The Hari Putar Dialogues - 20
(The Times of India, 27 August; LONDON: Almost 27 years after her marriage with Prince Charles, a slice of Princess Diana's wedding cake goes under the hammer and is expected to fetch up to 20,000 pounds. The Princess of Wales gave a nine-inch square piece of the cake, along with a letter signed by her and a bottle of beer, to Moyra Smith in 1981. Smith was working as a cleaner for the Queen Mother at the time.)
Putar: According to a report carried in the Times of India today, a slice of Princess Diana's wedding cake went under the hammer at an auction and is expected to fetch up to 20,000 pounds.
Hari: I've read that story, putar. I understand that the piece of cake had been kept wrapped in metal tin foil for almost 27 years. The slice has remained in the loft of the cleaner's London home ever since.
Putar: According to the newspaper report the cleaning lady died last month, aged 78, and it was her dying wish for it to be sold.
Hari: Don't you think it was very strange for the cleaner to have kept that piece of cake all these years instead of eating it up on the wedding occasion?
PutarI: I don't think so. Apparently in 1998, a year after Diana's death in a car crash in Paris, a similar slice was sold for 17,000 pounds.
Hari: So apart from the cleaner there were other people who have also kept a piece of cake?
Hari: In that case my question is why do people keep such things - as an investment or for other reasons?
Putar: I guess it's possible that some people may keep it as an investment, but it's very unlikely. You would have to be very farsighted to think of that.
Hari: Makes sense though. If you eat it up that's just a momentary pleasure, but if you keep it, it can become a valuable property. You could buy a thousand small cakes for this amount.
Putar: Yes, this cake has actually appreciated a thousand fold in value: more than shares or property.
Hari: As a matter of fact, for twenty thousand pounds you could buy a small flat somewhere in the countryside.
Putar: The thing is that you can't know that it will have that kind of value. Had Diana still been alive its doubtful that the cake could have fetched such a price. People keep it for a sentimental reason, but later events may give it a commercial value. I think that the cleaner Moyra probably kept it for sentimental reasons.
Hari: Do you think she would have kept a piece of her own wedding cake?
Hari: Shouldn't she feel more sentimental about her own wedding and about the wedding of her children?
Putar: Her wedding, and that of her children was not important in that sense. She felt honored to have been given that piece of cake. People often think their own lives are not so important.
Hari: But Princess Diana's marriage was not even a happy one.
Putar: That's not important. As a matter of fact had it been a happy one, and had she still been alive the slice of cake would not have fetched such a price.
Hari: Most cakes become soggy and moldy with time. They could even have a foul smell.
Putar: I think perhaps after some time the smell goes away. It depends on the cake. You can apparently keep some of them looking presentable for years.
Hari: I wonder what condition the cake is in after all these years.
Putar: Apparently it's in good condition. According to Diana memorabilia specialist auctioneer Chris Albury, from Dominic Winter: "The decorative sugar icing of the royal coat of arms on top of the cake is very skilled and while there is some cracking and damage it is in remarkably good condition."
Hari: What is the cleaner's husband going to do with the money?
Putar: He will not use it for any personal benefit. The proceeds will go to charity. The Daily Mail quoted Moyra's husband as saying: 'I heard the last slice went for a fortune so that would be great for our charity."
Hari: The Princess of Wales also sent a signed letter and a bottle of beer. What about those things?
Putar: Not so important. The signed letter may have been a standard one, and a beer bottle somehow doesn't have that intimate connection with the wedding. Don't forget this was a designer cake, not just some cake you can pick up from a bakery.
Hari: I remember the first time someone climbed Mount Everest, they auctioned some chocolates returned by the mountaineers as 'Everest returned chocolates.'
Putar: That's possible of course. Tell me something Papaji?
Hari: Bol, putar?
Putar: Do you remember Marie Antoinette, the beautiful Queen of France?
Hari: She was there at the time of the French Revolution, wasn't she, putar?
Putar: Exactly. Do you remember what her famous quotation concerning cakes was?
Hari: I do, putar. Common people were starving and she said that, well, if they don't have bread to eat, let them eat cake.
Putar: But here the Princess was actually offering cake to a commoner.
Hari: That's true.
Putar: And it was the commoner who decided not to eat the slice of cake.
Hari: I guess so.
Putar: The cleaner might have spoken aloud: I can eat cake, but I won't. I'll keep it in memory of the fact that the Princess did offer me cake.
Hari: Well, possibly.
Putar: But people wouldn't cite that remark, even had she made it.
Putar: Is that because she is a commoner?
Hari: I don't know, putar.