Prince Charles has always been there for me… but I can’t invite him to my wedding: She was Princess Diana’s bridesmaid. Now, aged 53 – and after several painful setbacks – India Hicks tells why she has finally agreed to be a bride herself
- India Hicks was a bridesmaid aged 13 at Prince Charles and Diana’s wedding
- Now aged 53, she has announced her own engagement to David Flint Wood
- She said her godfather Prince Charles will not be invited to the wedding
Bridesmaids, pah! The irony is that India Hicks — one of the most famous bridesmaids of all — never thought she would be needing one. Why would she? As a thoroughly modern woman, she was determined not to get married, nor to bow to convention.
As the granddaughter of Earl Mountbatten of Burma, India had been to her fair share of society weddings — and had a starring role at the grandest of them all. Aged 13, she was a bridesmaid at the wedding of her godfather, Prince Charles to the then Lady Diana Spencer.
What a heavy burden for a young girl (and we aren’t referring to that famous 25ft train and incredible 153 yard veil). Her mother, Lady Pamela Hicks, had been a bridesmaid to the Queen, so India was part of a grand tradition.
Last week, India, now 53, surprised everyone when she announced her own engagement to former advertising executive David Flint Wood — her partner of 25 years, father of her five children and, yes, the man whose proposal she turned down when they first got together.
India Hicks surprised many when she announced her engagement to long-term partner David Flint Wood
‘He very much asked me to marry him. I said: “I love you dearly, but no. I don’t want to be a wife.” I didn’t. I wanted to be this fiercely independent woman. I wanted children, and I wanted them to have his name, but I didn’t want to be married.’
Today, though, she has the air of someone who can’t quite believe she is to be, as she puts it ‘a Mrs’.
In fact, as she chats away about church bookings and table decorations and how sparkly to go with the shoes, she half-laughs, half wants to slap herself. So what happened?
‘Good question. Maybe I’ve mellowed? The pandemic has been a factor, yes. I’ve been through quite a difficult few years, in one way and another. I don’t know. I feel I want… stability.
Royal godfather: Prince Charles with his goddaughter India at a charity polo match in 2001
‘I have surprised myself. I don’t just want to get married, I want to get married here, in Oxfordshire, where I grew up and in the church where my father is buried and where I was christened. I want my mother to there. I want her to be wearing a hat…
‘Oh goodness. I do like to organise. I am the granddaughter of an Admiral. I think poor David is thinking that at this point the train has left the station and there is no stopping it,’ she admits.
Happily their children are on board, if a little stunned. They have four together — Felix, 23, Amory, 21, Conrad, 17, and Domino, 12 — and they have also fostered another boy, Wesley, 23, in the Bahamas, which has been their home for two decades.
‘The children were just shocked. They didn’t see it coming. Domino immediately asked if she could be a bridesmaid, which made me think: “Haven’t I been clever about this. If I’d done things in the traditional way, I wouldn’t have had the person I most want to be a bridesmaid.”‘
India was a bridesmaid at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. She is pictured second left at the wedding with the Queen and Diana
We are doing this interview over Zoom. India is staying at her mother’s home in Oxfordshire, and is holed up in the red-hued library which was designed by her father, the society designer David Hicks. It’s all rather sumptuous and elegant, and looks like a set from The Crown.
While we are talking about the wedding today, we must mention the Netflix show. The new series hits rather close to home, opening (in contentious style) with the assassination of Lord Mountbatten by the IRA in 1979.
India was actually supposed to be on the boat, the Shadow V, that was blown up that day, killing not only the Earl but three other people, India’s cousin Nicholas among them. Their holidays in Ireland revolved around their potterings on the boat, but on that fateful day India had stayed behind to watch a film.
Last year, she took part in a documentary, revealing that she was taken, with her siblings, into the castle’s study, told the terrible news and given pills to swallow. ‘Dear God, would you give an 11-year-old Valium?’ she recalled. ‘The damage that was done was much deeper than any of us could have imaged. And adult lives are still being horrifically disrupted.’
To what extent she was scarred is unclear, but the idea of watching any sort of reworking of this ‘story’ has been impossible.
‘I was going to watch it,’ she says. ‘I knew a few people who’d seen the screening, and I was all geared up and I thought, “I can do this”. But the first episode was about the murder of my grandfather.’ She sighs. ‘I was there that day. I heard the bomb go off. I felt… I felt I didn’t need to watch this series.’
