Erin Napier Gets Teary-Eyed Over Visit From Princess Diana’s Private Secretary

Erin Napier

Heavy/Getty HGTV's Erin Napier

Erin and Ben Napier have turned their little town of Laurel, Mississippi, into an unlikely tourist destination, thanks to their smash hit HGTV show, “Home Town,” and the work they’ve done with community members to revitalize the town over the past decade.

In May 2021, local news station WDAM reported that in the month prior, 15,000 visitors had walked through the doors of the Laurel Mercantile Co., the now-famous shop owned by the Napiers and a group of enterprising friends. So the Napiers are used to fans touring the town and streaming into their stores, such as Ben’s Scotsman Co. wood workshop and the new Scent Library, which celebrates its grand opening this weekend.

But this week, Erin Napier almost missed meeting a couple who now rank among her all-time favorite tourists. Had it not been for her best friend Mallorie Rasberry telling her to hurry over to the woodshop to meet Patrick Jephson and Mary Jo Jacobi, she said she may have missed her chance.

In an Instagram post Napier shared on March 8, 2023, the lifelong fan of Princess Diana was still giddy over getting to meet and talk with Patrick Jephson, who served as Diana’s personal secretary for years, and his wife, Mary Jo Jacobi, who served as an assistant to two U.S. presidents. Blown away that the couple chose to visit “tiny Laurel,” Napier shared her thrilling day with fans, drawing thousands of comments from people who were excited for her and fascinated by the couple’s history.

Napier has been a fan of Princess Diana and British history for as long as she can remember, even renovating their new country home — a century-old Tudor on the outskirts of Laurel — to be filled with old-world British charm, including a kitchen inspired by “Downton Abbey.”

“One reason we had to get this house was its very British look,” she told Southern Living in the fall of 2022. “It feels as though you’ve crossed the ocean and you’re not in Mississippi anymore. It’s like a vacation for us.”

In April 2020, when she and her husband were first featured on the cover of People magazine, Napier wrote on Instagram, “Growing up, I remember stealing mama’s @people magazines when Princess Diana was on the cover.”

So when Rasberry, Napier’s best friend and frequent “Home Town” contributor, heard Diana’s former private secretary was in town as a tourist and was visiting the woodshop, she immediately got a hold of Napier to let her know.

“I did not know Patrick Jephson’s name until he walked into our store today with his lovely wife Mary Jo,” Napier wrote on Instagram. “And I would not have known them if they hadn’t bumped into Mallorie and if she hadn’t called me to tell me to run to the woodshop, I never would’ve gotten to meet two people so closely involved with events from world history.”

Enamored by their experiences serving a princess and two presidents, Napier wrote, “They have seen the entire world, and still chose to visit little tiny Laurel today.”

Jephson was responsible for “every aspect of Diana’s public life and private organization,” according to the Lucas Law Firm, where he serves as a PR consultant. His bio on the firm’s site says he traveled with Princess Diana to five continents, working with world leaders and assisting her during “the period of Princess Diana’s greatest popularity as well as the constitutional controversy of her separation from Prince Charles.”

Meanwhile, according to the U.K. government, Jacobi was an aide to former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and, after President George H.W. Bush was elected, he appointed her Assistant Secretary of Commerce in the early 90s. She later moved to Great Britain, where she was a Civil Service Commissioner from 2005 to 2010, and has held multiple senior roles in the banking and financial services industry there and in the U.S.

Erin Napier Says She Got Teary-Eyed Meeting Special Guests

In Napier’s post about meeting Jephson and Jacobi, she shared memories of growing up idolizing Princess Diana, who died in a car crash on August 31, 1997 — the night of Napier’s 12th birthday.

“I have been completely enthralled by Princess Diana since I was a little child, when everywhere we went people told me my mother looked exactly like her,” she shared, including a photo of her mom next to a photo of Diana. “It made me so proud. I stood up tall when I was with her. And the night Diana died was my 12th birthday. It was the first death of someone I felt I somehow knew, though we’d of course never met.”

“I told him this story with tears in my eyes,” Napier wrote of her discussion with Jephson, “and then I laughed at how ridiculous I felt and he told me, ‘Diana always wanted a daughter!’ Today two Mississippi kids got to shake the hands of living history. I won’t ever forget it.”

Thousands of fans flooded Napier’s post with “likes” and comments. Her sister-in-law, Allison Napier, wrote that she recognized Jephson’s name from watching Netflix’s “The Crown,” for which he served as a consultant in 2019.

She wrote, “How cool! I knew his name from watching The Crown, but what stories the real Patrick must have! And his wife too!”

A childhood friend of Napier’s, Kenneth Livingston-Redmond, recalled celebrating her 12th birthday before the news of Diana’s death was reported.

He wrote, “I remember! We just got home from movies celebrating your birthday. This is amazing.”

Napier replied, “yes! it’s making the world feel so very very small! if we were playing 6 degrees of princess diana, holy smokes 😂”

Meanwhile, famed woodworker Andrew Reid, who is friends with the Napiers and sometimes works on projects with Ben, revealed that he and his wife were present for the meaningful meeting, too.

He wrote, “What a day!! 🙌🏼 Jenny and I cannot stop talking about it! 😮”