Remembering Princess Diana | Sunday Observer

Remembering Princess Diana

With the death anniversary of Princess Diana, it’s a poignant time to look back at the important role she played in society and the royal family.

She wasn’t just the former wife of a future king (and mother of the next king) and a style icon. She was a woman who used her fame and status and access to make a difference in the world and ushered in a generation of celebrity philanthropy.

Princess Diana could easily have met royal expectations

She could have been known for her pretty dresses and regal wave. She had all that, but she also knew her platform gave her the opportunity to facilitate real change. Her refusal to be boxed in to those traditional “royal” roles of the past created a world where celebrities and the wealthy are now expected to use their wealth and access to make a difference wherever and however they can.

She wanted to bring the royal family closer to the people they represented, and really connect with them.

“I would like a monarchy that has more contact with its people,” Diana said in an interview with BBC in 1995.

It was a desire she made into a reality. She was at one point or another — during and after her marriage to Prince Charles — a patron of over 100 different charities and humanitarian causes.

She wasn’t only willing to get close to people and talk to them and hear what their fears and needs and concerns, she was willing to put herself at risk.

In a beautiful tribute to his mom and continuation of her legacy, Princess Diana’s son, Prince Harryhas carried on this legacy and is now patron of a landmine charity, The HALO Trust.

The handshake heard ’round the world

Princess Diana also did incredible humanitarian work with the AIDS crisis at a time when little publicly was known about this terrible illness.

In the 1980s, there was a lot of misinformation about HIV and AIDS, and people feared touching anyone with the virus. The princess made sure to be photographed shaking hands with HIV-positive patients at a hospital in London in 1987, not wearing gloves.

It was an important moment in awareness and compassion at a time that the stigma was at its worst.Diana was similarly compassionate in combatting the stigma regarding leprosy. She was a patron of ‘The Leprosy Mission’ and traveled the world spending a lot of time with patients.

Struggles closer to home

Diana similarly visited homeless shelters in and around London, and made sure to take her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, along with her so they could see shelters and understand that not everyone lived the sort of life they enjoyed. “My mother introduced that sort of area to me a long time ago. It was a real eye-opener and I am very glad she did. It has been something I have held close to me for a long time,” Prince William said, in relation to his own work with the homeless — a continuation of his late mom’s legacy.

Diana spurned unnecessary formality

“Diana was the first member of the royal family to do this,” said Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty magazine.

But Diana said, ‘If someone might be nervous of you or your speaking to a very young child or a sick person, get yourself on their level.’”

Now, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as well as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are seen often doing the same.

Her two greatest achievements

Princess Diana reached out to people on all parts of the human spectrum, from children to the elderly, poor to the sick, and still made time to be an active mother to her sons – another facet of her personality not often seen with royals until that time.

Her legacy of charity continues, both through her sons and their wives, and through the charitable foundation The Princess Diana Memorial Fund, begun out of donations at the time of her death, and that have continued for the years since.

She rebelled in an unconventional way

She was rebellious against stale convention, putting family before royal duties, and being a mom before being a celebrity. She taught her boys to be normal kids, by taking the boys for meals at McDonald’s and riding public transit. By letting them act like normal kids, they also were better able to relate to the needs of normal children.

She was honest and frank with the press, even when uncomfortable – about her own struggles with eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, mental health, and marital problems, and that helped to inspire generations of women going through the same, and knowing they were not alone.

Her sons since have done their own work in mental health. Prince Harry and Prince William, as well as Duchess Meghan and Duchess Kate have since createdHeads Together, inspired by Princess Diana. The organisation works to destigmatise mental health struggles.

Princess Diana changed the royal family forever

That’s an established fact – but she also changed the world forever, in a powerfully impactful way that’s still being realised.

Now as we see Harry and William and their wives continue her legacy, it’s a constant reminder of just how much people are capable of when they refuse to be boxed in by what history and decorum expects of them, and they decide to use their connections and influence and resources for the good of the world.