Heritage

Meet the Man Who Owns 13,000 Pieces of Princess Diana Memorabilia

John Hoatson, 44, has reached out to clothing designers, chauffeurs and friends of the royal family to build one of the biggest private collections in the world.
IMAGE COURTESY OF JOHN HOATSON
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Collecting 1,000 pieces of anything is hard. Princess Diana super fan John Hoatson has not only accomplished that, but done it some 13 times over. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, resident works a full-time job as an alumni director for Keiser University, but returns home every day to one of the most extensive private collections of royals memorabilia in the world.

Hoatson remembers the exact moment he first felt a connection to the late Princess of Wales, who died two decades ago in last month. On July 29, 1981, his mother woke up a then 8-year-old Hoatson at the crack of dawn "for historical reasons." The entire family then sat down together and watched a young Lady Diana Spencer marry Prince Charles, the heir apparent to the British monarchy.

"I was blown away by how beautiful she was when she stepped out of that carriage, and that train went down the west steps of St. Paul's Cathedral," Hoatson, now 44, recalls. "It was like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis because the dress was crumpled inside the carriage and when she stepped out and walked up the stairs, you could see that she was excited but also nervous."

A presentation photo of the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1992. Hoatson remarked how sad it is to see the separation between the two royals.

As a child, Hoatson had collected pictures and books related to George Washington on trips with his grandparents. But after Diana's wedding, he decided to focus solely on acquiring tokens related to the young princess and her new in-laws.

"I've stuck with Diana ever since because I just thought she was the most beautiful thing in the world," he explains. "We all like Cinderella going to the ball, winning the prince and living happily ever after, but sadly she didn't live happily ever after. We all resonate with her because she had her problems, average things we all suffer from, and I think that's the thing that makes her so special."

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In addition to a Christmas card addressed to Prince Charles’ former nanny, Hoatson’s collection includes sketches of Diana’s wedding dress autographed by the designer and a photo of her wedding cake signed by its baker.

A museum once valued the collection at $500,000, but Hoatson didn't purchase his estimated 13,000 collectibles outright. He started by contacting those in the royals' immediate circles: dressers, clothing designers, chauffeurs, friends and others who regularly crossed paths with the traditionally-private institution. When people heard about how he hoped to honor Diana's legacy — not make a quick buck — they often sent their personal souvenirs with best wishes and a signature instead of a bill.

"They know that I'm out to preserve her memory," he explains. "I'm not out to do any harm. I always make sure to preface with that. I've never sold any of the stuff that's been donated."


A program and ticket for Diana’s 30th birthday luncheon.

Between gifts, eBay and auction houses, Hoatson steadily amassed enough memorabilia to fill his own home. He stocks glass cases with commemorative china, carefully slips photos into acid-free protectors and covers his walls with framed programs and invitations.

Hoatson even owns pictures autographed by John Travolta, Henry Kissinger and other celebrities Diana met and knew, but the collection is more than just paper. The granddaughter of a worker at Althorp, Diana's childhood home, once sent him some of the estate's original doorknobs that she had kept under her bed for years.

Most notably, Hoatson owns a 36-year-old piece of royal wedding cake in a box signed by two of Diana's bridesmaids, India Hicks and Clementine Hambro. The solid block of fruitcake hasn't crumbled a bit in the past three decades. A thorough soaking of booze is known to give the confection a shelf-life of over a hundred years.

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"There are slices of Queen Victoria's cake still out there dating back to the 1800s," he says of the traditional royal wedding favor. "My particular slice of cake came from Edward Harrison, the chief chauffeur to Her Majesty the Queen, so it's pretty cool in that regard."


Hoatson’s slice of Princess Diana’s wedding cake.

Hoatson's extensive accumulation of keepsakes recently put him in the spotlight after interviews with the Tampa Bay Times and later the Daily Mail. He hoped to share his many pieces of history, but the reception wasn't exactly kind. Internet trolls unleashed a stream of nasty pronouncements on Hoatson, accusing him of being it in for the money or labeling him a "stalker" and his hobby an "obsession."

"That's not what I'm about," he retorts. "I'm a stable person. I have a very good job. Diana is not the only thing I do in my life, so people need to understand that."

Despite the horrid hate mail, Hoatson still wants to share his collection with others. In fact, he sees the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's death as an opportunity for renewed interest in the royal family.

A sketch of Diana's famous "revenge dress" signed by designer Christina Stambolian.

"It's been nice this year having her back in the headlines," he says. "We haven't seen her on the cover of magazines and newspapers, and it's nice during this 20th anniversary to see magazines printed again with her face on them."

Going forward, Hoatson hopes to one day share his memorabilia with Diana's descendants. He wants to gift Prince William and Prince Harry letters written by their mother, or any other keepsakes they might desire. As for the rest of the 13,000 pieces, Hoatson believes that he'll eventually offer them to a museum, but until then he'll continue to hold onto the fruits (and fruitcakes) of his labor.

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"I do enjoy it when I go home at night and see it," he says. "It's my joy."

FromGood Housekeeping US

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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