William and Kate walk in Diana’s footsteps: Royal couple arrive at the Taj Mahal and pose on the same bench where his mother sat during her iconic visit to the Indian monument 24 years ago1,027 views
- Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have left Bhutan and paid a visit to the iconic Taj Mahal as they wrap up their tour
- The pair sat on the bench made famous by Princess Diana, whose picture there was beamed around the globe
- The visit comes 24 years after Princess Diana’s poignant trip and the iconic image of her sitting alone on the bench
- They decided this morning they would sit on the bench ‘because it is where everyone sits to admire the Taj’s beauty’
- Their trip to the Taj Mahal is predicted to be one of the highlights of their tour of the country, which ends today
Prince William brought the royal tour to a poignant close as he sat down with his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, on the same marble bench as his late mother, Princess Diana, at the Taj Mahal.
The image, 24 years ago, of Diana looking forlorn and alone outside the glorious symbol of eternal love as her marriage to Prince Charles crumbled, became one of the iconic images of their failed relationship.
But today, sweating in the 41C heat of Agra, William guided Kate and sat down for a small group of waiting photographers in a bid, he said, to ‘create some memories of our own’.
Kate, 34, looked effortlessly cool in a pretty white and blue dress by Indian designer Naeem Khan, while William was smart casual in chinos, a jacket and an open-necked shirt.
The couple arrived at the landmark monument at 3.40pm accompanied by a guide they earlier had lunch with at the nearby Oberoi hotel.
William looked pensive, or possibly slightly overawed, as they stood looking at the view for a minute or so as the guide talked through the history of the Taj Mahal.
Then they walked through the famous garden, William guided Kate to the bench and they sat down.
As they left the prince said: ‘I’m glad you have got your hats on. It is beautiful, isn’t it. It was overwhelming. ‘
The couple’s farewell to India could not have been more meaningful as they sat together, knees touching, beaming for the assembled photographers.
Kate, 34, wearing a white dress with a royal blue embroidered motif by Indian designer Naeem Khan and her trademark nude high heels, followed her husband’s lead in taking off her designer sunglasses before smiling warmly for the cameras.
William, 33, quickly adjusted his blue linen jacket, which he wore over a crisp open neck white shirt with chinos and dark brown suede loafers.
They sat smiling together for 25 seconds before being given a ‘thumbs up’ by their director of communications, Jason Knauf, signalling that the much-anticipated photoshoot was over.
When Princess Diana sat in the same spot three days before Valentine’s Day in 1992, she cut a forlorn figure outside the so-called ‘monument of love’, the spectacular marble mausoleum becoming a symbol of her loneliness.
Dressed in a purple and red outfit, a then 30-year-old Diana told reporters she found the experience ‘very healing’.
When pressed to explain herself, the princess replied: ‘Work it out for yourself.’ Nine months later she and Prince Charles announced their separation in November 1992.
It could not be in starker contrast to today’s tender display of affection between a couple still clearly in love as they prepare to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary on the 29th of this month.
After sitting on the bench the couple were taken on a private tour inside, where they were shown the tombs of Murghal emperor Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, the beloved wife he commissioned the Taj for in 1631 as a symbol of his eternal love.
Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves, so the bodies are laid in a relatively plain crypt beneath the inner chamber with their faces turned right, towards Mecca.
As they came out William was asked: ‘What has today’s visit meant to you?’ to which he replied ‘It’s a beautiful place, stunning designs in there.’
Kate added: ‘It’s been really incredible to learn about the romance of the building and really beautiful architecture.’
Kate described the Taj Mahal as the ‘perfect’ place to come just before her 5th wedding anniversary.
Tour guide Rizwan Mohammed, 35, said he wished them a happy 5th wedding anniversary for the 29th April, adding : ‘They were shocked that I know about it, but you know the internet. But then she said this is the perfect thing to do before their wedding anniversary. She was quite happy about it.’
Asked if it was a ‘romantic day for them’, he said ‘absolutely’. They were fascinated ‘by the story of the king and the queen’ and the love that made him build the monument to her.
And Kate got ‘quite emotional’ when she came to know that the Queen died at the very young age of 39. ‘She said ‘she really deserves this kind of building as they were madly in love with each other.’
Mr Mohammed added: ‘They were down to earth, very casual. They were so, so easy to talk with them. For me, I was quite nervous but they were very normal, down to earth. Specifically the duchess, she was very enthusiastic about how this was built,.
‘She was asking about the inscriptions and what they mean.
‘They were quite fascinated how it was done four centuries back, especially the lady. She was quite fascinated about the skills of those people and did they do it without using any modern tools and techniques.’
Mr Mohammed was selected to give the tour by British High commission where he has worked for 15 years. He added that they didn’t say anything about Diana, but he tell them about the bench and said: ‘She was beloved so much in the whole of India.’
The couple signed the visitor’s book as they left and will enjoy dinner at a local hotel before flying back to the UK tomorrow.
The couple’s spokesman said they had only decided this morning that they would sit on the bench – and not because of its associations with Diana, but because it is where everyone sits to admire the Taj’s beauty.
He said: ‘They decided this morning. They thought about it a little bit.
‘That is the place where people who come to this beautiful place sit to admire its symmetry. That’s why the Princess of Wales sat there, that’s why the Prince of Wales and others sat there. It’s about what other people do.
‘For the Duke and Duchess this is about new memories.’
Before their arrival at 3.40pm local time, aides tried to play down the significance of the bench so synonymous with William’s late mother it is known locally as ‘Lady Di’s chair’, saying the couple only wanted to pose on the bench because it was what ‘all tourists do when visiting the Taj Mahal’.
A spokesman added: ‘They made the decision because it is what all visitors to the Taj Mahal do – they sit on the bench with the perfect symmetry of the building behind them.
