Princess Diana: The Queen of Our Hearts

by Bayo Olupohunda

“I wish to pay personal tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales and especially to her humanitarian work. She highlighted neglected causes. She reached out to people on the margins of society. She made even the most humble people feel special. She used her celebrity status to challenge and fight stigma attached to people living with HIV/AIDS. I urge everyone to learn from her example and embrace her legacy…” Nelson Mandela, London, November 2002

Friday 31st August 2007 marked exactly ten years since the sudden demise of Lady Diana Spencer also known as Princess Diana, The Princess of Wales. The abrupt demise, through a ghastly auto accident, on that warm night of August 31st 1997 in Paris of ‘the Queen of our Hearts” as she was fondly called by admirers all over the world signaled the end to an eventful but short life of an iconic figure whose legacy and fairy tale marriage to Prince Charles, the future King of England, shook the world and changed the face of the British monarchy. She was thirty-six years. To celebrate the life of the people’s Princess, a concert held in London in July culminated in a memorial in her honour at the weekend.

The wedding of Lady Diana and the Prince of Wales was the love story of the decade. But the seemingly-perfect fairy-tale was destined not to have a storybook ending. The marriage broke down in acrimony and with revelations of infidelity on both sides. The couple’s separation and divorce seriously damaged the monarchy itself. For Diana it was a painful process which led to depression – for which she claimed she got no support from the royal family.

Diana Frances Spencer, The Princess of Wales, was born on July 1, 1961 in Norfolk. She was the youngest daughter of the then Viscount and Viscountess Althorp, now the late Earl Spencer and the Hon Mrs. Shand-Kydd. Princess Diana is a hero because she used her position of power and fame to give hope and comfort to those whom society too frequently forgets — the victims of poverty, disease and social injustice. A truer princess this world has never known.

The billions of people who grieve for her perhaps will follow her lead in working to end the sale of land mines in Angola, to find a cure for AIDS, and to address the issues which plague victims of poverty. Follow her shining example by giving the gift of a generous smile, an open heart, and a helping hand. Sixteen years ago precisely on July 29th 1981, the world watched, enthralled, as Lady Diana Spencer, a young and beautiful school teacher, married the dashing heir to the British throne, Prince Charles. Pundits heralded a new age for the British Monarchy, long moribund in outdated traditions and populated by gray and lifeless personages.

For several years, their predictions were correct. Princess Diana, with her aristocratic beauty and spunky approach to her role as the future queen of England, brought new life to the Monarchy. People around the world watched in delight as the young Princess attended to her official duties with a grace and style that stood in marked contrast to the formal, decorous approach of other members of the royal family. Overnight it seemed that the British Monarchy had been brought from a stiff and formal 19th century anachronism to a photogenic and accessible 20th century institution.

When the “perfect” marriage between Diana and Charles began to show some cracks, their conflicts were widely reported in the media. The publication of the book “Diana: Her True Story” by Andrew Morton ended the myth of the fairy tale. The book, based on interviews with some of the Princess’s closest friends and with the tacit approval of the Princess herself, confirmed that her relationship with the Prince of Wales was cold and distant. It told of half-hearted suicide attempts by the Princess during the early years of the marriage, of her struggle with the eating disorder bulimia, and of her obsession with the belief that Charles continued to love a woman he had fallen for years before, Camilla Parker-Bowles. The Prince later confirmed that he and Camilla had had an extra-marital affair.

During a state visit to South Korea, it was visible that the couple had grown apart. Shortly afterwards, in December 1992, it was officially announced that Charles and Diana would separate. Diana continued her charity work after the separation. She spoke out on social problems and sometimes, as with bulimia, her contributions were borne out of personal suffering. Wherever she went, on public or private business, often with her children to whom she was devoted, the media were there to record the event. And in what became something of a public relations battle with her estranged husband after they had separated, the Princess showed herself to be adept at using the media to cast herself in a favourable light.

She later told of steps she believed her husband’s camp were taking to make her life difficult She gave an unprecedented and remarkably open interview in which she described her post-natal depression, the breakdown of her marriage to Prince Charles, her tense relationship with the Royal Family as a whole and, most shocking of all; she claimed that her estranged husband did not wish to be king. She also predicted that she would never become Queen and that, instead, she wished to become a Queen “in peoples’ hearts”.

Diana 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. Princess Diana used her media popularity to bring attention to the needs of the forgotten and needy of the world.

On August 31, 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 tabloid editors desperate to be able to splash the most scandalous photos across the pages of their magazines. Predictably, photographers went to great lengths to photograph Diana, following her ceaselessly in pursuit of the one shot that might make them rich. The night of August 31, as Diana left the Ritz hotel in Paris with her friend Dodi Al Fayed, she was pursued by close to a dozen photographers on motorcycles. The chase ended in a disastrous accident, causing the deaths of Princess Diana, Dodi Al Fayed and their chauffeur.

Princess Diana will be remembered as a woman who was at once supremely regal and at the same time strikingly human. To the millions who followed her charitable work, she was most certainly ‘the Queen of our Hearts’, and she will be terribly missed. But she became a sad figure to many as the story of her failed marriage unravelled. Her critics blamed her for helping to strip the monarchy of some of the mystique so important for its survival. But her strength of character in difficult personal circumstances and the unflagging support she gave to the sick and disadvantaged earned her continued respect. And, to the end, she remained a figure of public fascination and affection.

It is instructive to note that ten years after the death of Princess Diana, a Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, an independent grant-given charity in her name established in 1997 has continued the her humanitarian work in the United Kingdom and overseas (especially in Africa where she had most of her humanitarian work).The charity, has over the years, sought to expand the vision of Diana, a world, in which the rights of the disadvantaged are respected.

By giving grants to organisations, championing charitable causes, advocacy, campaigning and awareness-raising, the Fund works to secure sustainable improvements in the lives of the most disadvantaged people in the UK and around the world. In the first nine years of its existence, the Fund pledged some £70 million in grants to over 350 organisations around the world. Since then, the Fund has sought to capture the spirit of the Princess’s humanitarian work by focusing on the disadvantaged and the marginalized, providing them with support, a voice and an opportunity to realise their full potential.

The lesson of her life to our political leaders at all levels of governance is that they should commit their time to the service of the people whose interest they swore to protect and serve. The great Elton John aptly summed Diana’s legacy when he sang in a tribute ‘Your candle’s burned long before your legend ever will’.

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