She remains one of the world’s best-loved royals, remembered as much for her ability to touch the hearts of young and old alike as for her fashion sense and classic beauty. The 1 July marks what would have been Princess Diana’s 60th birthday.
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As her sons, Prince William (39) and Prince Harry (36), lead a tribute to their beloved mother where they will unveil a statue of her in one of her favourite places – Kensington Palace’s Sunken Garden – we take a look at why she’s still a timeless icon.
Princess Di sported many iconic looks throughout her years as a royal, ranging from boxy blazers to polka-dot dresses and her exquisite evening gowns. She also rocked cycling shorts with sweatshirts and white trainers long before athleisure was really a thing. Two of her classic looks were recently revived by cult US brand Rowing Blazers – a tweed blazer paired with cycling shorts and the famous “black sheep” red sweater she wore to a polo game in 1981.
Her wedding dress with the longest train in royal history remains a highlight, and those famous Di pumps are still going today.“She had a knack for choosing pieces that suited her, rather than what seemed of the moment,” says Eleri Lynn, curator of the Diana: Her Fashion Story exhibition at Kensington Palace. “That’s what sort of takes somebody above daily fashion and helps make them a fashion icon: they have that elegance that is theirs and doesn’t move with the changes of fashion.”
‘Nothing gives me more happiness than to try to aid the most vulnerable of this society. Whoever is in distress who calls me, I will come running.’ Diana She supported over 100 causes and was praised for raising awareness for issues such as HIV/Aids, landmines and leprosy.
In 1987 she was famously seen shaking an Aids patient’s hand without wearing gloves, sending a message to the terrified world that the disease could not be transmitted by touch. Shortly before she died she was pictured walking in an active minefield in Angola and visiting a young girl with an amputated leg. The images helped turn the world’s attention on Angola’s crisis.
Diana was a devoted mother who broke several royal traditions when it came to raising her sons. ‘A mother’s arms are more comforting than anyone else’s’ Diana Not only was she one of the first royal moms to breastfeed her babies, she would also welcome a young William and Harry into her bed for morning cuddles, previously unheard of in royal circles.
She shunned tradition which said royal kids should stay at home with nannies when their parents went off on tour, famously taking along a nine-month-old William on her first official trip to Australia. Diana was very hands-on and would walk her boys to their nearby school every day. She was also famously photographed taking part in a mothers’ race at a school sports day. She also wanted to teach her kids empathy towards others and would include them in many of her humanitarian visits.
“I want [my sons] to have an understanding of people’s emotions, their insecurities, people’s distress, and their hopes and dreams,” Diana said. In 2005 William took over from his mother as patron of Centrepoint, the UK’s leading youth homelessness charity. Harry meanwhile has taken over his mother’s mantle of landmines in Angola, visiting the country in 2019.
Royal rule breaker
The People’s Princess may have been the first among the royals to speak her mind forcefully, even breaking protocol many times to make a point. For example, she refused to wear gloves because she wanted to feel more connected to the people she was shaking hands with. ‘I don’t go by the rule book because I lead from the heart.’
She was also among the first royals to speak about her mental-health struggles, which she did in her now-infamous 1995 BBC Panorama interview with Martin Bashir where she admitted to suffering from depression and bulimia. She also ditched the royal stiff-upper-lip rule when she told the world her husband, Prince Charles, was cheating on her by telling Bashir “there was a third person in my marriage”.
Advocate for love
While she may have been doomed in her marriage to Prince Charles, Diana still firmly believed in the power of love. During her adult life she never once shied away from showing affection to her children in public – a major break from her mother-in-law, the queen, who shunned public displays of affection. ‘The biggest disease in the world is the disease of being unloved.’
The princess would often hug kids, the sick or the elderly during her royal engagements, which earned her the nickname the People’s Princess.
“Hugging has no harmful side-effects. If we all play our part in making our children feel valued, the result will be tremendous. There are potential huggers in every household,” she said in 1992 at a conference on European Drug Prevention Week.