By DAN GELSTON AP Sports Writer
Princess Diana dazzled for more than a decade on People magazine covers wearing off-the-shoulder gowns, pearl necklaces and oversized hats, looks that defined modern glamour. Diana smiled on the June 13, 1994 edition, looking slightly off to the right, as the headline blared: DIANA’S DARING NEW LIFE. Topless bathing? Holistic healing? Aromatherapy? Anything goes, as a liberated Diana struggles to find herself.
Diana’s cover girl outfit?
Yes, anything did go for Lady Di, as she was snapped in — of all things — a Philadelphia Eagles varsity bomber jacket.
Her fashion sense in this case more fit for Rocky than royalty, Diana — who died 25 years ago last week — had been occasionally photographed through the years in the jacket, which was a gift from then-Eagles owner Leonard Tose.
Imagine, Diana drinking a cold one and raising a ruckus with Eagles fans in the cheap seats in the 700 level at old Veterans Stadium.
OK, probably not, as Diana wasn’t known as an NFL fan nor did she have any idea about the Eagles until a chance meeting with the team statistician at Grace Kelly’s funeral. As the story goes, Eagles statistician Jack Edelstein — noted in his Associated Press obituary as a “master of double talk and once dated Marilyn Monroe ” — was a close friend of Jack Kelly, a longtime Philadelphia politician and Princess Grace of Monaco’s brother. Edelstein was invited to the 1982 funeral and during small talk with Diana, the princess mentioned her favorite colors were “green and silver.” That information sparked Edelstein to ask Tose to send Diana a care package of Eagles shirts and hats and other merchandise.
Oh, and one custom-made jacket.
“Leonard loved the big gesture and he loved spending money,” said retired sports writer Ray Didinger, who covered the Eagles for 52 years. “It’s not like they took something off the rack.”
Diana took to her Eagles jacket like a South Philly diehard fan and, unlike her wardrobe that often celebrated Britain’s A-list designers, this was no one-time wearing. She wore it to amusement parks, public outings, picking up Prince Harry from Wetherby Preparator, and on that People cover, the Eagles helmet logo on the white sleeve of the jacket stood out at supermarket checkout counters across the country.
Who needed Sports Illustrated for this kind of publicity?
“The thing about the jacket which made it so iconic was first of all, that it was sportswear and streetwear which is so rare to see a royal dressed down in any kind of sporting wear or streetwear like that,” said Natasha Bird, executive editor (digital) of Elle U.K. “It was also an emblem of Americana which was very fashionable at the time. Madonna was someone that we were idolizing, too. You so rarely would see a member of the British royal family dressing in any kind of way that was emblematic of Americana or any of that symbolism.”
Bird said the fact Diana wore a one-of-a-kind piece gave the jacket “that little bit of extra edge.”
“She spoke with her clothes in a way that she often wasn’t afforded the ability to speak with her voice,” Bird said.
It was more than a cool jacket. In some way, the jacket was Diana thumbing her nose at the attire expected out of her position. Yes, there was a place for the wide-brim hats and painted dresses, the tiaras and sequined ball gowns. She also was a princess who loved to challenge the royal protocol and the Eagles jacket represented a very Casual Di.
“One of the things we love to celebrate about Diana is that she was a bit of a renegade,” Bird said. “It’s one of the reasons we loved Harry during his teenagehood as well, some of his fancy dress notwithstanding. We like someone in the U.K. who bucks the system and we love someone who doesn’t necessarily come across as having their nose in the air.”
Diana was so appreciative, she sent a handwritten thank-you note to the Eagles.
Philly soon wanted the same piece of merch as the Princess.
“Everybody wanted to run out and buy the jacket. Of course,” Didinger noted, “it was one of a kind.”
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who had just bought the team a month before the People issue came out, had the cover photo blown up and hung in his office.
The photos have become a piece of Philly pop culture, sprouting everywhere of late as last Wednesday marked the 25th anniversary of Diana’s death in a Paris car accident. There’s a cottage industry of stickers, T-shirts and posters that can be bought at offbeat stores or found at restaurants and bars throughout the city. The Middle Child Clubhouse, a neighborhood restaurant, has two framed photos of Diana and her Eagles jacket inside.
“I love looking at her face every morning,” barista Bean Leggs said. “I think a little part of her would probably really like the Eagles.”
Who knows? She never did visit the Eagles when they played 1989 and 1991 games at Wembley Stadium in London.
But a big part of Princess Diana really did like her Eagles bomber jacket.
Associated Press writer Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.