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Welfare Mother ‘Breaks the Ice’ for Diana : A Humble Home--but Fit for a Princess

Times Staff Writer

Linda Correa had a few folks over to her small, temporary apartment in Lower Manhattan after breakfast Thursday for coffee and a nice friendly chat--Princess Diana, her guides and security guards.

The Princess of Wales leaned against a kitchen wall, talking to her hostess about school and sharing the experience of being a parent.

“After I broke the ice, the words just came out,” said Correa, a homeless mother who is being housed and counseled at the Henry Street Settlement’s Urban Family Center. “I felt very comfortable. She is a very soft person to talk to . . . . She said all her children liked dogs and museums and outings. She did not come all this way for nothing. Her visit gave me a lot of dignity.”

Smiling, Correa said Diana sat down on a bed and the couch.

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‘How I Became Homeless’

“I told how I became homeless and where I plan on moving after this,” she said.

“She asked how the kids are, how they are in school, what grades they are in and what they want to be when they grow up. She asked do we do a lot of cooking. How did we spend our time? She was telling about her kids, what they like, their toys and what grade they are in.”

Someone asked Correa, who lost her home when her landlord died and his son sold the building, if she had ever thought she would meet royalty.

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“It’s like a dollar and a dream--like a lottery,” she replied.

Princess Diana, cheered by ordinary people and jeered by demonstrators demanding an end to British rule in Northern Ireland, visited both New Yorks Thursday--the world of the homeless and the black-tie world of the rich at a gala benefit for the Welsh National Opera.

In this city where poverty and plenty rule side by side, the residents of a welfare hotel just down the block watched the audience emerge from their black limousines and enter the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where the princess, splendid in a white sequined gown, presided over the performance.

Just before the Welsh National Opera made its American debut, performing Verdi’s “Falstaff,” Mayor Edward I. Koch entered--stage left.

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His honor, dressed in a rumpled business suit, addressed the princess, and the audience in evening gowns and tuxedoes.

“Your royal highness, I am out of dress code because I have a town hall meeting in the Bronx tonight,” Koch said. “The city is graced with your presence.”

The mayor said that he hopes everything goes well because “when you go home, you will say you will have had a royal New York welcome.”

Koch then exited--faster than an extra in the chorus.

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The mayor, who faces re-election this year, had been accused by some critics of being “a turncoat in a redcoat” for agreeing to greet the princess at all. And his welcome in a city where Irish-Americans make up a potent voting group, could be graded as a minimal salutation.

Outside the Brooklyn Academy of Music, several hundred pro-Irish demonstrators shouted their dislike of Britain’s presence in Northern Ireland.

“Princess Di, go home,” they cried as she arrived in a motorcade guarded by police and federal agents carrying submachine guns.

After the three-hour performance, Diana traveled to the Winter Garden at the World Financial Center, where she and more than 800 guests ranging from Happy Rockefeller, the widow of former Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, to Bianca Jagger to Donald and Ivana Trump dined on a menu including breast of capon stuffed with morel mousse, baby winter vegetables and a tri-colored sorbet.

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Wherever Diana appeared Thursday, she received a royal welcome from royalty-hungry New Yorkers.

“She left me the perfume,” said Josephine Coll, sniffing her hand after the princess had approached her in the crowd outside the Henry Street Settlement and had shaken her hand. “She’s very pretty and very nice.”

Jim Lister also shook hands with Diana. “Wanna shake my hand--$5,” he told friends. “She has a beautiful face, nice hair.”

About 400 well-wishers cheered when Diana arrived at lunchtime at F.A.O. Schwarz, the huge 5th Avenue toy store, to promote a new high-priced line of British toys. When she departed, Allison Edwards, 15, of Rumson, N.J., handed her a bouquet of carnations.

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“I was so ecstatic, I could barely stand up,” said the school girl who had waited outside the store since 7:30 a.m.

Diana received tulips from Quoc Tran, 10, a 5th-grader at an elementary school near the Henry Street Settlement.

Why did you give her the flowers, the youngster was asked. “My art teacher told me to,” he replied.

Of all the day’s events, the princess’s visit to the settlement house was the most poignant.

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‘A Real Princess’

Diana, who had worked in a preschool before her marriage, met 11 children, aged 2 to 5, at a branch of the shelter called The Family School. Many of the youngsters have been abused and are from homeless families. She tied the shoelaces of a little boy named Johnny. She looked at a valentine made by little Christopher and commented: “I love the Cupid in the heart. Is that for your mommie?”

Before Diana walked into the room, Janet Holmes, the teacher, told one of the children: “She’s a real princess, not a fairy tale, not Sleeping Beauty, not Cinderella.”


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