Those of us who are of her generation already went through this ritual once — the early rising or late-staying-up to watch her wedding 30 years ago, the one that turned out to be a fairy tale without a happy ending.
We saw the signs but, like Diana herself, tried to ignore them. We remember the way she smiled so expectantly and hopefully at Charles on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the wedding. And we watched as he looked away, choosing instead to be amused by the throngs below. When they kissed — because the crowd demanded it — it was quick, efficient and passionless, a harbinger of the doom that would come to their marriage.
But Diana was not a static figure. We watched as she evolved from sedate, eager-to-please royal cipher to press-savvy pop culture icon. She was the desperate housewife of Buckingham Palace, complete with an eating disorder and a husband who had lost interest in her. Her life became tabloid and TV entertainment that she learned to manipulate long before Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian got their first lipstick.
She mirrored the mood of the passing decades. She trussed herself up in pearl-encrusted evening gowns in the glam '80s. She dressed down in the minimalist mid-'90s and took on the issue of combating landmines before it was mandatory that every actor and musician have a cause. And she auctioned off all her big-shouldered, jewel-colored dresses from the '80s for charity just months before she died in August 1997 at the age of 36.
The catalogue of that Christie's auction, which features her modeling a few of the items, includes several close-ups revealing a vertical furrow etched between her brows. Had she lived, could a dose of Botox have been far off?
I was looking forward to watching her grow older. Sure, she had questionable taste in men, and she wasn't a woman you'd want your daughter to emulate. But there was an engaging elegance about Diana that was never remote, and she might well have become a model of graceful aging for the middle-aged.
She would never have given up the fight and turned frumpy. But I also don't believe she would have slavishly carved her flesh trying to stay firm and wrinkle-free. And what else? Would she be doing yoga or Pilates? Wearing low-rise jeans? Over-the-knee boots?
Would she have been a celebrity dancer on "Dancing with the Stars"? (She took ballet as a child.) Or would she have devoted herself increasingly to refugees in Darfur and helping people rebuild in New Orleans?
And what of the rest of her life after her royal marriage? Would she and Camilla, Charles' second wife, the woman he never quite gave up, have become — gasp — friends? Would they have been seen lunching every now and then at some tony Kensington eatery,
Diana allowing herself to be photographed afterward as she stepped out into the street with a serene "I am so over Charles she can have him" smile? Would she have advised Kate to keep her day job and not turn the position of royal wife into a full-time burden?
I wonder how she would have felt about William passing her ring on to Kate? Would she have liked that, or seen it as symbol of her own dashed hopes and wedded misery? She surely would have been driven crazy by his carrying it around in his knapsack for three weeks before popping the question. And let's hope she would have urged him to wear a wedding ring as well.
Whatever else she did after watching her children grow up and plotting out her own interests, whatever clothes she tossed for being too youthful, whatever boyfriends she banished as too silly, she would not, ever, have shown up at her son's wedding in a matronly mother-of-the-bride outfit.
If she had been there in Westminster Abbey this morning, while the rest of the global TV audience was scrutinizing every inch of Kate's wedding dress as she walked down the aisle, I would have been looking at what Kate's mother-in-law was wearing.
Carla Hall is a Times editorial writer. email@example.com