July 2007

As the ten-year mark of Diana's death approaches, the presses are churning out books that promise to reveal her private trials and tribulations in a manner that only the tabloid-gossip media can achieve. What is sad to me is that these writings are missing the point of Diana completely. Let's forget about the "old story" for once. I don't want to remember how many lovers she had or the silly question about whether Prince Harry is the biological son of the Prince of Wales. I don’t want to think about Diana shoving her finger down her throat to purge herself. For crying out loud, is focusing on Diana at her lowest ebb helpful to anyone anymore?  Was it ever?  Is focusing on anyone at their lowest ebb helpful? It was obviously a personal mistake for the Prince of Wales to marry Lady Diana Spencer, but thank God he made it. The world was a little bit brighter for millions of people because of that “mistake.” Whatever these so-called royal analysts say about Diana and how “badly” she was treated by the royal family, how Prince Charles “betrayed” her, or, worst of all, how the royal family is supposed to be responsible for her death, the truth is that Diana was unlikely to have wanted us to remember just the sadness in her life.  Instead, she probably wanted us to remember the work she did and the hope and joy she brought to the people she met. The leprosy and cancer patients, the AIDS/HIV babies, the landmine victims - none of them care that she lost her HRH prefix in August 1996 once the ink was dry on the divorce papers. The people at the Leprosy Mission only cared about how very happy her visits made them. The homeless people at the Centrepoint shelters never cared what kind of prefix Diana had before her name. It’s doubtful that they even curtsied or called her Ma’am. Even if one of them had done so, Diana would have laughed and said, “Oh don’t bother with all that rubbish; my name is Diana, just Diana!”

Indeed. Just Diana. The wonderful, loving, beautiful, gracious Just Diana. Anyone who calls "Di-mania a disaster need only remember the work she did. Prince Charles once told Ingrid Seward that anything that raises over a million poinds for charity can never be called "disastrous." He said it in answer to her statement that the It’s a Royal Knockout television show in the 1980s had been a “disaster” for the monarchy, but his words could easily be used in reference to his first wife's tireless work on behalf of her charities.1 While she was HRH The Princess of Wales, Diana succeeded in turning the media floodlight on many previously obscure charities, such as Help the Aged, Birthright, Turning Point, Headway, the Malcolm Sargent Cancer Fund for Children, and Barnardo's. Those charities, however, lost her as their royal patron following her divorce. She retained only six patronages after that time: Centrepoint, The Leprosy Mission, the National AIDS Trust, the English National Ballet, the Great Ormond Street Hospital, and the Royal Marsden Hospital. Diana was a British Red Cross patron during her marriage and continued working for the British and International Red Cross after the divorce. She attended Red Cross conventions in Geneva and most famously helped focus attention on the British Red Cross campaign to ban anti-personnel landmines.
  The topic of Diana’s work for the Red Cross might easily make for a hefty volume.  It’s ironic that while Diana ceased to be vice-president of the British Red Cross in 1996, in death she became what BRC director-general Mike Whitlam considers the “best-known volunteer” of the International Red Cross.  She was also patron of Britain’s Red Cross Youth movement, but sadly this was another organization which lost her as patron in 1996.2 Diana’s interest in working for the Red Cross on a more intensive and global scale dates to as early as 1991. Perhaps she knew then that she would not always be a member of the royal family, or perhaps she was planning to increase the scope and the volume of her work as the BRC’s royal patron.  She made at least six major overseas trips on behalf of the Red Cross before 1997, followed by her now-legendary trek through a minefield in Angola in January 1997. The final humanitarian journey, in the first half of August, was her second trip to central Europe on behalf of the Red Cross.  Previously she had traveled to the Croatian-Hungarian border to bring some of her magical radiance to refugees of that war-ravaged region.3  On this final goodwill trip, to Bosnia-Herzegovina, she visited landmine victims in the course of opening the new Landmine Survivors Network office in Sarajevo. Her visit is credited with prompting Bosnia’s politicians to sign the Mine Ban Treaty, which they did shortly after her visit.4 The previous June, she had succeeded in raising $650,000 for the Landmine Survivors Network at a fundraising gala in Washington, D.C., where the headquarters is based.3

