Princess Diana: 20 years af­ter her tragic death, we pay trib­ute to the Peo­ple’s Princess

The Diana ef­fect

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS - CHRISTO­PHER WIL­SON is a royal bi­og­ra­pher and doc­u­men­tary film­maker. His books in­clude The Wind­sor Knot: Charles, Camilla and the Legacy of Diana, A Greater Love and Diana v. Charles (with James Whi­taker).

On Au­gust 31, it will be 20 years since the pre­ma­ture death of Diana, Princess of Wales, rocked the world. In a poignant and in­sight­ful trib­ute, royal bi­og­ra­pher Christo­pher Wil­son in­ves­ti­gates Diana’s legacy and her con­tin­ued in­spi­ra­tion and in­flu­ence on her boys, Princes Wil­liam and Harry.

The mem­ory is as fresh as the scent of a newly plucked rose, while the legacy grows more pow­er­ful as each year goes by. For most peo­ple, even to­day, 20 years af­ter her death, the name Diana needs no suf­fix. Come late Au­gust, the flo­ral trib­utes will once again pile up out­side Kens­ing­ton Palace – fewer now, the donors older – but the world­wide pas­sion for Diana, Princess of Wales, re­mains as po­tent a force as ever.

For Prince Wil­liam and Prince Harry, the grief has gone, but the long­ing re­mains. For the rest of us, it’s as if she never went away. As Wil­liam him­self says, “Ev­ery­one knows the story. Ev­ery­one knows her.”

And on this 20th an­niver­sary, the Princes have be­gun talk­ing about their mother like never be­fore – blow­ing the cob­webs away, dust­ing down her rep­u­ta­tion, en­cour­ag­ing others to take a fresh look.

“All I want to do is make my mother proud,” says Harry. “It’s she who in­spires the work I do. When she died, there was a gap­ing hole, not just for us, but also for a huge amount of peo­ple around the world. If I can try to fill a very small part of that, then job done.

“I can safely say that los­ing my mum at the age of 12 had quite a se­ri­ous ef­fect on not only my per­sonal life, but my work as well.”

Wil­liam speaks equally lov­ingly about Diana. “I would like to have had her ad­vice,” he says.

“I would love her to have met Cather­ine and to have seen the chil­dren grow up. It makes me sad that she won’t, that they will never know her. I still find it dif­fi­cult now – the shock is the big­gest thing and I still feel it 20 years later about my mother. Peo­ple think shock can’t last that long, but it does. It’s such an un­be­liev­ably big mo­ment in your life and it never leaves you.”

With two up­com­ing doc­u­men­taries on tele­vi­sion and a slew of in­ter­views, the cre­ation of a memo­rial gar­den at Kens­ing­ton Palace and the prom­ise of a new statue for Diana, the

Princes’ de­sire to re­in­force their mother’s place in his­tory may seem dis­pro­por­tion­ate, given the pas­sage of time. Yet they’re de­ter­mined she will not be for­got­ten.

She is ev­ery­where you look – Cather­ine, the Duchess of Cam­bridge, wears her en­gage­ment ring. Two-year old Princess Charlotte bears her name. The House of Wind­sor changed its tune in def­er­ence to her. Pages of his­tory are de­voted to her achieve­ments.

And a whole new gen­er­a­tion, as yet un­born at the time of Diana’s pass­ing, has grown up feel­ing that some­how they knew her.

“Not quite a saint, but most def­i­nitely one of the an­gels,” said her dear­est friend Lu­cia Flecha de Lima, just be­fore her death ear­lier this year.

“A com­bi­na­tion of beauty, pluck and com­pas­sion” is her former pri­vate sec­re­tary Pa­trick Jeph­son’s rec­ol­lec­tion. “The Diana story con­tin­ues to strike a chord.”

Why, though? Why, in this year, should we take spe­cial no­tice, when so many have passed away since her tragic death in a Paris tun­nel in 1997? The an­swer lies with her two sons, freed at last from self-im­posed re­straint, who feel strongly that as their fa­ther fast ap­proaches king­ship, their mother should have her right­ful place in his­tory, too.

In­evitably, this new Diana cam­paign of theirs will cause dis­com­fort to Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Corn­wall – who, on their up­ward path to full pub­lic ap­proval as a cou­ple, would feel a lot hap­pier with less men­tion of the “D” word. And though the Palace ma­chin­ery – more me­dia-savvy these days, largely thanks to Diana’s hefty con­tri­bu­tion decades ago – is ca­pa­ble of with­stand­ing sug­ges­tions of a rift, some sea­soned ob­servers sense a re­cent dis­tanc­ing be­tween fa­ther and sons.