She doesn’t say so, but presumably word reached her that some of the family were furious at how the tragedy — and the IRA — was depicted. The criticism has been that it was a more sympathetic portrayal than the family could stomach. She won’t be drawn into the specifics but her thoughts are clear.
The 53-year-old granddaughter of Earl Mountbatten said the romance ‘dipped’ while trying to plan the big day in-line with Covid-19 restrictions
‘All I can say is that this is a dramatisation,’ she says. ‘This is not a documentary. And I think there are an awful lot of people, a generation of people, who have misunderstood what they are watching. I think America is very enamoured with this whole series, but we need to remind people that it’s a dramatisation.’
How strange, in a more general sense, to see your personal family history retold as entertainment, though. She nods.
‘It is strange, but I also recognise that it has a place in history. I understand why people will want to talk about it.’
She refers back to the wedding of Charles and Di, as everyone always does.
‘That’s a good example. On the one hand, it felt like a family wedding — and it was. This was my godfather, who I have been very close to.
‘On the other hand, I look back now and see there were, what, a billion people watching around the world? There were 3,500 people in that church. The whole world was watching that scene on the balcony and you realise, goodness, this was no ordinary family wedding.’
It certainly wasn’t, and her own — scheduled for February — will be the polar opposite. ‘It’s going to be tiny. Look, we even have the word tiny on the invitations: 30 guests only. I want it to be tiny and cosy and meaningful, and I want to nip across the road to the pub afterwards.’
She confides that the date has shifted. It was September when they made the decision to marry and set a date for December 5 — last weekend! But the ever-shifting Covid rules stopped play.
The philanthropist had long insisted she had no plans to marry the former advertising executive, even after five children together, but revealed her change of heart on Instagram on November 28
‘So now we are looking at next year, hopefully, but that will rather depend on the British Government.’
Can we talk guest lists? Which senior royals made the cut? Prince Charles, surely?
‘No,’ she tells me. ‘He’s my godfather, but we are just having the children’s godparents, and that’s it.’
This will mean some disappointed showbiz types, too. A flurry of famous names congratulated India, herself a former model: Ralph Lauren, Naomi Watts, Ben Fogle and Elle Macpherson, to name a few.
She confides that she will be taking shoe designer Christian Laboutin, Domino’s godfather, up on his offer to make her shoes.
‘He said: “I’ll do the shoes. You need sparkle.” I said: “No. It’s a tiny English countryside church. I need tradition, not sparkle.”
‘He said, “Darling, you have already lost your virginity. Do not lose your sparkle.”‘
Talking of sparkle, her ring finger is conspicuously bare. ‘The world is a very strange place at the moment and we need to be very cautious,’ she says. ‘Having some sort of dazzling statement on my hand does not feel right at all.’
India has always followed her own rules. She attended Gordonstoun, the same school as Prince Charles. She managed to extract herself from her ‘goldfish bowl’ world, to some extent, when she moved to the Bahamas with David, when pregnant.
Was the move out of Britain a deliberate attempt to escape?
‘At the time nothing was conscious, but looking back it was definitely, yes, a subconscious thing — a way of finding my own voice and coming out of the shadow of what was quite an imposing family. And I like to think I have created a life that feels uniquely mine.’
She talks of the ‘nightmare’ of the public/private balance.
Miss Hicks and her fiance, 59, a former Saatchi & Saatchi executive, moved to the Bahamas in 1996 and have built and restored four houses and a hotel there
‘It’s very difficult nowadays. That’s why I am hugely admiring of Catherine and William.
‘I think they have found the balance, because they really do have the ultimate nightmare of that public versus private thing. She is so brilliant, though, feeding the Press just enough of her children’s birthdays, for instance, that everyone feels, ‘Ooh, lovely’.
‘Yet they’ve still managed to keep it private. So when everyone talks about the modernisation of the monarchy, they have done it.’
It’s a difficult family to be part of, even when you born into it, I venture. ‘Very difficult,’ she answers. ‘And Catherine has done it. And in a very respectful way, as well.’
