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Princess Diana & the Royals: the Exhibition in Las Vegas

Diana, Princess of Wales
  • Princess Diana & the Royals:  the Exhibition displays more than 700 artifacts related to the life and legacy of the late Princess of Wales.
  • The on-going Exhibition is located at the Shops at Crystals, an upscale mall connected to the ARIA Resort in Las Vegas.
  • This post gives you the practical details you need to know before you go to the Exhibition, provides backstory to help you get the most out of it, and tells you what to expect when you’re there.

 

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Before dawn on July 29, 1981, my mother and I rose to join the millions up early to watch the “fairy-tale” wedding of Lady Diana Spencer to Prince Charles.

I was too young to realize how truly young she was, as she slowly glided up the aisle at St. Paul’s Cathedral, on her father’s arm, in her pouffy dress.  I could almost smell the flowers in her magnificent trailing bouquet.

Like the rest of the world, I had no idea how badly the fairy tale would go awry — that Charles would ditch the magnetic woman 12 years his junior for married former flame Camilla Parker-Bowles, that Diana’s physical and mental health would suffer, that I’d be watching her funeral a mere 16 years later, when she was only 36 years old.

I also didn’t realize then that Diana would live the most catalogued life of the 20th century, or that her short tragic journey would continue to resonate more than 25 years after her death.

If you’re in Las Vegas and looking for a Diana fix, you’re in luck.  Princess Diana & the Royals:  the Exhibition displays more than 700 artifacts related to her life, including hand-written notes and letters that give you a glimpse into her private personality.  I toured the Exhibition during my most recent visit to the Neon City.

The Exhibition boasts the world’s largest display of her magnificent evening dresses.  There’s also a replica of her wedding dress, with the enormous train covered by a clear platform, so that you can stand on top of it.  And there’s a room filled with Barbie-sized miniatures of 79 of her outfits.

Royal Family History

I think the most valuable displays are the ones that place Diana’s sad story in context amid the hopes and heartaches of other royals.

There are short biographies of the last seven monarchs, from Queen Victoria to King Charles III.

There are also figurines representing 11 white-gowned royal brides:

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria, granddaughter of King George III (of American Revolution infamy), married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on February 10, 1840, at St. James Palace in London.  The couple had nine children.

Queen Alexandra

Princess Alexandra of Denmark married Victoria and Albert’s eldest son, Prince Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, on March 10, 1863, at Windsor Castle.  She became the first Princess of Wales in more than 40 years.

He was a terrible philanderer, having affairs with many married women, including Lady Randolph Churchill, actresses Lillie Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt, and Alice Keppel, a great-grandmother of Camilla Parker-Bowles.

He became King Edward VII with his mother’s death in 1901.  They had six children.

Queen Mary

Princess Victoria Mary of Teck married Edward and Alexandra’s eldest surviving son, Prince George, Duke of York, on July 6, 1893, at St. James Palace.

He was created Prince of Wales after his father became King; she would be the last Princess of Wales until Diana.  He became King George V with his father’s death in 1910.  They had six children.

Their eldest son was Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales.  Unfortunately, he inherited his grandfather’s morals, and had affairs with many married women, most notoriously Wallis Simpson.

He became King Edward VIII with his father’s death in January 1936.

He wanted to marry Mrs. Simpson once her second divorce became final.  But the unseemliness of a king, and head of the Church of England, marrying a divorced woman set off a Constitutional crisis.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Cabinet, the House of Commons, The Times, and Commonwealth countries from Australia to Canada opposed the outrageous notion.  Had the King gone through with it, defying the Cabinet, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin would almost certainly have had to resign, possibly without a replacement, because other potential leaders were reluctant to form a government to uphold such impropriety.

Ultimately, Edward abdicated on December 11.  He became the Duke of Windsor, and the couple eventually moved to Paris.

Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother)

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon married George and Mary’s second son, Prince Albert, Duke of York, on April 26, 1923, at Westminster Abbey in London.

Upon his irresponsible brother’s abdication, he became King George VI in 1936.  He died at the age of 56 on February 6, 1952, and she became Queen Mother.  She died on March 30, 2002, at the age of 101.  They had two daughters.

Queen Elizabeth II

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s elder daughter was Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary.  She married Sir Philip Mountbatten on November 20, 1947, at Westminster Abbey, and he became the Duke of Edinburgh.

She became Queen Elizabeth II with her father’s death in 1952.  He became Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1957.  He died at the age of 99 on April 9, 2021; she died at the age of 96 on September 8, 2022.  They had four children.

Princess Margaret

King George and Queen Elizabeth’s second daughter was Princess Margaret.

At some time around 1950, she began an affair with Group Captain Peter Townsend, a married Royal Air Force officer who was equerry to her father.

He and his wife divorced in 1952, several months after King George VI died, and 16 years after the Duke of Windsor’s abdication.

Controversy swirled as the couple considered marriage.  The resulting second Constitutional crisis required the attention of the Queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden.