The Princes are right, of course, to want their mother ac­corded full recog­ni­tion in the his­tory books. Diana be­came not only the world’s most fa­mous woman, she brought a new lus­tre to the Bri­tish roy­als, gave them a new sense of di­rec­tion, fresh­ened up their out­look and opened the door to pre­vi­ously un­thought-of pos­si­bil­i­ties. To­day, to a large ex­tent, her two sons are ful­fill­ing her own per­sonal am­bi­tions and live in the glow she has cast down the years.

The com­pas­sion­ate Princess

What made Diana so re­mark­able was her unique com­bi­na­tion of com­pas­sion, glam­our and an unerring in­stinct when it came to the me­dia. Par­tic­u­larly af­ter the break­down of her mar­riage, her

char­ity work be­came her in­spi­ra­tion and of­ten a life­line to nor­mal­ity, too. “She was drawn to the vul­ner­a­ble, the weak and the un­recog­nised,” says her bi­og­ra­pher Sarah Brad­ford. “It touched a per­sonal chord with her, link­ing with the re­jec­tion and marginal­i­sa­tion she felt she her­self was suf­fer­ing.”

“Ac­com­pa­ny­ing her to a chil­dren’s hos­pice or the bed­side of a dy­ing refugee was to wit­ness a woman who never let her emo­tions take charge – but who never en­tirely masked them ei­ther,” re­calls Pa­trick Jeph­son. That was the key to Diana’s suc­cess.

One of the most defin­ing im­ages of her much-pho­tographed life came in April 1987, when she opened the first HIV/AIDS ward in Britain and shook the hand of an AIDS suf­ferer. World opin­ion changed overnight, ac­cord­ing to the pho­tog­ra­pher who took the shot, Arthur Ed­wards, “Peo­ple were amazed to dis­cover this wasn’t a dis­ease you ran away from; it was per­fectly safe.”

Diana her­self ex­plained: “HIV does not make peo­ple dan­ger­ous to know. You can shake their hands and give them a hug – heaven knows they need it.”

She had started the Palace rev­o­lu­tion. Ini­tial re­ac­tion to the pic­tures from diehard courtiers was one of out­right dis­ap­proval – the Princess ap­peared too hu­man, too com­pas­sion­ate – al­though per­haps their con­cerns were that the other roy­als might look less sym­pa­thetic by com­par­i­son. Or maybe it was just the na­ture of HIV/AIDS which they dis­liked. What­ever it was, soon their ideas would be swept away by the winds of change as Diana threw back the shut­ters and let in day­light to the stuffy royal house.

When she died, her friend, Sir El­ton John, who rewrote his hit Can­dle in the Wind to per­form at her fu­neral, do­nated the roy­al­ties to The Diana, Princess of Wales Memo­rial Fund in hon­our of the AIDS work she had done. The sum he gave was £38 mil­lion ($67 mil­lion) – one of the big­gest char­i­ta­ble do­na­tions ever in the UK – but just a drop in the ocean of funds she raised over her life­time.

In 1989, she per­formed the same mir­a­cle of trans­for­ma­tion, trav­el­ling to Indonesia to visit le­prosy pa­tients in Jakarta. Pe­ter Waddup, Na­tional Di­rec­tor of The Le­prosy Mis­sion, told The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly, “Diana had an as­ton­ish­ing im­pact on the work we did when she was our pa­tron and we were dev­as­tated by her death. Le­prosy was, and still is, a highly stig­ma­tised dis­ease and Diana’s ac­tions were trans­form­ing in tack­ling the stigma. She held hands with peo­ple af­fected by le­prosy when she vis­ited our hos­pi­tals in In­dia, Nepal and Zim­babwe, and spent time with ev­ery pa­tient in turn. I doubt any in­di­vid­ual will have such an im­pact again.”

Just as mem­o­rable an im­age is of Diana walk­ing across a field sown with land­mines. To­day, her im­pact on world peace and safety is as strong as the day she died, ac­cord­ing to Ma­jor Gen­eral James Cowan, head of land­mine clear­ance or­gan­i­sa­tion The HALO Trust. “The Anti-Per­son­nel Mine Ban Treaty, signed in Ot­tawa 20 years ago, was one of the great moral state­ments of the 20th cen­tury,” he says. “Princess Diana was an in­spi­ra­tional fig­ure in this ef­fort – her visit to a mine­field in An­gola in 1997 catal­ysed the world’s at­ten­tion – and that con­tin­ues still.

