In honor of the twentieth anniversary of the death of Princess Diana, a cornucopia of articles have been published eulogizing the late princess and talking about the “legacy” of the former Princess of Wales. This renewed interest was partially fueled by the timely release of the documentary titled Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, where Princes William and Harry talk about their late mother. Many of these articles talked about the late Princess Diana as a person who is ubiquitously well known and requires no introduction, but after twenty years of her passing, many younger people do not know who was Princess Diana and others who do cannot understand the fascination with the deceased princess.
In 1997, her death in a car crash shocked the world, but as a five-year-old in 1997 her death did not have much impact. I faintly remember the news coverage and was only aware of the importance of her death because my mother started crying upon hearing the news. Considering my mother rarely cried my five-year-old brain thought the lady on the television screen was a member of the family.
It took several years for me to understand Princess Diana’s celebrity status. My curiosity peeked when my sixth-grade history teacher showed a video cassette recording of Prince Charles and Diana’s royal wedding. At the time, my teacher explained she was showing the recording to connect the “past to present” and show students that the kings, queens, princes, and princesses we were learning about still exist in the modern day. As a sixth grader, I thought that was a good reason to watch the wedding recording, but as an adult, I am sure my history teacher was more fascinated with the royal wedding as a fan girl than as an educator.
My teacher’s fascination was not uncommon. Adult women always seemed to have this melancholy admiration for Princess Diana. I remember my mom, older sister, aunts, and older female cousins all at one point gushing about the princess’ fashion sense and beauty. I also noticed men were equally infatuated, but for different reasons. Everyone older than me seemed to be bewitched by the memory of this woman.
Part of me wonders if part of the fascination is fueled by the sadness of one passing so young. Like John F. Kennedy, James Dean, and Elvis Presley before her, those that pass before their time are forever crystallized in our memory as souls unjustly taken by death. Not just celebrities get this treatment. Everyday people that die in their younger years are also remembered with that special sentiment. There is just something about a young person dying that tortures our soul, but more so if that person is a celebrity or in Diana’s case an attractive and controversial former Princess.
In 2007, with the tenth anniversary of Princess Diana’s death, Diana’s story was once again on TV screens everywhere. Now fifteen years old, I could better appreciate the story of Princess Diana. I remember watching the docudrama Diana: Last Days of a Princess and feeling a deep sadness and connection with the woman depicted on screen. That weekend, I looked up on YouTube old interviews and came across the now infamous interview the Princess gave to Martin Bashir. To say I was hooked on the drama surrounding her time as Princess of Wales is an understatement. I finally understood why the world was so personally invested in her story and mourned her loss so passionately.
As a young girl, I came to admire her as a style icon. Her natural grace and beauty were enhanced by her elegant style. She was so much like the beautiful and elegant Hollywood actresses I admired like Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Vivien Leigh and Deborah Kerr. At a time when teenage girls were being encouraged dress trashier and more revealing by the media, the timeless elegance of someone like Princess Diana impressed me. When spaghetti strap dresses and tank tops were in vogue, I wanted to wear conservative dresses and tailored tops. My choice in style did not make me popular with my peers, but I soon discovered that respect is garnered when you dress like a lady. It goes without saying; that Diana had a direct influence on my personal style to this day.
Diana was also accessible. Her way of interacting with people gave the royal family an image makeover. Her work with AIDS patients paved new roads of understanding between these patients and the community at large. After her divorce from Princess Charles, her work against the use of land mines was laudable and her popularity helped bring much-needed attention to this issue. Even after her death, the Princess Diana Memorial Fund continues her work in this area by providing grants to numerous organizations and supports the stop of use of land mines.
With that said, I find laughable some of the mythology that has developed surrounding the princess. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “People’s Princess” sobriquet made famous in a speech following the Princess’ death is preposterous considering her lineage. Diana was born into one of the most aristocratic families in Great Britain, the Spencer Family. She was boarding and finishing school educated and as a child often played with Princes Edward and Andrew.
Her reputation as a “commoner” probably developed when she was a kindergarten school teacher at the time of her courtship with Prince Charles, but she was the farthest thing from a commoner. Also, she was not this so-called “victim of the royal family.” Diana was not fully prepared for the media firestorm that would surround her and Prince Charles upon their engagement and eventual marriage, but this befuddlement quickly passed.
Diana would eventually understand her power and influence with the media and harnessed that power to use against the royal family, that she believed slighted her from the start, husband, and his mistress and now wife, Camilla Bowles. The extensive list of interviews and leaks to the media show Diana to be a savvy media manipulator who reinvented the way royals and the media interact. By no means was this woman a shy wallflower.
Piers Morgan corroborated Diana’s capacity for media manipulation in a recent article. In that article, we can see the media’s unwilling fascination through Pier’s recollections of his interactions with the princess. Essentially, the media loved to hate Diana. Unfortunately, that “love” may have been the decisive factor in her death as her chauffeur raced through the streets of Paris trying to escape the paparazzi.
Twenty years from now, I am sure we will still be talking about Diana. Her memory will continue to be treasured by the people of Great Britain and the world because her story continues to fascinate. For all the talk of legacy, her biggest legacy will be how her royally unorthodox way of raising her boys, William and Henry, will change the face of the British monarchy. Diana’s sons are the best hope for the future and perpetuity of the British Royal Family.
It is a shame that Diana did not meet her grandchildren. I am sure she would have been a doting grandmother. It will be interesting to see how Diana’s granddaughter, Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana will be compared to her famous granny. The comparisons have already begun since the world is already asking, “Do you think she will look like Diana?”