Diana's work lives on, despite her physical absence. Her mark is stamped all over her son Prince Harry’s founding patronage of Sentebale, which benefits children and babies with AIDS/HIV. This year Prince William took over the presidency of the Royal Marsden Hospital, which was one of the beneficiaries of Diana’s Sale of Dresses at Christie’s auction house.  Prince William also visited Centrepoint Safe Shop in December 2006. Diana used to take Prince William and Prince Harry to meet homeless people at Centrepoint shelters, where they helped serve breakfast and sat down for tea with the residents.5 In the week following Diana's death, Canadian students raised money for the Red Cross by wearing black ribbons with red hearts -  a tribute to the woman being hailed as “Queen of Hearts”, “Queen in People’s Hearts,” or “The People’s  Princess."6 The Concert for Diana on 1 July 2007, the day she would have turned 46, benefited the Leprosy Mission, Centrepoint, and Sentebale, as well as her namesake memorial fund.7  The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund now has a revised strategy and fresh management.  No longer “criteria-led,” the Fund focuses on what it calls a “pro-active and objective-driven” course,8 in a drive to seek out obscure and difficult causes. This objective, cited in the Fund's official website, is rather in the spirit of Diana the person, who took pride in being a champion of causes either unknown or controversial.
  One private trouble is worth noting, however. Diana’s battle with bulimia nervosa for most of her adult life helped bring this debilitating disease into the open. Its many symptoms include hair loss, dental problems, and fatigue; left untreated, it can be fatal. It affects as many as 4% of women and about one-tenth as many men.9 The causes of bulimia are interlaced deeply with emotional insecurities and poor self-esteem. Bulimia, much like its sister disease anorexia, causes its sufferers to feel shame and a compulsive need to hide the binges and purges. This need for secrecy is powerfully challenged when a high-profile person like Diana admits to being a sufferer. Diana’s friend Carolyn Bartholomew threatened to reveal Diana’s bulimia to the press unless she sought treatment. Threatened with exposure of what felt like a dirty and shameful secret, Diana agreed to see a psychiatrist who specialized in eating disorders, and eventually she felt able to speak out in public about her experiences.10 For many bulimics who have felt freakish and disgusting because of the disease, Diana’s confession must have been reassuring.
  In spite of the private travails and misguided actions that kept the tabloids busy and made the paparazzi rich, what stands out more than anything in the life of Diana is her humanity. Her brother characterized her as "the very essence of compassion, of duty, of style, of beauty...the unique, the complex, the extraordinary and irreplaceable Diana."11 Lord Spencer's most memorable tribute to his sister needs no expansion, but I might add just one attribute: the Diana to whom everyone, everywhere, of every age could relate. Whether it was the young and innocent bride, the troubled royal novice, or the seasoned and sophisticated humanitarian, there was something for everyone to relate to. This goes beyond saying she was a ''People's Princess"12 or a ''Queen in people's hearts."13 With every tear and every laugh, she was the princess in all of us.

1. See Ingrid Seward’s book The Queen and Di, page 171.  ISBN: 1559705612.
  2. The groups with which the Princess of Wales ceased to be involved in 1996 are listed at http://www.bbc.co.uk/politics97/diana/charlist.html.
  3. See Diana, Princess of Wales: a Personal Tribute to the World's Best-Known Red Cross Volunteer, by Mike Whitlam. http://www.redcross.int/EN/mag/magazine1997_3/28.html
  4. See Princess Diana: Activist for Landmine Survivors. http://www.landminesurvivors.org/who_diana.php
  5. See Centrepoint press release (21 December 2006)
  6. See Canadian news release (5 September 1997)
  7. See AHN news release (14 June 2007)
  8. Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fund. The Work Continues. http://www.theworkcontinues.org/
  9. The statistics here are from the Mayo Clinic and Anred websites.
  10. The information about Diana seeking treatment for bulimia nervosa is cited from Andrew Morton's book Diana: Her True Story
  11. Full text of the 9th Earl Spencer's eulogy at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales
12. Tony Blair's speech to the press in the days after Diana died. http://www.pm.gov.uk/output/Page1050.asp
  13. Diana, Princess of Wales, on Panorama, November 1995, in interview with Martin Bashir.
  Photo Credit
  Photo collage of Diana by The Royal Forums member TheTruth and used with permission.