Monday 23 October 2017

Twenty years on, Diana's death still as poignant

A red heart-shaped bouquet of flowers is displayed in front of the Flame of Liberty statue near the Pont de l’Alma tunnel where Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris 20 years ago. Photo: Getty Images
A red heart-shaped bouquet of flowers is displayed in front of the Flame of Liberty statue near the Pont de l’Alma tunnel where Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris 20 years ago. Photo: Getty Images

Emma Rumney in London

The 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana was marked at an Aids hospital she regularly visited yesterday.

Her sons William and Harry had already paid tribute to their mother, visiting the floral tributes and pictures left at the gates of her former home Kensington Palace.

Yesterday, people gathered outside. The brothers toured the site on Wednesday and laid flowers on behalf of well-wishers who had arrived to see the royals.

It may be 20 years since her death shocked the world but her appeal remains undiminished.

The princes have spoken candidly about their mother in the run-up to the anniversary, describing the personal anguish they experienced and grief they still feel.

Prince Harry, interviewed for an ITV documentary about his mother, said: "There's not a day that William and I don't wish that she was... still around."

One of the most famous women in the world, she was killed aged 36 on August 31, 1997, when her limousine crashed in a Paris tunnel as it sped away from paparazzi giving chase on motorbikes.

Her death prompted the biggest outpouring of grief seen in Britain in recent times and hurt the monarchy, which was accused of reacting coldly.

The events that followed, when Queen Elizabeth promised to learn from the princess's life, are regarded as a turning point in the modernisation of the country and how the royal family relates to the public.

"She brought a breath of fresh air to the royal family," said Caryll Foster (57), who got to the palace for 3am to mark the time when the news of the princess's death broke.

"The royal family can be a bit cold, and she was warm hearted and kind. She was very special and we want to keep her memory alive," she said.

Yesterday, people gathered in the dark to lay candles and remember a woman who married Prince Charles, heir to the throne, in a glittering 1981 wedding ceremony before their bitter divorce in 1996.

The 20th anniversary of her death has prompted a renewed fascination with the 'People's Princess', as she was dubbed by then-prime minister Tony Blair, with her two sons leading the tributes.

Newspaper front pages showed the two royals examining flowers and notes left for their mother, next to the same image taken 20 years ago when, aged 15 and 12, they met mourners and read some of the thousands of messages left at the gates.

In documentaries broadcast in recent weeks, the two men have spoken about the trauma they suffered and their sense of confusion and bewilderment at the country's grief.

The 'Times' newspaper said the fact the princes could speak so openly about their emotions showed the lasting legacy of their mother, one of the first royal figures to talk about her emotions.

"Their courage to be openly vulnerable and to talk about these issues is a mark of how the royal family has changed," it said in an editorial. "The princes have led the way in dispensing with the stiff upper lip against which Diana railed."

Dickie Arbiter, a former press secretary to the queen who worked for Charles and Diana, said her influence lives on.

He said: "Diana's legacy is William and Harry. That's it, they're carrying on her work. She was a brilliant parent, Charles was a brilliant parent.

"They got the best of both worlds, the high street from Diana and they got the countryside and environment from their dad. So they're well-rounded, well capable of doing what is required of them."

The princess has been described as a boss who was appreciative of her staff and liked to celebrate their birthdays personally, something Mr Arbiter said he experienced.

"I remember the personal touch - she gave me a 50th birthday party in her apartment," he said. "A lunch with party poppers and helium balloons in 1990."

Kathy Martin was creating picture collages of the princess as the crowds flocked to the Kensington Palace gates.

She said: "She was a beautiful young princess that should never have left this world, and now I'm so sad that she's gone."

Ms Martin, originally from Australia, but now living in Beckenham, south-east London, said on the day the princess died she was woken by a phone call from her sister.

"I turned the TV on and I was crying my eyes out. It's silly, well, it's not silly really because I felt like I knew her," she added.

Irish Independent

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