“Her in­ter­ven­tion was a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to the Mine Ban Treaty.”

The work goes on. In April this year, Prince Harry, to­gether with an un­prece­dented col­lec­tion of min­is­ters, diplo­mats and phi­lan­thropists, met at Kens­ing­ton Palace to re­mem­ber her con­tri­bu­tion and cel­e­brate 20 years of hu­man­i­tar­ian anti-mine ac­tion.>>

There has been a flurry of Dianastyle ini­tia­tives in re­cent times. With his brother, Wil­liam, and sis­ter-in-law Cather­ine, Harry has cre­ated Heads To­gether to raise aware­ness and money for men­tal health ser­vices and to en­cour­age peo­ple to talk in a way the Princes them­selves felt un­able to do af­ter their mother’s death.

By way of ex­pla­na­tion, an­other close friend of Diana, Rosa Mon­ck­ton, talk­ing about men­tal health, says, “It’s a huge is­sue with the youth of to­day [they hide it away] – but it was in the pub­lic do­main that Diana had these prob­lems. To have over­come them in the way she did while be­ing in the pub­lic eye was ex­tra­or­di­nary.”

Rosa’s daugh­ter, Domenica, who has Down syn­drome, is Diana’s god­daugh­ter. In March this year,

Rosa con­firmed that in a mov­ing act of friend­ship, Diana had of­fered, in 1994, to bury her friend’s stillborn baby, Natalia, in the gar­dens of Kens­ing­ton Palace – yet an­other tan­ta­lis­ing in­sight into the Princess’ com­plex na­ture.

Dis­cov­er­ing her style

No rec­ol­lec­tion of Diana would be com­plete with­out talk of her clothes. She led fash­ion, fol­lowed fash­ion, was a fash­ion vic­tim – oc­ca­sion­ally – and in the end set­tled for un­showy sim­ple lines which em­pha­sised the se­ri­ous role she un­der­took for her­self in her fi­nal years, help­ing to make her a lead­ing fash­ion icon of the

20th cen­tury.

Her life with clothes is riv­et­ingly cap­tured in an ex­hi­bi­tion at her old home, Kens­ing­ton Palace, which will con­tinue through un­til 2019. Diana: Her Fash­ion Story has al­ready more than dou­bled vis­i­tor num­bers to the an­cient palace and the ex­hi­bi­tion, ac­cord­ing to its cu­ra­tor Eleri Lynn, shows the Princess “in­tel­li­gently com­mu­ni­cat­ing through her clothes. This is a story many women around the world can re­late to.”

Cen­tre stage at Kens­ing­ton Palace is the mid­night-blue gown – ar­guably her most fa­mous – in which Diana danced with John Tra­volta at the White House in 1985. To­day, its cre­ator, Vic­tor Edel­stein, re­calls his first en­counter with the Princess just af­ter she had given birth to Prince Wil­liam, at Kens­ing­ton Palace, “She was so beau­ti­ful and sweet, and she seemed so vul­ner­a­ble. I walked down the stairs af­ter­wards and I was al­most on air. She had that ef­fect.”

Swiftly, Vic­tor be­came one of the most pow­er­ful weapons in Diana’s ar­moury and she re­turned of­ten to his ate­lier. “At the last fit­ting for the Tra­volta dress, Diana was so pleased she said, ‘I must show this to my hus­band,’” he re­calls. “Off she went and came back with the Prince of Wales. It was very funny be­cause he was ob­vi­ously go­ing out some­where – he was cov­ered in rib­bons and dec­o­ra­tions, but he was very nice about the dress.”

Re­port­edly, the Prince liked it less when Diana danced with the Grease star for half an hour.

Many vis­i­tors who make the pil­grim­age to Kens­ing­ton Palace also take in the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memo­rial Foun­tain in nearby Hyde Park. Si­t­u­ated close to the Ser­pen­tine Gallery – where the Princess made one of her most spec­tac­u­lar ap­pear­ances, in 1994, wear­ing the iconic fig­ure­hug­ging Christina Stam­bo­lian black silk dress – the foun­tain bril­liantly re­flects her more spir­i­tual side, with water gush­ing in cir­cu­lar mo­tion through blocks of gran­ite, the piece specif­i­cally de­signed to re­flect her love of chil­dren.

