Andy Richardson: Princess of hearts, Diana was one of us
The 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death caused pause for thought.
On a dark day in 1997, the world seemed to stop when the most famous woman in the world suffered fatal injuries on a Parisian road.
Millions mourned. Tens of thousands of us visited Kensington Palace to pay our respects. A sea of flowers filled one of London’s greatest parks and tears were shed by those whom she had spoken up for: the victims of Aids and Africans living in poverty, those at the margins of society and people whose voices might not otherwise have been heard.
The People’s Princess might have spent her days hanging around with supermodels or rock stars, avoiding the paparazzi or sunning herself on yachts, but her compassion is the quality that has endured. We remember her fondly. She was a remarkable woman whose ability to connect with ordinary folk continues to resonate.
Diana taught a lesson to us all. And as millions have spoken fondly of her during the anniversary of her death and offered magical memories, it is time to remember her work – and the way in which her sons have worked to help others.
Princess Diana – the woman who was mates with Sir Elton, who accidentally wore a see-through skirt, who suffered painfully from the demands of being a Royal – was, ultimately, one of us.
She was no different from the Dudley fundraiser who organises sponsored events for the Air Ambulance, or the Shrewsbury volunteer who spends a few hours each week working the Samaritans phoneline. Except Dudley fundraisers and Shrewsbury volunteers don’t have a wardrobe full of Armani or Sir Elton on speed dial. She was the Princess of Hearts, the tender, loving sweetheart whose empathy was her defining quality.
During a period of commemorations, her two sons – Harry and William – have been centre stage. And both have done their mother proud as they’ve moved into their adult lives. William proposed to his own wife with Diana’s engagement ring – there could be no stronger signal of his mother’s lasting place in his heart.
And Harry has inherited many of his mother’s characteristics – the mischievousness and propensity for trouble, of course, but also her incredible ability to connect with others and do work for the common good. If he finds himself in a race with Usain Bolt, he cheats – obvs – because that’s the only way to beat the Greatest Sprinter of All Time. Jumping the gun gives us all a good laugh – and gives Harry bragging rights against one of the finest sports icons since Muhammad Ali. The National AIDS Trust, Diana Awards and Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund are among the many charities he supports.
In recent times, William and Harry have spent much time promoting their joint mental health campaign, Heads Together, which has had a pretty simple message: It’s okay to forget the stiff upper lip and ask for help.
That philosophy goes against the grain of the traditions – many of them outdated – that the Royals have stood for over many centuries. It harks back to the ideas of John Lennon circa 1970, that men hurt and can find therapeutic value in tears. It makes real the ideas of REM’s 1992 elegy to empathy, Everybody Hurts.
In times of trouble – when terrorists kill at British markets and maim at pop concerts – William and Harry are doing the very things their mother would have encouraged. Rather than repressing grief or unhappiness, they are supporting the idea that it’s OK to talk.
And in doing so, they are offering hope to many millions, succour to those who might otherwise become mired in anxiety and upset. The princes belong to a generation that ‘gets’ mental health much more than his mother’s generation did. For Harry, there’s nothing more normal than talking to ex-military personnel who’ve been traumatised by the horrors of war. Yesterday’s methods – bottle it up, or, alternatively, hit the bottle – helps no one.
Talking openly about emotions isn’t rocket science. And it doesn’t work for everyone. But the Princes’ work in highlighting the advantages of just that will have helped many. And their ongoing work to support causes that their mother championed has had a profoundly positive effect.
It’s been 20 years since the death of Princess Diana. Her sons have shown resilience and compassion in the hardest and most troubling circumstances imaginable. They’ve done so in the full glare of the public spotlight. And for all of their occasional problems – Harry’s off-the-rails Las Vegas stint, among them – they’ve done their mother proud.
Diana was vulnerable and flawed. Just like us all. And yet she had a heart of gold and devoted part of her life to helping others. Her sons have done the same. She’d have been proud that Harry and William have continued her work.