grief. It was all too dreadful.
The first few days of a return home to England were always a challenge - not only coping with jet-lag but being suddenly plunged back into active service as a mum. Dominic was starting a new school on Tuesday, 2nd September so there were last minute items to purchase, along with six weeks of mail to catch up on and the usual columns to write. And the telephone rang constantly. Kimberly was to stay with me for another month so there was an extra pair of hands in the kitchen and, more importantly, someone with whom to share the unfolding events. Amid the television footage of Diana's last moments, the opinions of royal pundits and the memories of friends and associates, we watched the field of flowers growing steadily outside Kensington Palace. On Tuesday, we made the journey up to London to see it for ourselves and to take some white Longi lilies of our own. The sight of all those flowers outside Diana's home was compelling, they formed a quilt of many colours. There were extravagant bouquets of gladioli, birds of paradise and stargazer lilies and little bunches of daisies, and every so often, nestling among the blooms, were candles and balloons, all with tender, heartfelt messages attached to them. It was very quiet and very sad.
We spent an hour or so in the gardens, reading some of the messages and exchanging wistful sighs with fellow mourners, then made our way back to Haslemere.
Tuesday was a memorable day for other reasons. Having taken Dominic to his new school, I was home just in time to put on the Lorraine Kelly show on GMTV. At the opening of the programme Ms Kelly announced that an astrology spot was starting that day, and sure enough some minutes later an astrologer dressed in a boiler suit and sporting a pair of large hooped earrings popped up on the screen. And behind her stood a brightly coloured circular revolving board upon which were displayed removable symbols of the planets. While I always welcome a good astrology segment on television I had a problem with this one. Six months earlier I had had meetings with GMTV to which I had brought that very concept of the revolving board. Given the enthusiasm of the producers and their desire to put astrology on the map, so to speak, I had been fully expecting to join the programme in the autumn. Consequently, in the wake of the September 2 show, letters revolving around the issue of copyright were exchanged. Fortunately, the matter was settled amicably a month later. While the producer never maintained that the company had used my idea, the horoscope board disappeared the week after its debut, and the astrologer herself four weeks later. And the explanation offered for not using the person whose idea it was in the first place? "I'm afraid you're just too posh, Penny." (Quack, quack!)
In the afternoon of the 2nd September, I picked up Dominic from his new school in Midhurst. There were no smiles, merely a quivering lip, and as soon as we turned the corner onto the Fernhurst road, a small volcano began to erupt. His first day had not gone well. He informed me that he was not returning and that I had ruined his life. This stream of outrage continued unabated far into the evening. He refused all offerings of his favourite snacks, indeed he turned down food of any kind, and eventually locked himself in the bathroom, leaving Kimberly, Alex and myself to make cooing sounds to him from outside the solid pine door. And still the telephone rang. At ten pm, an exhausted twelve-year-old came out of his cave, and accepting a mug of hot chocolate, climbed up to his bunk bed announcing "I'm not going back. This is the worst day of my life."
As I tucked him up in bed I said to him: "You know, Dom, what do you think David Beckham would do if he'd had a lousy day on the football pitch? Decide to give up the game, or go back the next day, vowing to win?" I received a sleepy "Mmm", which I took to be an appreciation of my wisdom. Years later he was to explain that he had heard what I'd said, but it made no difference. He remained in his black hole to which I had consigned him by tearing him away from the school he loved and the friends he'd known almost all his life. Nevertheless, he went back to Midhurst the following morning. I cancelled all my working plans in London for the day and waited anxiously for a call from the school, which much to my relief never came. When I picked him up later that afternoon, he emerged from the school grounds with a group of boys, laughing and joking. He never looked back. You see, that's a double Sagittarius for you - all tears and tragedy one day, adventure and high jinx the next.
But while that late summer thunderbolt had struck Dominic a glancing blow it had delivered a mortal wound to Diana. And it had come in the form of a solar eclipse.
Stargazers in times past - and we're talking centuries ago - considered eclipses to be the harbingers of dreadful events, but with the rise of depth psychology in the early Twentieth Century astrologers became less enthralled with the concept of fate and more inclined to view the horoscope as a map of the psyche. Maybe too, because such strides were being made in medicine and science, the human race seemed less vulnerable to the vicissitudes of nature - we were more able, perhaps, to dictate our own course. And in keeping with this sense of growing omnipotence, eclipses lost some of their lugubrious lustre. However, I have continued to treat eclipses with respect. One only has to look back on some of the most momentous events in British royal history to see the signature of an eclipse therein. Take, for instance, the abdication of Edward VIII on 10 December 1936, some three days before a solar eclipse in Sagittarius, the death of George VI and the accession of Queen Elizabeth II on 5th February, 1952, four days before a lunar eclipse in Leo, and the separation of Diana and Charles on 9th December, 1992, on the actual day of a total solar eclipse in Sagittarius. So with the solar eclipse of the 2nd September, 1997 falling on a crucial part of Diana's horoscope, I knew an event of some magnitude was on its way.
To be precise this eclipsed new moon fell on her Mars-Pluto conjunction, a significant enough astrological event on its own, but throughout 1997 transiting Pluto had been angling that self-same point. And Mars-Pluto conjunctions do not have the best of reputations in astrology.
Almost every living person will have one or more 'difficult' aspects in a horoscope: it is the harsh angle which inspires the painful experiences that make us or break us, in much the same way as the discomfort caused to an oyster when a piece of grit gets into its shell eventually results in a pearl. And, of course, there would have been hundreds of people along with Diana born on July 1st 1961, who shared the same Mars-Pluto conjunction, none of whom met their demise in a traffic accident. Yet Diana's Mars-Pluto conjunction was the source of much that was painful to her in life, it was both the route to her triumph and her tragedy.
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