Heav­ily crit­i­cised af­ter its un­veil­ing by the Queen in July 2004, the foun­tain of­fers a sooth­ing mem­ory of Diana and its pop­u­lar­ity has slowly grown. So much so that The Royal Parks, which ad­min­is­ters it, re­vealed to

The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly that an­nual vis­i­tor fig­ures will soon pass the one mil­lion mark.

To some, it’s a more fit­ting trib­ute to the spirit of Diana than an old­fash­ioned, con­ven­tional statue, but in this Prince Wil­liam and Prince Harry ap­pear to dis­agree.

At the be­gin­ning of the year, they an­nounced a statue had been com­mis­sioned and would stand in the gar­dens of Kens­ing­ton Palace. At the same time, the new tem­po­rary White Gar­den, planted with white roses, scented nar­cis­sus and a carpet of for­get-me-nots, was an­nounced – both trib­utes to be made ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic. Many Diana fans will ap­pre­ci­ate the ges­ture, if not all.

It was, of course, pos­si­ble to love Diana and be in­fu­ri­ated by her at the same time. One un­told story from her last days on earth fea­tures James Whi­taker, the most fa­mous and cel­e­brated of the royal press corps, who had met Diana in her pre-Prince Charles days and whom she jok­ingly dubbed the Big Red To­mato. It’s true to say James, a close friend of this writer, was de­voted to Diana and, on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, she would ask his ad­vice. Given their rel­a­tive po­si­tions, their re­la­tion­ship was a sur­pris­ingly close one.

In the sum­mer of 1997, the world’s press had de­scended on the South of France, where Diana and Dodi Fayed were at­tempt­ing to hol­i­day aboard the yacht Jonikal. The re­la­tion­ship was new and – so it seemed to the out­side world – in­ex­pli­ca­ble.

In the in­tense heat, Diana did not re­spond well to the fever­ish at­ten­tion – pos­ing for pho­tographs one minute, send­ing out threats through emis­saries the next. It’s fair to say she was not be­hav­ing with cus­tom­ary deco­rum and when James caught up with her, he pleaded, “For heaven’s sake, Ma’am, you are the Princess of Wales – please act like the Princess of Wales!”

James spoke for many who felt that her life at that junc­ture had taken a wrong turn. What might have been

It’s any­one’s guess what would have be­come of her re­la­tion­ship with Dodi – or in­deed any other man who might have suc­ceeded him in her af­fec­tions. She had be­come such a colos­sal fig­ure on the world stage that it would have been im­pos­si­ble for most men to com­pete with the many de­mands for her at­ten­tion.

Im­pos­si­ble to guess, too, what Diana would have made of the young Kate Mid­dle­ton and, just as in­ter­est­ing to spec­u­late, how hap­pily she would have shared grand­mother du­ties with Ca­role Mid­dle­ton (not well, per­haps?).

Twenty years then since the world came to a stand­still with the shock news of Diana’s death. The ques­tion of­ten asked is – if she had lived, what would she be do­ing now?

“She might be solv­ing con­flicts, feed­ing the world’s hun­gry or breed­ing spaniels in happy ru­ral ob­scu­rity,” says Pa­trick Jeph­son, her former pri­vate sec­re­tary.

“We will never know.”

ABOVE, FROM LEFT: Diana in tears with a pa­tient at a chil­dren’s can­cer hospi­tal in Pak­istan in 1996. Wil­liam gives his son, Ge­orge, a hug while on the royal tour of Canada in 2016. Harry cud­dles a child at a cen­tre for chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties run by the char­ity he co­founded, Sen­te­bale, in Le­sotho, in 2014. OP­PO­SITE: Diana with Wil­liam and Harry in 1989.

ABOVE: Diana shone in a deep blue vel­vet Vic­tor Edel­stein gown as she danced with John Tra­volta at a White House Gala Din­ner in 1985. OP­PO­SITE: The Princess in a pho­to­graph by her re­port­edly favourite snap­per, Pa­trick De­marche­lier, taken in 1990.

The same cer­e­mony, 28 years apart. Troop­ing the Colour sparked cheeky smiles (above, right) from Prince Harry in 1988 and again last year, this time from his niece and nephew, Princess Charlotte and Prince Ge­orge.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.