Which brings us to Harry and Meghan, and their attempts to extricate themselves from the same family. If India has any sympathy, she’s not expressing it today. She’s been around The Firm long enough to know when to practise discretion.As to her own life, she insists it’s not as glossy and fairytale as everyone would imagine. The last few years have been decidedly rocky.
Her design business was quietly closed two years ago, and today she admits she was devastated.
Her business was her brand; her proof that she had made it in the world on her own merits.
‘I felt something shift in me,’ she admits. ‘I had a business that I put my heart and soul into, and it was alive and running for six years. And then I lost it. It was heartbreaking for me and very, very difficult to come to terms with.’
Then, when she was still reeling, the Bahamas — her adopted home — was hit by a devastating hurricane, the effects of which are still being felt today. India got involved in relief charity work which, she says, was as beneficial to her as to those she was helping.
Miss Hicks is the daughter of Lady Pamela Mountbatten, who was herself a royal bridesmaid at the Queen’s 1947 wedding, and interior designer David Hicks
‘It was a fascinating thing to do. Traumatic, because terrible things stay with you, but I was able to find my way a little.
‘It helped me, having lost my business.’
She’s now on the board of the Global Empowerment Mission, an international charity and particularly keen on the subject of ’empowering women at a certain stage of their lives’.
‘When a woman gets to a certain age in her life and her kids leave home, that feeling of being needed disappears,’ she says. Maybe she’s talking a little of herself here, too.
Then, this year, the pandemic hit. There were only a few cases on the islands, but the authorities took decisive action and closed everything down. Tourism — the lifeblood — has simply halted; the beaches are empty.
But the impact on India’s family has been seismic. The carefree assumption that she would always be a global citizen — free to pop back to London, able to have her children go to school there — is now gone. Travel is, if not impossible, then near so. In short, the dream has gone sour.
She is going back to the Bahamas for Christmas (‘the children want that — it is their home, our home’) — but is a move back to the UK, for good, a consideration?
India is now on the board of the Global Empowerment Mission, an international charity and particularly keen on the subject of ’empowering women at a certain stage of their lives’
‘It definitely is, for all sorts of reasons. Financial reasons, you know. Everyone is struggling in different ways and it’s been a pretty crippling couple of years for us.’
Then there is her mother, whose health is a worry. This was the reason she wanted to rush the wedding.
‘The most important person to be there is my mother, and I would like her to be there while she can still enjoy herself. At 91, every day is more challenging.’
She had a dilemma about whether to stay with her mother when she and David made this trip home.
‘We weren’t going to stay here, but my mother said: ‘You can’t come and just tap the window. That would be absurd.’ So we have formed a kind of bubble around her. David and I are sleeping in my father’s old bed. But I haven’t touched my mother in eight months. Longer. At night, she still goes to give me a hug. It’s automatic, isn’t it, but we mustn’t.’
It’s curious how even an independent 53-year-old mother can seem like a little girl, back in her childhood home. Her relationship with her father was, well, there is a can of worms there.
‘He was a tricky dad, but an absolutely amazing character, with a great passion for life. He just lived life completely and utterly.’
Would he approve of the small wedding (she once spoke of his exquisite snobbishness, so perhaps he would have wanted a bigger society do?).
‘What would he have thought? Lord, I have no idea. Actually, I think he would have rather liked the idea that we’re doing it in church, where he is buried, and he would have loved the pub across the road. I think he’d go with it.
What of her relationship with Prince Charles? He famously gave her a piece of china every birthday (she’s long since got the full set) and was a steadying influence. So is it the sort of relationship where they now Zoom? Clearly not.
‘I mean, he is very busy but I always have that lovely feeling that he is there. He’s remarkably good. He has that magical ability to make everyone feel special.’
She doesn’t sound entirely sure what relationship she should have with him. ‘I think I must have by now outgrown the godfather/goddaughter role. There must be a stage at which you stop being a godparent, and you stop needing a godparent. By 53, you’d think, I don’t need guidance, or that moral compass, but possibly I do!’
Who will walk her up the aisle? Oddly, given that she was supposed to have been married by now, she doesn’t seem to have thought of that. Maybe her sons, since she has four?
‘That’s a splendid idea,’ she says. ‘Although it might be a squeeze to fit us all across the aisle.’
You can see her eyes sparkling, as she thinks it through.
Back to planning…
- India has donated her fee for this article to Global Empowerment Mission.
Source: Read Full Article