‘They got a brief glimpse of the Taj from their hotel earlier and were visibly excited. They couldn’t wait to get down here and experience it for themselves.
‘Like everyone visiting this magical and beautiful place, they want to have a unique experience to remember forever.’
Half an hour before the royal couple arrived, police cleared the site directly in front of the 17th century structure so that photographers could get a clear shot, as was the case when Princess Diana visited in 1992.
There were also concerns that William and Kate might be ‘mobbed’ during their walkabout, with 20,000 people from around the world visiting the Unesco World Heritage site today.
With the scorching sun beating down on the 42-acre estate in Agra as temperatures topped 41 degrees celsius, workers kept dousing the bench in cold water in order to keep it as cool as possible for the Royal behinds.
There was a last minute drama when the fountains in front of the bench seemingly couldn’t be turned off, prompting a man to take off his trousers and roll up his underpants and jump into the water feature to turn the central fountain off manually.
Then security tried to remove the small press pack – consisting of five UK photographers, five Indian photographers, and two reporters from the bench opposite after they had pre-positioned to capture the magical moment.
American Mr Knauf, 32, had to step in and negotiate with irate armed security guards before tensions threatened to boil over. He told the Taj’s head of security and head of police: ‘This is what the Duke and Duchess want. They want the press to be here and they want the photograph to be taken.’
Summing up the tour, the couple’s spokesman said: ‘I think it’s a huge success. They had very clear objectives when this tour was being planned and they have achieved all of those.
‘They wanted to establishing a real enduring relationship with India and its people. They had an incredible introduction to the top of government in prime minister Modi. The got to shine a spotlight on issues they care about. They had a serious day focusing on conservation.’
He added that the killing of a rhino at the hands of poachers would not have made the front pages if they had not been at Kaziranga National Park.
And they had established close ties with the King and Queen of Bhutan particularly after a successful three and a half hour dinner that marked the start of ‘a relationship with this important part of the world’.
He added: ‘They have fallen in love with India and Bhutan and I am sure they will be back.’
Prior to the trip, an aide said yesterday: ‘The Taj, one of the wonders of the world and completed in 1648, will be a fitting location for The Duke and Duchess to say thank you for the generosity and warmth that has been extended to them on the tour.
‘The Taj Mahal is one of the symbols of India and Their Royal Highnesses cannot wait to see it with their own eyes.
‘The Duke of Cambridge is of course aware of the huge esteem his mother, the late Princess of Wales, is held in India and he appreciates the iconic status of the images that exist of The Princess at the Taj.
‘He feels incredibly lucky to visit a place where his mother’s memory is kept alive by so many who travel there.
‘Twenty four years on from her visit to the Taj, The Duke and The Duchess are looking forward to seeing this beautiful place for themselves and creating some new memories as they say thank you to the people of India at the conclusion of this tour.’
A source close to the couple added after the visit: ‘For the Duke of Cambridge, his mother’s visit to the Taj Mahal is not a particularly strong memory at all. He has many other memories of his mother that are much more important to him. The visit was about creating new memories for their family.’
The couple’s seven day tour of India and Bhutan, which started last Sunday, has seen some memorable moments: William and Kate playing cricket with Sachin Tendulkar in Mumbai and their visit to its slum children – which William says was the most significant part of their trip – followed by a Bollywood extravaganza; Kate’s ‘Marilyn’ moment as her white dress blew up during a wreath laying ceremony at India Gate in New Delhi and the couple’s foray into international diplomacy as they lunched with the Indian Prime Minister and raised the plight of Britain’s steel workers.
And who can forget Kate’s face as she fed a baby rhino in Kaziranga National Park or their their two-day visit to Bhutan where they met the King and Queen of the Dragon Kingdom and tried their hand at archery before hiking – Kate in a leather waistcoat and full make-up – to the breathtaking Tiger’s Nest monastery.
William’s late mother was memorably pictured on a bench in front of the Indian landmark in 1992 as her marriage to Prince Charles unravelled.
The image quickly became a poignant symbol of her loneliness.
The bench she was sitting on was, after all, the very seat on which some 12 years earlier a still single Charles had posed and vowed to return one day with a bride.
But it was a promise Charles never kept.
By the time he and Diana finally made it to India together their marriage was on the rocks and the couple officially separated months later.
Although there had been speculation that William and Kate might avoid the iconic mausoleum due to the memories their visit will ignite, sources said there was ‘never any doubt’ that the Taj Mahal would be a feature of the trip.
Happily married with two beautiful children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, and a loving and close-knit network around them thanks to Kate’s parents, Michael and Carole Middleton, the couple couldn’t be more different to William’s parents.
As their repeated shows of affection in India and Bhutan this week have shown, William and Kate can tread in the footsteps of Diana today, safe in the knowledge that history is unlikely to repeat itself.
The couple were bid farewell this morning by the Governor of Paro Chenko Tshering and education minister Norbu Wangchuk who greeted the couple when they arrived in Bhutan two days ago.
Speaking about the success of their tour Mr Wangchuk said: ‘I think our happiness index has shot up, this visit has been a blessing for Bhutan. It is wonderful they got to meet our King and Queen and the new prince.
Mr Tshering who was with the couple at Tiger’s Nest said: ‘They loved the walk and were very fit. William got to see a yak which he said was a first.
‘They’re a marvellous couple and it’s been an honour to receive them. The relationship between our King and queen and the British people is a good one.’
The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his beloved Queen Mumtaz, ‘the Lady of the Taj’, his wife for 19 years. He was heartbroken when she died in childbirth in 1631 after bearing 14 children.
The marble mausoleum took 22 years and 20,000 men to erect the building from white marble transported from 200 miles away by elephants.
News Source DailyMail