01 July 2021

Diana’s 60th birthday: How the ‘People’s Princess’ made her mark on the world

01 July 2021

As one of the most famous women of all time, Diana, Princess of Wales, was a global icon, loved by her friends and family and adored from afar by millions around the world.

Known as the ‘People’s Princess’, the much-missed royal, who would have celebrated her 60th birthday on July 1, continues to be an inspiration more than two decades after her death.

The fairytale wedding

Prince and Princess of Wales kissing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after their wedding ceremony at St. Paul’s cathedral (PA Wire)

When Lady Diana Spencer walked down the aisle at St Paul’s Cathedral in July, 1981, the beautiful bride seemed to have it all: the handsome prince, the incredible dress, the lavish wedding, and a bright future ahead of her.

By marrying Prince Charles, Diana made millions of little (and not so little) girls believe that they too could become a tiara-wearing princess one day.

Charity work

Diana, Princess of Wales walks through a recently cleared minefield in Angola (PA Archive)

As Princess of Wales, Diana devoted herself to charity work, becoming a patron to many and being linked to even more. Initially she focused on causes related to children’s welfare, later taking a close interest in health issues.

Following her divorce from Charles in 1996, Diana continued her philanthropic efforts, visiting Angola the following year to campaign for the banning of landmines. Filmed for a BBC documentary, she was seen walking through a recently cleared minefield.

Challenging the stigma of HIV/AIDS

The Princess of Wales is presented with a bouquet by AIDS patient Martin Johnson during her visit to the Mildmay Mission Hospital AIDS Hospice in East London (PA Archive)

Another cause close to Diana’s heart was the HIV/AIDS crisis. In 1987, she visited Middlesex hospital and was pictured shaking hands with a HIV-positive patient, challenging the (at the time) widespread belief the disease could be passed via touch.

Following her death, Gavin Hart of the National AIDS Trust told the BBC: “In our opinion, Diana was the foremost ambassador for AIDS awareness on the planet and no one can fill her shoes in terms of the work she did.”

Doting mother

Diana, Princess of Wales enjoys a day out at Thorpe Park amusement park with her sons, Prince Harry (centre) and Prince William (PA Media)

It was clear her sons William and Harry brought Diana immense joy. In 2017 documentary Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, William revealed: “We felt, you know, incredibly loved, Harry and I, and I’m very grateful that that love still feels there, even 20 years on. And I think that’s a huge credit to her that I can still feel that now.”

Emotionally open

Diana, Princess of Wales, during her interview with Martin Bashir for the BBC (PA Media)

In contrast with the ‘stiff upper lip’ standard of the royal family, Diana was remarkably open about her personal struggles, candidly baring her emotions in the famous Panorama interview with Martin Bashir in 1995 (for which the BBC has now apologised, after an investigation revealed it was secured using “deceitful” methods).

In the conversation, Diana described the “isolating experience” of being catapulted into the limelight and revealed she’d suffered with post-natal depression and bulimia.

William and Harry have continued their mother’s legacy with the Heads Together mental health initiative, with William saying: “I think she would be proud of the campaign, proud of everybody involved, proud of us. But specifically proud of the UK for having this conversation.”

Fashion icon

Diana, Princess of Wales, chats with Pamela, Lady Harlech, as they arrive at the Royal Albert Hall (PA Archive)

Praised for her glamorous style during her many public appearances, Diana knew that as one of the world’s most photographed women, she had the power to elevate designers’ profiles.

She often chose to wear British or London-based labels such as Catherine Walker, Bruce Oldfield, Jimmy Choo and Emanuel (David and Elizabeth Emanuel created her wedding gown).

Sense of humour

Diana, Princess of Wales, at Versailles, Paris, where she was attending a charity dinner in aid of Barnado’s and the Fondations pour l’Enfance (PA Archive)

It’s easy to forget that Diana was renowned for her cheeky sense of humour and zest for life. “She was one of the naughtiest parents,” Harry revealed in 2017. “One of her mottos to me was, ‘You can be as naughty as you want, just don’t get caught’.”

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