Today we join the world in remembering the “People’s Princess,” Lady Diana Spencer, the dedicated humanitarian who changed how the world views the British Monarchy as well as HIV/AIDS, depression, and the political use of landmines. She died 20 years ago today.
Not a day goes by without her surviving sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, wondering “what kind of public role she would have and what a difference she would be making," had she lived.
She was 36 years young when greed and a tragic accident took her from us. She is missed.
They say that when Diana Spencer was a child, she played with Queen Elizabeth’s two youngest royal children, Prince Edward and Prince Andrew. But she would not come to know their older brother, Prince Charles, who was 13 years her senior, until 1977. That’s when the dashing heir to the British throne was dating her older sister, Lady Sarah. The future princess was then only 16 and no stranger to royal playdates and outings. At 14, when her father, Viscount Althorp, Edward John Spencer, inherited the title of Earl, she became known as Lady Diana.
She and Charles met again in 1980. She was 21 and smitten. He proposed just six months later.
Their courtship fascinated the public, in the UK and beyond. When they married on 29 July 1981, 750 million people from all over the world watched the first royal wedding, ever, to be broadcast on television. Another 600,000 spectators lined the streets of London to catch a glimpse of the couple en route to the ceremony in a horse-drawn carriage led by four bedecked white chargers.
It was as described: a "fairytale wedding.”
Pundits applauded Princess Diana for breathing new life into an aristocracy then considered stodgy and outdated. Her noble beauty, irresistible smile, impeccable style, and chic fashion sense transformed the royal family, seemingly overnight, from a stiff 19th-century anachronism to a photogenic and accessible 20th-century institution. The new family further grew in popularity, as well as size, when Diana gave birth to Prince William and Prince Harry, in 1982 and 1984, respectively.
But despite the seemingly happy exterior of Diana's family life, she struggled behind closed doors. The intense media attention overwhelmed the naturally shy young woman. And we now know that her marriage with Charles was far from perfect; indeed it would come to light that he loved another. As a result, she struggled with both depression and bulimia during their years together.
"I chose Diana, Princess of Wales as my #HistoryHero because she is one of the relatively few people in the world who became famous for their kindness and letting their humanity show. Diana was -- and is -- a reminder in a world that is focused on popularity, beauty, wealth, and perfection that there is room for love, kindness, and human frailty in the world."
- Zach Payne
Diana sought refuge in humanitarianism. She became an ally for the homeless; for children in need, especially those living with disabilities; and individuals suffering from HIV/AIDS. She is credited with having changed people’s perception of HIV/AIDS when she picked up a 7-year-old AIDS victim in a Harlem hospital. This shocked the general public, who believed it was dangerous to even touch someone with the then-deadly disease.
In addition to playing a massive role in educating the world about HIV/AIDS, and vastly improving the lives of those who lived with it, Diana took up the cause of aiding children injured by land mines. She used her celebrity to bring attention to the needs of those tragically maimed. She also spoke with surprising candor about her own personal struggles with bulimia and suicide, giving individuals struggling with these issues a role model of openness and honesty.
As Diana focused on her humanitarian work, she and Prince Charles grew further and further apart. They announced their separation in 1992, and officially divorced in 1996.
By 1997, demand for pictures of Diana was at an all time high; a candid and revealing shot of Diana could fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars from the tabloids. Photographers went to great lengths to photograph her, hounding her in pursuit of the one shot that might make them rich.
On the night of 31 August 1997, as Diana left the Ritz hotel in Paris with her friend, the Egyptian film producer Dodi Al Fayed, she was pursued at high speed by a dozen paparazzi on motorcycles. The chase ended in a disastrous accident: Fayed and the driver were immediately killed. Diana was pronounced dead from her injuries a few hours later.
The world was shocked and devastated
by the loss of the "People's Princess."
Princess Diana could have retreated behind institution, wealth, and privilege. Instead, she leveraged her widespread popularity to advance numerous global humanitarian efforts, choosing to face head on such stigmatized issues as HIV/AIDS, eating disorders, and depression. She was a champion of innocents maimed by landmine accidents, particularly children. That's why she's a Time Traveler Tours #HistoryHero.
Many thanks to Zach Payne of Southern California for nominating her.
Editor's Note: In the spirit of continuing her humanitarian work, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund was founded just one month after her death. Donations poured in from around the world, and the organization raised more than 125 million dollars in the first nine years of its existence. The money went to over 350 charities worldwide, proving that Diana's legacy of compassion and charity lives on to this day.