Diana’s com­mon touch changed the monar­chy for­ever

Malta Independent - - FEATURE -

It was so hu­man. So ac­ces­si­ble. So very Diana: Prince Wil­liam, the heir to the Bri­tish throne, sprint­ing down the track at Lon­don’s Olympic Park with his wife, the Duchess of Cam­bridge, and his brother, Prince Harry, in a re­lay race this year pro­mot­ing men­tal health.

There was a time when such a scene would not have hap­pened.

Princess Diana, a preschool teacher thrust into the glare of celebrity by her mar­riage to Prince Charles, dragged Bri­tain’s rib­bon-cutting roy­als into the mod­ern world. She made a di­rect con­nec­tion with the public — once run­ning her own race in a flow­ing white skirt and baggy sweater — and pro­moted causes far from the main­stream at the time, like land mine re­moval and AIDS re­search.

That link lives on through her sons, who have adopted their mother’s more per­sonal ap­proach to monar­chy and in the process rein­vig­o­rated the in­sti­tu­tion.

“She was the first royal who re­ally took the public’s heart,” said Sandi McDon­ald, 55, stand­ing out­side an ex­hibit of the late princess’ dresses at Kens­ing­ton Palace. “I think her sons are the same — the public just loves them.”

Wil­liam and Harry are the most ob­vi­ous re­minders of Diana’s im­pact. They have spo­ken openly about their own men­tal health is­sues over los­ing their mother while so young and bro­ken down taboos just as their mother did by em­brac­ing AIDS pa­tients to ease fears about the dis­ease. But the princess’ most far-reach­ing legacy is her pop­u­lar­iza­tion of the idea that celebri­ties can use their ties to mil­lions of peo­ple they’ve never met to bring about change.

Hav­ing been swal­lowed up by the royal ma­chine when she was barely 20, Diana found her way in life af­ter re­al­iz­ing that the public was fas­ci­nated by her ev­ery thought. She was able to ma­nip­u­late that in­ter­est to pro­mote causes such as land mine clear­ance and to tell her side of the story when her mar­riage col­lapsed amid Prince Charles’ re­la­tion­ship with Camilla Parker Bowles, who later be­came his sec­ond wife.

To­day’s celebri­ties in ev­ery field have adopted that model — cre­ated when news­pa­pers and the evening news were the pri­mary sources of in­for­ma­tion — and pumped it full of steroids in the world of Face­book and In­sta­gram.

“You can sort of trace the molec­u­lar chain or ge­netic chain be­tween Diana and Kim Kar­dashian,” said so­ci­ol­o­gist El­lis Cash­more, the au­thor of “El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor: A Pri­vate Life for Public Con­sump­tion.”

“Imag­ine if Twit­ter or Face­book had been around in (Diana’s) day!”

While ev­ery wannabe celebrity to­day posts their se­crets on so­cial me­dia, in the 1990s it was unimag­in­able that a royal would share per­sonal hopes and fears with the world. But trapped in a love­less mar­riage, Diana chose to take her mes­sage to the peo­ple who loved her.

She covertly co­op­er­ated with bi­og­ra­pher An­drew Mor­ton to get her story out, us­ing an in­ter­me­di­ary who recorded tapes of her an­swers to the au­thor’s ques­tions so she could deny ever hav­ing spo­ken with Mor­ton.

“This was a quite re­mark­able thing that she was do­ing,” Mor­ton told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “Here she was, talk­ing about the most in­ti­mate de­tails of her life — about this woman called Camilla, about her eat­ing dis­or­ders, about her half-hearted sui­cide at­tempts — to me, who was a rel­a­tive stranger . ... She was talk­ing about things which no princess had ever spo­ken about be­fore.”

The gam­ble paid off. Diana’s story was told, and the public loved her all the more. Her funeral fea­tured an un­prece­dented out­pour­ing of grief and emo­tion, with tens of thou­sands lin­ing the streets and moun­tains of flow­ers piled out­side Kens­ing­ton Palace. It was a trans­for­ma­tive event for both the royal fam­ily and for Bri­tain, Mor­ton said.

“No longer were we seen as the stiff-up­per-lip, do-not-touch na­tion,” Mor­ton said. “We were seen as a trem­bling lower lip (na­tion), not afraid to emote, to shed our tears in public.”

Af­ter Diana’s death, the roy­als also learned they had to change.

Queen El­iz­a­beth II re­turned to the cap­i­tal from va­ca­tion in Scot­land and gave a speech from Buck­ing­ham Palace that qui­eted days of head­lines ac­cus­ing her of be­ing in­dif­fer­ent to Diana’s death. A more ac­ces­si­ble monar­chy has fol­lowed.

Last year, as Bri­tain cel­e­brated

Bri­tain's Diana, Princess of Wales, talks to am­putees at the Neves Bend­inha Or­tho­pe­dic Work­shop in the out­skirts of Luanda, An­gola.

South African Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela, left, shows the way to Princess Diana, dur­ing a meet­ing in Cape Town.

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