Most of all, there was a shock. This is the word many people use when they remember the death of Princess Diana in a car accident in Paris exactly 25 years ago.
The woman the world has seen transformed from a shy daycare teacher into a comforting AIDS celebrity and campaigner to remove landmines, has died at the age of 36.
Historian Ed Owens notes: “I think we need to remember that she was probably the most famous woman in the English-speaking world, other than Queen Elizabeth II herself.”
“Given such a huge celebrity that she developed, to be extinguished overnight, with her passing in such tragic circumstances, at such a young age, I think it came as a huge shock to many people,” he adds.
It was this shock that cemented Diana’s legacy as the woman who brought lasting change to the British royal family, helping to bridge the gap between centuries of tradition and a new, multicultural nation in the age of the internet.
First, there was grief from the common people who had come to the Princess’s home in Kensington Palace to mourn the loss. This alone forced members of the royal family to realize that Diana’s casual touch connected the population in ways that the Windsors had not yet.
An aerial photograph showing flowers in honor of Princess Diana in front of the mansion she lived in in London days after her death – Image: AP Photo/Adrian Dennis, File
Since then, these lessons have inspired other members of the royal family, including Diana’s children Princes William and Harry, to be more formal and approachable. An example of this is the parade that was the centerpiece of the Platinum Jubilee of June to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne.
There were rock bands, opera singers, dancers and lasers painting corgis in the sky. But the biggest applause went to Elizabeth herself, who appeared in a short film to share a teapot with Paddington Bear, a British national treasure. Then she solves a long-running mystery and reveals what’s inside her famous black suitcase: a marmalade sandwich – just for emergencies.
It wasn’t clear that Diana would be a royal rebel when she married Prince Charles.
A member of the aristocratic Spencer family, Diana was known for her bohemian frills, elegant skirts, and boyish blonde hair when she began dating the future king. After dropping out of school at the age of 16, she spent time at a secondary school in the Swiss Alps and worked as a nanny and preschool teacher while living in London.
But she thrived, becoming a global icon the moment she walked down the aisle of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, wrapped in lace and followed by a 22-foot veil on July 29, 1981.
Princess Diana’s dress is included in the “Royal Style of Manufacture” exhibit, which also features dresses worn by other royals. The exhibition runs until January 2, 2022. – Photo: Matt Dunham/Associated Press
From that moment on, journalists and photographers followed Diana wherever she went. She hated snooping, but soon learned that the media is also a tool she can use to draw attention to an issue and change public perceptions.
This effect was clearly demonstrated when the Princess opened the UK’s first specialized ward for AIDS patients on 9 April 1987.
This ribbon-cutting ceremony is part of the royal duties. But Diana realized there was more at stake. She reached out and took the hands of a small patient, which indicates that the virus cannot be transmitted by touch. This moment, captured in pictures and spread around the world, helped combat the fear, misinformation and stigma surrounding the HIV epidemic.
A decade later, Diana is much more media savvy.
Princess Diana wore protective clothing to accompany demining work in Angola in 1997 – Photo: AP Photo/Giovanni Diffidenti
Seven months before her death, she donned a protective mask and flak jacket and walked through a minefield in Angola to promote the work of the Halo Trust, a group dedicated to clearing mines from former war zones. When I realized some paparazzi couldn’t get the picture, I turned around and did it again.
The photos drew international attention to the campaign to rid the world of explosives that were hiding underground long after the wars ended. Today, 164 countries have signed a treaty banning landmines.
But this public platform came at a price.
Their marriage broke up, and Diana blamed Charles’s continued attachment to longtime mistress Camilla Parker-Bowles. The princess also suffered from bulimia and admitted to attempting suicide, according to “Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words,” published in 1992 based on tapes Diana sent to author Andrew Morton.
Diana said in 1993: “When I started my public life 12 years ago, I realized that the media might be interested in what I did. But I didn’t know how overwhelming that interest would become. My public and personal duties became life in such a way that it became difficult to bear.”
In the end, this contributed to her death.
On August 30, 1997, a group of photographers camping outside the Ritz Hotel in Paris, hoping to take pictures of Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed, chased their car into the Pont de Alma tunnel, where the driver lost control and crashed. .
Princess Diana dies in a plane crash in Paris
Diana passed away on August 31, 1997.
The world sobbed in a daze. Bouquets of flowers, many containing personal notes, were strewn outside Kensington Palace, where she lived. Weeping citizens filled the streets outside Westminster Abbey during his funeral.
The public’s reaction contrasted with that of the royal family, who have been criticized for not appearing quickly in public and for refusing to lower the Buckingham Palace flag.
The grief led to a profound reassessment of the situation among the members of the House of Windsor. Sally Biddle-Smith, historian and author of “Diana’s Search for Herself,” said they were beginning to understand better why Diana’s death triggered such an overwhelming spectacle.
“I think her legacy was something the Queen used in her wisdom as inspiration in the early years after her death,” Smith said of the focus groups and studies the monarchy used to understand Diana’s appeal.
The historian said: “The Queen was more likely to interact with the people, and I think you see the informality is amplified now, particularly with William and Kate.”
William and his wife Kate, for example, have made improving mental health services a primary goal, even going so far as to discuss their struggles publicly. Harry is also a hero to wounded veterans.
The rehabilitation of Charles’ reputation had to wait until public outrage over his treatment of Diana began to wane. It started off well, and his 2005 marriage to Camilla helped him soften his image. The Queen said earlier this year that she hopes Camilla will become the Queen’s consort when Charles takes the throne in an effort to heal old wounds.
But there are lessons for the monarchy to learn as it grapples with the fallout from Prince Andrew’s pedophile scandal, Jeffrey Epstein. Then there’s Harry and his wife Meghan’s decision to give up their royal duties to live in Southern California.
Meghan, a former mixed-race American actress who grew up in Los Angeles, said she was ashamed about life at the palace and that a member of the royal family even asked about the possible skin color of her first child before he was born. .
“This episode shows that the royals didn’t learn their full lesson from Diana,” said Owens, author of “The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public 1932-1953.”
“Again, not enough space was created,” Owens said of Meghan.
Diana had her own struggles with minors, expressing her complaints in a 1995 BBC interview that continues to make headlines. The BBC was forced to apologize last year after an investigation found that reporter Martin Bashir had used “deceptive tactics” to secure the interview.
Diana’s brother said this year that the interview and the method of obtaining it contributed to Diana’s death because it led to her refusal to continue protection from minors after her divorce.
But her words about how she wants to be seen are still etched in the memory.
“I would like to be the queen of people’s hearts in people’s hearts, but I don’t see myself as the queen of this country,” Diana said in the interview. “I don’t think a lot of people want me to be queen.”
Prince Charles and Princess Diana at Buckingham Palace in June 1981 – Photo: Reuters/Stringer
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