Whatever the theories or opinions about Princess Diana’s life or death, one thing is undeniable; she is one of the most beloved royals in history. She remains so on what would have been her 50th birthday, had she lived to see it. She connected with people and represented their plights in ways usually reserved for social workers and saints. Diana caused a public and media frenzy like a pop star and laid her heart, her charisma and her personality bare for the entire world to see.
It is no coincidence that her death brought thousands of mourners and supporters together in one great communal, public outcry. They prayed, they broke down and they remembered her in candlelit vigils and outside of her funeral at Westminster Abbey. Her passing immortalized her as “The People’s Princess.”
As Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, said in her eulogy, “Diana was the very essence of compassion, of duty, of style, of beauty. All over the world, she was a symbol of selfless humanity.”
Fourteen years after her death her memory remains as clear as if it were yesterday. The wedding of her son William, held in the same abbey as Diana’s funeral, seemed a moment of healing. A life ended so tragically was finally brought peace by her son’s union.
Fame at 50 Years Old
Would Diana still be an icon today? It’s unsure, but judging from the ebb and flow of celebrity status, perhaps she would’ve finally gotten her wish of living a quiet private life. Would she have seen a banal headline reading “50 and Fabulous” or “50 and Forgotten”? Fame is fickle and once people had a lifetime of Diana, they might not have been as reverent or interested.
The controversy over her avant-garde modernity in the ’80s would’ve been eclipsed by newer icons and by her son William’s marriage to the modern, sincere and empowered Kate Middleton. Diana might’ve doted on her driven and composed daughter in law, seeing in her the contemporary woman she was in her time. She probably would’ve loved Kate simply because William loved her and William likely chose Kate for being similar to his kindhearted and indomitable mother.
Diana demonstrated her unpretentious simplicity in an era when it was frowned upon and far ahead of its time.She showed the world she was not content to be some privileged debutant. She wanted to bring hope to marginalized groups and causes; those living in pain and misery, much like she was. She had no qualms about holding sick children or consoling the terminally ill. Diana understood vulnerability and isolation and treated those who were experiencing it with compassion.
The Politics of Philanthropy
Diana never understood why helping others seemed controversial or became fodder for political opposition. While on a visit to Angola bringing attention to anti-personnel landmines, a reporter ran after Diana and asked her reaction on being called a “loose canon.” Diana calmly said, “I’m only trying to highlight a problem going on all around the world, that’s all.” The reporter pressed the issue, asking Diana if she thought it was wise to align herself with labor party policies. Diana appeared dumbfounded and hurt, saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She just wanted to help but the politicians and the media wanted to spin their own story. That exchange summed up a majority of problems in Diana’s life.
Diana was certainly not perfect but her sensitivity to the world and her need to pass that sensitivity onto her sons was what made her great. Diana was a 19-year-old girl when she was pulled into an overwhelming world of formality and stifling conventions. She never was permitted the rite of passage as a carefree teenager. Instead she was a wife, mother and royal representative. When she finally came into her own and started enjoying fashion, concerts and theater she was criticized for being shallow and self absorbed–manipulative even.
The Critics Sound Off
Of course, Diana attempted to control her public image but outside of her fashionable appearance she used the media attention for good. Also, her approachability and humbleness didn’t changed her galvanizing presence. One look told an entire story. Her emotions were constantly etched across her face. Her passion and sentimentality were attributes the royals viewed as weaknesses but they were her greatest gifts for allowing her to connect with others.
Even after Diana had endured years of her husband’s infidelity and divorced, she was judged cruelly for daring to have a relationship in the prime of her life. The criticism was compounded by her choice of Dodi Fayed, whose Egyptian heritage some viewed as inappropriate. Diana was the face of modern England and the modern world. She inadvertently sent the message that Britain was a multi-cultural nation and to her these differences were of no consequence.
The stuffy, detached demeanor of the British royal family was eclipsed by this bright, brave woman who created a worldwide outpouring of emotion during her life and death. She was a fashion icon, a mother, a humanitarian and someone who needed the sensitivity and affection she was doling out on all of her charitable visits. Perhaps the advent of third world adoptions by celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Madonna and Sandra Bullock were inspired by Princess Diana’s philanthropic efforts.
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