8 Beautiful Things About "Queen Of People's Hearts" Princess Diana's Enduring Legacy
We're celebrating the memory of the first true modern royal who would have turned 60 years old today
Princess Diana would have turned 60 years old today.
In the minds of those who loved her the most, it's easy to visualize what she might have been as a sexagenarian; still vibrant and fashionable, charming and funny, compassionate and authentic, and likely a rather awesome grandma to five grandkids—a true royal for the people, one who was always ahead of her time.
But as her destiny would have it, she would never reach such a ripe old age and see the glow of her golden years.
She passed away in 1997, and was survived by her husband, Prince Charles, and two young sons, Princes William and Harry. Prince William is 39 years old this year—three years older than Diana when she passed.
How so much of the world mourned her death so deeply and continue to miss her so dearly needs little detailing. The Princess of Wales—or as most would rather call her, the Queen of Hearts—was lovely in and out, and truly, it was how she lived her life that established her legacy that still lives on today.
Her legacy is twofold.
First, there's the fact that she was a patron of many charities and championed several advocacies that received little attention before her time.
When she was most active in her royal work during the mid '80s to the early '90s, much of the world will still remember how she made headlines for two things: raising awareness and breaking the stigma surrounding the global HIV/AIDS issue at the time, and for being instrumental in passing an international treaty to ban the use of landmines for good. Diana was especially fond of children, too.
Having been a teacher's assistant before she became a member of the royal family, she was passionate about children's causes and worked towards improving the lives of those in underserved communities and developing countries that were part of the Commonwealth. In totality, she had a heart for those without a voice and issues that were "too real" for most royals that came before her; she brought attention to Britain's problems of out of school youth, drug addiction, abandoned elderly, homelessness, people with disabilities, and even animal rights protection.
Many of these interests of hers grew into actual causes and official charities, some of which her sons and their wives continue to support.
The second half of her legacy is more intangible, yet one that's managed to stand the test of time and has irreversibly influenced expectations and conventions of what it meant to be a royal.
The world will always remember her for being a rule-breaker, a defier of tradition when she deemed it obsolete. This was arguably her strongest quality, but it was also what made her an incredibly controversial public figure. It's not that she was a rebel for the sake of attention or novelty. She embraced the role of princess and queen-to-be, learning the royal rule book and abiding by her in-laws' standards as best as she could (Netflix's fourth season of The Crown should be a good, albeit fictional, look into how this all unfolded).
However, she was also by no means a fragile English rose who agreed to be a royal for the privileges, opulence, and the overall beauty of the lifestyle. Instead, she was intent on being a working class princess of the people who would be at their service and could usher in a new era of relations between the monarchy and the public. She wanted the royal family to keep up with the times and become more accessible and relatable.
This meant doing things that endeared her to the British public but alienated the most intense of royal loyalists—like unabashedly dressing down (she wore cycling shorts and oversized sweaters before Instagram made them cool), raising her sons like normal kids (she insisted that they wait in line every time they visited a theme park, plus, she routinely snuck them out to McDonald's), interacting with crowds every time she made public appearances (she gave hugs, maintained conversations, answered questions about where she bought her clothes, and shook hands without gloves), making wonderful impressions abroad in international events (which, reportedly, displeased Prince Charles who was a lot less charismatic and genial than she was), talking honestly about her opinions and experiences (her admitting to being bulimic was shocking) and just generally living life like a real human being (in contrast to her royal relatives whose second nature was to put up a formal façade when outside the comfort of their homes).
Beautifully, it was her ordinariness that made her extraordinary.
Before there was Lady Di, a nickname bestowed upon her when people came to realize she was the first royal who was just like them, it was inconceivable to think about the royal family as regular in any way. They were seen a cultural symbol of British-ness, for sure, but they were almost storybook-like characters whose world was a fantasy. And then came a young princess who, perhaps for the first time in the centuries-long history of the British monarchy, not only drew the curtains of this mystery royal world but also drained the moat surrounding the castle and built a bridge between the family that resided within it and the people they served.
When more and more saw and appreciated how Diana eroded the old notion of royal-ness , there grew an appetite to see the rest of the royal family follow suit. Diana, intentionally or unintentionally, birthed the modern royal.
This part of Diane's legacy is a long story whose current chapter is focused on how Diana's youngest son, Harry (who is no longer a prince after he officially stepped back from royal duties last year) and his wife Meghan Markle are handling a tumultuous time in British royal history.
Undoubtedly, how Harry was able to choose this path and how Meghan became a member of the royal family are consequences of the life Diana lived and the legacy of change and modernity she left behind.
