In February 1989, Princess Diana came to Brooklyn.
The 27-year-old royal arrived by motorcade in Fort Greene to attend a Welsh National Opera performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was part of a historic solo tour that included his famous Harlem hospital visit depicted in Season 4 of “The crownwhere she held young AIDS patients.
Still, the idea of a princess crossing the bridge to attend an event in Brooklyn was almost as shocking as her stop in Harlem. “CBS Evening News” aired an incredulous segment about the ride in the Outer Borough, juxtaposing Di’s glamorous image with photos of the homeless, dilapidated buildings and broken sewers.
“We were so excited that we were getting national television coverage,” recalls Karen Brooks Hopkins, former president of BAM and its main fundraiser at the time, describing how staff helped buy a small television. in black and white so they can watch it at work. “Then the segment opens and [Dan Rather] points to trash on the streets of Brooklyn and asks, “Why is Princess Di coming here?” We have been broken!
Brooks Hopkins details the moment in his new book, “BAM…And Then It Hit Me” (PowerHouse Books), out March 1, which looks back on his 36 years at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Diana’s visit, she said, was a very special memory.
“For a princess to come to Brooklyn was like stepping out of the comfort zone of high society at the time,” Brooks Hopkins told The Post. His Royal Seal of Approval “changed everything for us, for Brooklyn.”
It all started in 1988, as BAM prepared to kick off its first opera season with a gala performance and a Welsh National Opera performance of ‘Falstaff’. Brooks Hopkins had to find a way to sell enough tickets to fund the ambitious production.
“Brooklyn then wasn’t the Brooklyn we know now,” she explained. “Getting people across the bridge to come to a show was a work.”
It was then that the managing director of Welsh Opera told her that Princess Diana was a patron and that he would invite her to the show. Brooks Hopkins didn’t really believe she could bring the world’s most famous woman to Kings County, so she was shocked when, weeks later, she received a call telling her to prepare for a royal visit.
“It was an invitation that came to the right girl at the right time,” Brooks Hopkins said of Diana, who married Prince Charles in 1981. “I think she was ready for her solo journey where she could be the center of attention and do it her way.
On February 2, the day of the gala, Diana’s private detail descended on BAM, along with the FBI, Scotland Yard and the NYPD, all bringing in bomb-sniffing dogs and calling in metal detectors. The princess received her own dressing room, with a private bathroom and shower. (The crew discovered that someone had “run away with the royal toilet seat” from her room a day later, Brooks Hopkins said. They never found the culprit.)
When the princess’ car finally arrived, Diana got out – a stunning sight in a strapless white silk dress, complete with brocade bodice and matching shrug.
“We were overwhelmed,” recalls Brooks Hopkins. “She was so gorgeous.” Brooks Hopkins greeted her, bowed to her, and led her inside through the stage door and then into the backstage elevator, where she met the other staff members.
“She was so nice to us and asked us about BAM,” said Brooks Hopkins, adding that she displayed an enthusiasm and eagerness so rare in celebrities. “We had walkie-talkies, and she wanted us to show her how they worked and thought it was funny. I knew the event would be a success.
Outside, protesters shouted about the unrest in Northern Ireland as limos lined the street and stylish guests streamed into the theater and took their seats. Mayor Ed Koch wore a cheap suit instead of the mandatory tuxedo. (“Apparently he was on his way to a Democratic Party fundraiser at the Waldorf,” writes Brooks Hopkins.) Even Donald Trump made an appearance, though Brooks Hopkins said his staff later had to chase him down for his money. .
As the curtain rose, the orchestra played “The Star Spangled Banner” and “God Save the Queen”, and Diana made her grand entrance. “Everyone is on their feet, everyone is wearing black, then she enters her royal box, dressed in white, and a gasp rises from the crowd. The drama!”
The opera sold out its entire five-night run.
“I don’t want to take anything away from the production, which was great, but Princess Di put it above [in terms of sales]said Brooks Hopkins. The gala raised $1 million in one night, more than double the amount BAM’s biggest fundraisers raised at the time.
In August 1997, when she heard the news of Diana’s death, Brooks Hopkins and her colleagues were devastated.
“We all felt like we had lost a friend – we felt so connected to her,” she said.
“It’s so great that she came to Brooklyn; another person might have been more snobby about it, but she wasn’t like that. She wasn’t just going to do the traditional things, and that was kind of her whole image.