Advertisement
  1. News

Florida man has some of Princess Di's wedding cake, plus 13,000 other royal items (w/photos)

John Hoatson poses with a photo taken in 2006 when he met Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson, the Duchess of York, for tea at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in California.
Published Aug. 17, 2017

John Hoatson recalls the day it all began with perfect clarity.

His mother woke him when it was barely light outside on July 29, 1981, telling the 8-year-old there was something he needed to see "for historical purposes."

Along with an estimated 750 million others around the globe, he planted himself in front of the TV for hours as the wedding of Lady Diana and Prince Charles unfolded across the pond.

"I fell in love with (Diana) right then. She was the prettiest person in the world," Hoatson, now 44, said. "I followed her entire life. I loved her humanitarian work. I had a photo of her on my nightstand throughout college."

Hoatson, an alumni director for Keiser University, is now owner of an extensive collection of items related to Princess Di and the royal family, filling his Fort Lauderdale home with more than 13,000 pieces. In 2011, a museum valued the collection at $500,000.

The Tampa Bay Times spoke to him by phone to find out more.

CANDLE IN THE WIND: Perfect song at a tragic moment

WATCH: A guide to all the TV specials celebrating her life

READ: Books pay tribute to Princess Diana 20 years after her death

Where does it all come from?

When Diana died, I started writing to people who knew her with the hope of gathering signatures, along with a portfolio of remembrances from people who knew her. Along the way, people started sending other things, starting with her friend and confidante Simone Simmons sending me signed birthday cards, Diana's T-shirt and a notepad Diana got when she vacationed at the K Club in Barbuda in 1996. I also have a bar of soap from that trip that Diana had washed her hands with. I think it helps that people know I'm not going to sell any of it. That's not what this is about. ... Of course, much of it comes from various auction houses.

What's your favorite piece?

I think the slice of their wedding cake. It's fruitcake. It will never get old. It's preserved by the air. I sent the cake to England and the box was signed by two of her bridesmaids, India Hicks and Clemmie Hambro, who was of course her littlest bridesmaid at 5 years old. I really like the letters and cards. She was a huge card writer. I have an engagement letter from right after she was engaged to Charles. It's signed "Lady Diana."

Have you tried the cake?

No, and everyone asks me that. But it's 36-year-old fruitcake, and it looks really bad.

What was the most difficult piece to obtain?

It took me seven years to finally get a tiny swatch of fabric from Stephen Walters & Sons from her dress. ... The swatches are from the same bolt of fabric, the taffeta that made her wedding dress.

What's the market like for Diana items right now?

It's hard this year with the anniversary, because people are trying to cash in on it, and as time goes on since her death it's going to get harder and harder to find things. I've seen signed pictures of her, and people are asking $20,000, or cards are going for $8,000. I look for things that are affordable. I want to reflect that she was Princess of Wales, and the Duchess of Cornwall, but also a mother.

PHOTOS: Looking back at America's favorite princess

Why are you doing this?

I want to do my part to preserve history and Diana's story so that we learn from it. I remember that morning of the wedding in 1981, my mother said to me, "These are the people we fought in the revolution." I thought, "Wow, they still have the pomp and pageantry. And carriages!" They're so tied into their history, and we're such a young nation. It fascinated me. I'm really hoping I can travel to England later this month for the anniversary. I went in 1996, and tried so hard to track her down, so I could see her somewhere, but I never did. Buckingham Palace has her desk on display. I'd want to see that.

You went to Beverly Hills and had a private tea with Sarah "Fergie" Ferguson. What do you talk about with the Duchess of York?

The tea was a very special occasion. We arrived at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. She came around 4:30 p.m. She wore no makeup and looked amazing. We spoke about Diana and the collection. We also spoke about events and charity work that she did at the time. It was an honor to be introduced to her dresser.

Contact Christopher Spata at cspata@tampabay.com. Follow @SpataTimes.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Less than a month after being fired, former St. Petersburg Housing Authority CEO Tony Love wants the agency to give him a job running its development nonprofit at the same $157,000 salary. That offer, part of ongoing negotiations over his severance, was rejected by the agency's board.
    Tony Love’s attorney tells the agency that fired him he wants full salary and benefits through 2020. The board rejects his offer.
  2. John Jonchuck returned to a Pinellas County courtroom last month to attend a hearing about whether he was entitled to a new trial. A judge on Tuesday ruled that he is not. SCOTT KEELER  |   Times
    Jonchuck was convicted of first-degree murder in April. He dropped his 5-year-old daughter, Phoebe Jonchuck, off a bridge in 2015.
  3. Ralph Lewis Wald and wife Johnna Lynn Flores leave the Orient Road Jail on May 30, 2013, after Wald was acquitted in the fatal shooting of his wife's lover. [TIMES (2013)]  |  Tampa Bay Times
    An unidentified woman is found dead at their Brandon house. At the same time, the medical examiner confirms the wife has died.
  4. The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County identified a positive case of hepatitis A in a food service worker at Hamburger Mary's in Ybor City on Oct. 22, 2018. [JOSH FIALLO | Times] JOSH FIALLO | TIMES  |  JOSH FIALLO | Times
    Slightly more than 200,000 people have been vaccinated this year — a huge jump from the 49,324 people vaccinated in all of 2018.
  5. This satellite image shows Hurricane Michael on Oct. 9, 2018, as it enters the Gulf of Mexico. It made landfall near Mexico Beach in the Panhandle as a Category 5 storm. [Photo courtesy of NOAA] NOAA
    Nearly a year after the storm, 18,000 claims are still open.
  6. Falo Kane, 32, of Clearwater, faces four counts of sexual battery of a physically helpless person and a violation of probation charge, according to police. [CLEARWATER POLICE DEPARTMENT]  |  Clearwater Police Department
    There were four victims, police said. One was in a wheelchair and another was a disabled stroke patient. The accused wrote a letter of apology.
  7. An eighth-grade boy can be seen punching a seventh-grader in a locker room in this screenshot from a video taken inside a Polk County middle school. Twitter
    A black student was slammed to the floor and punched repeatedly by a white classmate following a physical education class last week at Blake Academy in Lakeland.
  8. Workers refuel the tank at a gas station in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. U.S. President Donald Trump declared Monday that it "looks" like Iran was behind the explosive attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities. He stressed that military retaliation was not yet on the table in response to the strike against a key U.S. Mideast ally. AMR NABIL  |  AP
    Even before Tuesday’s reversal in prices, economists downplayed the prospect that the price spike could send the economy reeling.
  9. Watermans Crossing apartments at 4515 N. Rome Avenue in Tampa. Westside Capital Group
    Jakub Hejl discovered the Tampa Bay area while studying at IMG Academy.
  10. Greco Middle School in Temple Terrace has 183 more students this school year than last. Middle schools grew in enrollment this year, while elementary schools lost more than 1,200 students.  [Times | 2013]
    The 20 day count shows ever more crowding in southeast Hillsborough.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement