Diana, Princess of Wales, died exactly 25 years ago today. Her legacy of activism and compassion, however, continues on (not to mention the biking shorts).
Diana died on August 31, 1997, at the age of 36, from injuries sustained in a car crash in Paris that also killed her companion Dodi Fayed and driver Henri Paul. A verdict ascribed her death to the reckless driving of both her chauffeur and the paparazzi trailing them around a decade later (her sons also blame the BBC for the role its bombshell 1995 interview — obtained through a scheme of fabrication and deception — played in her death).
Princess Diana showed the world how to use celebrity for good
The so-called “people’s princess” was not only popular with the general populace. According to British journalist Bidisha Mamata, she also impacted people’s perceptions about celebrities.
“In the twenty-first century, we absolutely assume that renowned people will also be a U.N. special envoy or that they will utilise their privilege to accomplish good,” she says. “Princess Diana pioneered the concept of a famous person doing good, and she was incredibly radical.”
Diana used her celebrity to raise attention to a variety of humanitarian challenges and philanthropic causes, and was once associated with more than 100 charities.
She walked through minefields in Bosnia and Angola to advocate for landmine clearance, visited people with leprosy in Nepal, India, and Zimbabwe, and opened Britain’s first AIDS ward in London, where she famously shook ungloved hands with a patient, challenging the false and once-dominant belief that HIV/AIDS could be spread through casual touch.
Diana also made headlines when she hugged a little patient at a paediatric AIDS unit in Harlem, New York.
“She was an activist during a period when there was so much stigma associated with AIDS and HIV,” Mamata explained. “And she’s the one who walked into AIDS wards and said, ‘No, I’m going to treat folks like normal people.’ I’m going to shake hands, we’re going to talk, and I’m going to promote awareness.'”
The late British historian Ben Pimlott predicted in a Morning Edition interview shortly after Diana’s death that Diana will be remembered for her public work and for breathing new life into the monarchy.
“A very hilarious, clever, sharp, human person with a terrific rapport and a great sympathy,” he said of her.
Diana’s life, especially her rocky marriage to Prince Charles and treatment by the royal family, as well as the events leading up to her death, have captivated the public for decades.
Her narrative has recently been adapted for the big screen as well as streaming services, with Emma Corrin starring in Netflix’s The Crown and Kristen Stewart in the film Spencer. On what would have been her 60th birthday last July, Princes William and Harry unveiled a statue of her at Kensington Palace. A Ford Escort that Diana drove in the 1980s recently sold at auction for more than $850,000.
On the anniversary of Diana’s death, mourners gathered in Paris on Wednesday to drop flowers, leave messages, and pay their respects on the bridge above the underpass where she was killed. Others created a makeshift memorial outside Kensington Palace’s gates. The flag was lowered to half-staff at Althorp House, the Spencer estate where Diana grew up.