Remembering the Princess who made it cool to be kind, 21 years after the death of Princess Diana

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It’s 21 years since Princess Diana was tragically killed in a car crash in Paris, but she has remained in the hearts of not only the nation, but the world.

Mother to the UK’s heir to the throne, Prince William, and her youngest son, Prince Harry who recently married Meghan Markle, now Duchess of Sussex, the media circus surrounding Lady Di that is said to have played a role in her death, has continued through her sons, with her never staying out of the press for long, even 21 years after her death.

It seemed Diana was destined for royalty from birth. Although nowadays the births of royals are a huge spectacle, with paparazzi waiting outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary’s hospital for the days leading up until the reported due date, but it is actually a Royal tradition to give birth at home, as was Diana. She however was the first Royal to break this tradition when she herself gave birth, setting a trend for her son Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton, who followed in her footsteps for the births of their own children.

Diana had close links to the Royal Family; she grew up in a house on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk that was leased to her family from Queen Elizabeth. Her father worked as an equerry for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II, and she grew up socialising with the likes of Prince Andrew and Prince Edward who would often visit her home. More surprisingly, and an even closer link to the British family, Diana and Charles were distantly related, both descendants of Tudor King Henry VII, 16th cousins once removed.

It seems Charles liked to keep it in the family. Diana’s sister Lady Sarah McCorquodale actually dated Prince Charles before Diana, but things ended when she made it clear she had no interest in marrying into the monarchy, later introducing him to her younger sister and giving them her blessing to date. After just a handful of dates, Charles proposed to Diana with it being said they only met 13 times before they wed – leaving questions as to whether this contributed towards the doomed fate of their marriage.

There were seemingly multiple factors that contributed towards the breakdown of the Prince Charles and Diana’s wedding with infidelity playing a large part from both parties. Diana had suspected Charles of having an affair with Camilla from as early on as their honeymoon and it’s said he once told her, “I refuse to be the only Prince of Wales who never had a mistress.” Desperate to save their marriage, Diana spoke about seeking advice from the Queen on how to handle Charles’ affairs, "So I went to the top lady, sobbing, and I said 'what do I do. I'm coming to you, what do I do?' And she said 'I don't know what you should do. Charles is hopeless'.

Diana shed more light on the reasons behind their failed marriage, once said that their marriage collapsed after the birth of their youngest son, Prince Harry who Charles had expressed disappointment towards upon finding out he was a dad to a son again when Diana gave birth, rather than the daughter he was hoping for.

Diana was like no other royal mum the public had seen before – she wanted to give her sons as normal an upbringing as possible despite the fact they were born into Royalty. From cinema trips and theme parks to the simple things we take for granted like queuing up for a McDonald’s, Diana made it her priority to give her sons experiences they could relate to their friends about. The boys remember he fondly for her unconventional methods of parenting and have described her as a ‘fun, big kid’ when reminiscing on their childhood memories. She also put huge emphasis on keeping her boys grounded and aware of not just their privileges, but their capabilities to help others less fortunate and would take her young sons with her on hospital visits or to Centre Point, the homeless charity she was patron of, which remained dear to her sons hearts with William taking over after her death.

After the birth of William, it is reported that Diana personally wrote thank you notes to the thousands of people who brought gifts congratulating her on her new arrival showing her gratitude and humbleness which is no doubt some of the qualities that made her so lovable and relatable. Today, some of her handwritten letters have been sold and despite their worth being predicted at £2000, selling for anything from that up to £20,000 dependent upon the content and uniqueness.

It isn’t just her letters that are of great value, but her clothes with Diana being a major style icon, even to this day influencing trends and the outfit choices of her sons wives, Catherine and Megan. Shortly before she died, Diana held a Christie's auction of 79 of her most iconic dresses to raise money for AIDS and cancer charities that raised over £1m. One of the most famous dresses sold was a velvet blue gown that she wore to a gala at the White House, where she memorably danced with John Travolta.

It’s clear Diana was not just a Princess, a wife or a mother, she was and remains a style icon, a teacher and humanitarian. Despite her links to Royalty prior to marrying Charles, Lady Di had a fairly humble start, after failing her O-levels twice, she worked part-time in a nursery where she stayed right up until she and Charles married. Her roots in teaching clearly ignited a passion for children and showed the sincerity of the compassion she displayed during the time in the public eye. It is known that is a required duty of Royals to participate in charitable work, but Diana’s labour and efforts to bring about awareness and change far exceeded anything done prior to her, and she continued her work after divorcing Charles, right up until her death. She shed light globally on issues close to heart, dedicating her time to understanding and helping those less fortunate, in order to not only bring attention to these topics, but ensure that they gained attention that would prompt transformations in how these issues were handled and viewed.

She was a activist for both HIV awareness and leprosy where we made headlines for shaking hands with, and touching patients with the conditions without wearing clothes despite recommendations to do so from officials. The images helped to remove stigma and false perceptions whilst educating and raising awareness for the conditions. She not only visited hospitals, hostels and hospices, she also opened the UK's first HIV/Aids unit at London Middlesex Hospital that specifically treated patients infected with the HIV/AIDs virus. At the time of her death, Gavin Hart, of the National AIDS Trust, told the BBC, “In our opinion, Diana was the foremost ambassador for AIDS awareness on the planet and no one can fill her shoes in terms of the work she did" highlighting how influential and unprecedented her sincere and compassionate approach to her activism work was.

The humanitarian work Diana is often best remembered was the global awareness campaign around the impact of landmines by visiting those living with life-changing injuries sustained as a result of falling victims to the devices. On 15 January 1997, the year that Princess Diana died, she walked through an active minefield in Angola and detonated a mine in front of journalists with the assistance of a land mine expert. Her son, Prince Harry, has continued the work she did towards abolishing landmines and supporting those with life long injuries because of them by becoming a patron of the Halo charity and urging the world to help finish Diana’s mission and stating that to her, this was never about politics, it was about people.

Diana’s compassion and work was widely recognised and won her the titles ‘The Peoples Princess’ and ‘The Queen of Hearts’ amongst the media and public. To her, the work she did was not work, it was her passion. She was known to spend hours speaking with individuals on hospital or other charitable visits, really taking an interest and wanting to find out their story. She was the Princess who made it cool to be kind leaving a huge mark on the hearts of the world, influencing others to follow in her footsteps. According to The Princess Diana Memorial fund which was set up in response to the involuntary donations that flooded in after her death, the community groups and the general public donated £44 million. At the time the Fund closed in 2012, it had awarded 727 grants to 471 organisations, and spent over £145 million on charitable causes.

Find out more about the life, death and legacy of Princess Diana in our fantastic selection of DVD documentaries dedicated to her - browse now.

 

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