Once upon a time – 40 years ago to be precise – a beautiful, young, almost-princess walked into the Club House Hotel on the main street of Yass. How do we know? Yass legend tells us – as does a shiny brass plaque on the wall of the said hotel.
It was on the 10th day of February 1981, according to the plaque, exactly two weeks before the world was officially told of her engagement to someone who needed no introduction.
She was Lady Diana Spencer; he was the future King of England, Prince Charles.
However, someone forgot to tell the bloke who did the plaque. He granted her princess-ness about five months too early.
Because journalists are paid to be curious, we set out to find out if anyone actually saw Diana go into the bar, who was she with and what did she drink?
After all, 29 July 2021 was the 40th anniversary of her wedding day, and this would have been her 60th year.
The last question is probably easier to answer than the first two. Our money’s on a shandy. Or perhaps a G&T, but history tells us it was more likely to be diet-something.
We also have no idea if she ate there. Although on most days now, as maybe it was then, she could well have been tempted by bangers and mash ($12), rump steak and chips ($15) and vanilla slice and ice cream ($8). But we can probably stake something valuable on her not splurging on dessert.
Today the Merino Bar, where the plaque stands, is a popular local that offers more betting options than the bookies enclosure at Royal Ascot. There’s also a dartboard and a pool table, and you have to walk past the latter to get to the Ladies. Just saying.
Although you mightn’t guess it from the clear lack of concrete facts in this story, we did speak to people who actually knew the Princess, including one who went to school with her, Heath House, in the UK who, in turn, promised to ask a former lady-in-waiting if they remembered the visit to the Yass pub. We’re still, er, waiting.
If anyone were to know, they’d be Yass folk. After all, the former home of her mother, Frances Shand Kydd, known as Bloomfield, is just out of town.
We also had another important question. Again according to Yass’s equivalent of urban myth, rural and regional myth, legend has it that Diana also dropped into what used to be Fossey’s frock shop, also on the main street. We don’t know if she bought anything, but it would be nice to think she had.
But we do know an even younger Diana Spencer dropped into Witchcraft at Harden-Murrumburrah, about 60 km from Yass, on 7 April 1974. How do we know? She apparently signed the Visitors Book, according to a special publication which celebrated Witchcraft’s 30th anniversary, which read: “Diana Spencer, Yass and England. I shall come back again someday.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t returned when the Visitors Book was borrowed for research for the book.
If you secure only one helpful piece of information from this tale, go and check out Witchcraft. It’s a fabulous little shop where clever, crafty country women make things that they sell to one another – and visitors – while enjoying excellent baked goods. They also pour tea from a pot, not a bag.
A not very royal postscript: The thing is that anyone who can likely answer any of our questions, never would. Her real friends never spoke out of turn. And although we spoke to people who actually knew her in the writing of this story, no one told us anything. However, it was done ever-so politely.
If you did see the almost-HRH in the pub on that day, I’d love to know – no prizes on offer, just the satisfaction of contributing to a happy-ish ending. Also, if you have the original Witchcraft Visitors Book with that signature inside, give it back!