The sentiment towards Diana remains to be overwhelmingly positive. Of course, there are those who saw, and still see, her as a blemish on the integrity of the royal family and its tradition, but it looks like they'll soon be overruled. Her eldest son Prince William, who is third in line to the throne next to the Queen and Prince Charles, and his wife Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton are trying their best to be Dianna-esque in their own style while still maintaining the aura of traditional royals. They, too, are transforming the old-as-time image of a king and queen.
They uphold the formality and professionalism expected of people of their rank and status, but they also make it a point to not underplay the very real difficulties and challenges that their roles impose on them. They're open, genuine, and caring just like Lady Di, but they're also staunch protectors of the crown, just like the rest of the royal family.
It's been a tricky balancing act to perform (for both William and Harry) but something tells us that if Diana were still around, she would be very proud of the work her sons have achieved, indeed.
Diana's life has been told and interpreted in various historical documentaries, plays, films, and TV series, but almost all of them paint her as a woman who was lost too soon.
In remembrance of all great and amazing about her, we end with a list of all of her most noteworthy achievements as a princess, mother, and woman who remain relevant to this day.
1. She became the first royal mom in British monarchic history to bring a child along with her as she went on a royal tour (a.k.a. visiting foreign countries to uphold Britain's diplomatic relations with them).
She famously brought a baby Prince William along and she insisted that she took care of him (i.e.: no need for a nanny) despite having to fulfill royal obligations alongside Prince Charles.
2. She stepped out of the box when it came to princess fashion.
We've seen her in all manners of outfits, and why we remember so many of them is because she was a trendsetter in royal style. She wasn't afraid to experiment with jewelry (she once wore a necklace as a headpiece), she wore pantsuits instead of sensible dresses on occasion, she sported denim jeans, and also, who could forget that time she stepped out in the figure-hugging, thigh-baring black dress paired with a multi-string pearl choker? (In case it matters to you, she wore this dress on the night Prince Charles publicly admitted to his affair with Camilla Bowles. It's why it was nicknamed the revenge dress).
3. She did what many during the '80s would never do—touch patients with HIV/AIDS and leprosy.
To be specific, she embraced a little boy with HIV/AIDS who was confined in a hospital she was visiting, and the moment was caught on camera. It set the world ablaze. Remember that in the '80s, HIV/AIDS was feared and those diagnosed with the life-threatening disease were ostracized. But there was Diana who didn't only sit and talk with this patient briefly and from a distance, but interacted with him in such a tender manner. Naturally, patients with leprosy were equally feared and avoided by the public. Diana treated them the same way she did other ill individuals. She was quoted saying, "It has always been my concern to touch people with leprosy, trying to show in a simple action that they are not reviled, nor are we repulsed."
4. She was pivotal in the global campaign to ban landmines.
Diana came across statistics that reported Angola to have a disproportionate number of amputees who have been hurt by landmines that were never excavated. She was shocked by the news and insisted she visit Angola herself to learn more about the situation. Upon returning home, she immediately got to work with lawmakers to raise international attention of the issue and to ensure that Angola would be cleared of landmines and that the weapon of destruction would never be used again. (Not all countries have signed the treaty that partially resulted from Diana's work until this day, however).
5. She chose to send her boys to regular school.
Diana believed that being around regular kids would help shape them into princes that would be more connected with the British people. She didn't want them to be treated in a special way at every opportunity she got. Going to a school that was not exclusive to royals' use was a break from tradition; members of the royal family were often homeschooled by handpicked tutors in select subjects. (In fact, the Queen herself never set foot in a classroom as a student).
6. She chose to separate from Charles after 15 years of marriage.
This is important because it potentially spelled her ruin; to be a divorced royal, and a woman at that, meant bringing shame upon oneself. But she pushed through with the decision anyway—because there came a point where she chose her happiness above all else, including protecting the royal family's reputation. It was no secret that Charles and Camilla had a longstanding affair, and Diana was unwilling to sacrifice her well-being for the sake of avoiding controversy and keeping the peace with her royal relatives.
7. She was a patron of over 100 charities.
There are truly too many to name, but almost all of them revolved around the same causes: protecting disadvantaged children, caring for the sick and raising awareness of stigma-prone diseases, and promoting the arts. After her divorce, she could no longer carry out royal duties as usual and led only six charities until her death in 1997. The charities received over $1 million in donations after her death, and The Princess Diana Memorial Fund was soon set up as monetary donations continued to pour in even months after she was laid to rest. (The fund, which collected $44 million that served 471 organizations and gave out 727 grants, closed in 2012).
8. The Diana Award was set up in her memory.
Granted, this wasn't something she did for herself, but it's a consequence of everything she set out to do and who she was as a person. It's awarded to someone who is thought to be a good example of Diana's living legacy in the 21st century by contributing good in the world.
Lead photos from @thecrownnetflix