Finally, on October 31, 1955, Princess Margaret issued a statement that she had “decided not to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend” because she was “mindful of the Church’s teachings that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of [her] duty to the Commonwealth”.

Princess Margaret married Antony Armstrong-Jones on May 6, 1960, at Westminster Abbey.  He was created Earl of Snowdon, and she became Countess of Snowdon.  They divorced in 1978.  She died of a stroke on February 9, 2002, at the age of 71.  They had two children.

Princess Anne

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip’s only daughter is Princess Anne.  She married Captain Mark Phillips on November 14, 1973, at Westminster Abbey.  They divorced in 1992.  They have two children.

Diana, Princess of Wales

Lady Diana Spencer married Elizabeth and Philip’s eldest son, Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, on July 29, 1981, at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  They would have two sons.

The marriage was miserable.  He remained attached to Camilla Parker-Bowles, the married great-granddaughter of one of his depraved great-great-grandfather’s many paramours.  Diana understandably dubbed her “the Rottweiler”.

During the early 1990s, Diana coöperated with journalist Andrew Morton on her own biography.

In recorded interviews, she talked about her heartbreak over her husband’s continued affair with Mrs. Parker-Bowles and her exacerbated mental-health struggles, including bulimia and depression.

Diana:  Her True Story came out in 1992.  The couple separated “with regret” later that year.  Divorce remained beyond the pale.

In 1994, Charles gave an interview to journalist Jonathan Dimbleby, in order to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his investiture as Prince of Wales.  In it, he admitted to adultery after his marriage had become “irretrievably broken down”.

On the night it aired, Diana attended a dinner at the Serpentine Galleries in London.  She wore a magnificent black silk, off-the-shoulder dress with a short asymmetrical hemline and a flowy chiffon train.

Known as the “revenge dress”, it became one of the most iconic fashion statements of the late 20th century.  Her picture dominated the front pages, with headlines like:

“The Thrilla He Left to Woo Camilla” (The Sun)

The next year, Diana was tricked into doing an interview with journalist Martin Bashir.  In it, she discussed her mental-health struggles, admitted to adultery, and expressed doubt that her husband’s character suited him to serve as king.

Royal interviews rarely end well, and this was the tipping point.  Soon after, Queen Elizabeth advised the couple to divorce.  They did so in 1996.

Sarah, Duchess of York

Sarah Ferguson married Elizabeth and Philip’s second son, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, on July 23, 1986, at Westminster Abbey.  They divorced in 1996.  They have two daughters.

Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh

Sophie Rhys-Jones married Elizabeth and Philip’s third son, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, on June 19, 1999, at Windsor Castle.  After his mother’s death, they became Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh.  They have two children.

Catherine, Princess of Wales

Catherine Middleton married Charles and Diana’s elder son, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, on April 29, 2011, at Westminster Abbey.  After his paternal grandmother’s death, they became Prince and Princess of Wales.  They have three children.

Diana’s Death

The saddest section is the display about Diana’s death on August 31, 1997, at the age of 36.

A year after her divorce, she visited Paris with her companion Dodi Fayed.  The couple stayed at the Ritz Paris in the Place Vendôme.  They left the hotel after dinner on August 30 and were chased by photographers while being driven through the Alma Tunnel.  Their car crashed, killing Diana, Fayed, and their drunken driver Henri Paul.  Diana’s bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones was badly injured but survived.

A short video recalls some of the poignant moments from Diana’s funeral, including Sir Elton John’s flawless performance of Candle in the Wind 1997 and the appalling spectacle of her two sons, 15-year-old Prince William and 12-year-old Prince Harry, required to walk through London behind her coffin, accompanied by their grandfather Prince Philip, their father then-Prince Charles, and their uncle Earl Spencer.

There’s also a recreation of the gate at Buckingham Palace and the enormous number of floral bouquets left by heart-broken hoi polloi.  Their sweet scent wafts through the sad section.

Planning Your Visit to
Princess Diana & the Royals:
the Exhibition

The first thing you should know is that she is not properly called “Princess Diana”; the correct form is “Diana, Princess of Wales”.  Okay, now that’s off my chest …

The Exhibition is located at the Shops at Crystals, an upscale mall at 3720 S Las Vegas Boulevard.  It is connected to the ARIA Resort.

If you’re coming from Vdara, Bellagio, or Park MGM, the ARIA Express offers a short, complimentary tram ride every seven minutes.  If you’re coming from further away, I recommend Uber.

There are several ticket options, with discounts for seniors, military, and Nevada residents.  I opted for the VIP ticket, which is worthwhile if you don’t want to commit to a specific entry time.  Admission is also included with a Go City pass; as of this writing, Rakuten is offerring 1 percent cash-back on Go City passes.

There are two restaurants at the Shops:  Mastro’s Ocean Club and Toca Madera.

Allow 45 to 90 minutes.

 

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