The 31 August this year marked 20 years since the British nation united in grief to mourn the death of Princess Diana. A world class humanitarian, ambassador of British fashion and loving mother, the Princess of Wales was a Queen in people’s hearts. She was universally adored for her irreplaceable spirit, approachability and warmth, making her the icon she remains today.
Two decades on and generations continue to learn and draw inspiration from Princess Diana. The gates of Kensington Palace, which had been Diana’s home, were lined with flowers from mourners returning 20 years on to pay their respects. At the East London’s Mildmay Mission Hospital, where Diana had frequently visited people living with HIV, a remembrance service was held to commemorate the Princess and the powerful impact she had in changing public attitudes towards HIV patients. Diana challenged the many misconceptions regarding people living with HIV and worked to eliminate the fear that the public had about those coping the disease as a result of circulating misinformation. Diana truly became the “People’s Princess” as she shamed the public fears about HIV and Aids, shaking the hand of a man living with the disease in Middlesex Hospital.
Diana instilled in her sons the importance of utilising their royal platform to make a difference. The Princess used her public role to make change, tackling difficult issues including Aids, leprosy and landmines. Despite losing their mother at the young ages of 15 and 12, Prince William and Prince Harry have followed in her footsteps, working to raise awareness and confront mental health issues through the Heads Together campaign. The campaign aims to encourage people struggling with grief and trauma to speak out about their feelings, emphasising “the power of conversation”. In a society where young people’s mental well-being is of growing concern, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry hope to reduce the stigma in relation to mental illness, with the goal of using their experience concerning bereavement to support others suffering.
Followers of fashion continue to celebrate Diana’s life as a style legend this year at the exhibition named Her Fashion Story, held at Kensington Palace, which will remain open until February 2018. The exhibition cleverly tells the story of her life and struggles through her fashion evolution, from an innocent and shy teenager, to a self-assured and sophisticated young woman. Opening the exhibition with displays of designer’s original sketches and her many Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Majesty magazine covers, we are given a sense of the immense media attention and paparazzi hounding which Diana would soon endure.
Diana chose to always make a statement through her clothes; being the first royal woman photographed wearing trousers to evening events, refusing to wear gloves so she could make direct contact when shaking hands, and avoiding hats on hospital visits to allow her to cuddle children. Diana’s caring and compassionate nature echoes through the Palace as the exhibition walls are lined with quotes from designers who had dressed her; David Sassoon describing her as “unbelievably genuine and completely unique”, and Oscar De La Renta speaking of her “tremendous star quality”.
Immediately after her marriage to Prince Charles, Diana’s life was propelled into the limelight. As a young woman she struggled to cope with the pressure of her role as Princess of Wales, and in the BBC One Panorama interview she spoke openly about her personal battles. Feeling rejected by her husband and inadequate for the Royal Family, Diana sunk into a world of depression, bulimia and low self-esteem. Despite all of her troubles Diana found strength in her weaknesses and became more involved in helping others who felt excluded from society, saying “she found an affinity there”.
The increasingly intrusive nature of social media and the pressures caused by endless online scrutiny allows young people particularly to relate to Princess Diana’s struggle to lead a life under the constant glare of the spotlight. However, her legacy shall live on in those who continue to be inspired by her remarkable strength to overcome her personal battles and continue to show empathy and kindness towards everyone she met.
image: maxwell hamilton via flickr