Prince Charming steps out with another man's wife. The beautiful princess is killed in a car crash along with the heir to a department store. Fairy tales aren't supposed to end so badly.
The highlights of "Diana: A Celebration," on display through June 13 at the Atlanta Civic Center, focus on the public princess: About 750 million people around the world saw her wedding on TV; 2.5 billion tuned in to her funeral. Those events, and her sense of style, get the royal treatment at this exposition approved by her family. It is literally the roadshow version of what you'd see at Althorp, the Spencer family estate in rural England where she is buried.
About the exhibit
From chamber to chamber, "Diana" is fully geared to women and girls. This is, after all, a woman's story - though one with designer dresses, gems and celebrities.
It's a sanitized history of the princess that is sure to satisfy many. But her fans, and they are legion, will note what's been left out and what goes unsaid.
Put tissues in your purse.
What you'll see
THE WEDDING It's center stage here because her dress is on full view - a cream-hued silk taffeta, lace and tulle gown, plus her veil and train. It is parked in the middle of the show's "Royal Wedding" room in a glass case. The train alone is 25 feet long. Because of limited display space at Althorp, where the train is always rolled up, the world tour show is the only opportunity to view it as the princess wore it July 29, 1981.
Displayed with it are the Spencer family tiara, the elaborately decorated shoes she wore, a silk and lace parasol - unused, as the weather was nice for her wedding - and a bridesmaid's dress. On the walls around the case are photos, plus a portion of the video of her big day.
THE FUNERAL Spencer-Windsor's funeral is addressed a few rooms down. A video that includes shots of the procession and of public grief is front-and-center and tellingly staged.
The "ground" in front of the screen is filled with dried rose blooms and petals. Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" - the 1997 Diana version that begins, "Goodbye England's rose" - plays in the background. Wall cases in the darkened room include an Elton John-Bernie Taupin working lyric sheet and Sir George Martin's score.
Also here: the longhand draft of the funeral speech given by her brother, the Earl Spencer.
FASHION There's a style gallery where 28 of Diana's outfits and a pair of coats are encased in individual tubes. Whether an off-white safari suit worn to Brazil or ensembles donned for state occasions, these are the creations of Gianni Versace, Jacques Azagury, Valentino and other icons of high fashion. Many of the items are from her two post-divorce years, when she stepped out with more glamour.
CHILDHOOD Diana's early years are conveyed through a video "reel" of home movies taken by her father. You see her grow from toddler to teen, quite often displaying her love of dancing. The footage ends with her leaving for boarding school with a trunk marked "D. Spencer."
One area is set up like a playroom to display an assortment of favorite childhood toys. She apparently began collecting ceramic and glass figures of animals at an early age; among those here is a Peter Rabbit missing one ear. There's a letter in a 5-year-old's scrawl to Mummy and Daddy.
What you won't see
Charles may hold a large role in the real story, but not in this exhibit. He remains a question mark, as does the flow and ebb of the chemistry between him and his princess. But small hints in "Diana" are intriguing.
The 1980 Christmas card he sent her is inscribed "From your tap-dancing partner, Charles." A bit of wall text says Charles formally yet unexpectedly asked for her hand several months later, in the Buckingham Palace nursery, and her actual answer was simply, "Yes, please."