Every time she showed herself as a mother first and a princess second, the hard line drawn between royalty and us common folk, seemed to fade away
There are certain universal truths that connect us regardless of time, circumstance and place. A mother’s love for her children is without a doubt one of those. It’s a big part of why people across the world felt connected to the late Princess Diana.
We loved her fashion, admired her charitable work and respected how she set out to write a new royal playbook. But nothing quite compared to how we felt when she spoke about and interacted with her boys. The video clips of Diana running into William and Harry’s arms after time away or grinning from ear to ear with them on theme park rides made her feel like one of us.
Every time she showed herself as a mother first and a princess second, the hard line drawn between royalty and us common folk, seemed to fade away. She wore the title of the people’s princess with pride and it fit her like a glove.
And that’s where the greatest tragedy of her untimely death can be found; two young princes under an international spotlight with no mother to guide them at just 15 and 12.
The news of her death struck hard and sharp for a mountain of reasons. As global citizens we mourned the loss of a great force for good in the world; a force that was building in strength as Diana finally began to move past her tumultuous marriage and split from Prince Charles.
It was hard to forget images of the totalled Mercedes that had been carrying Diana and her companion Dodi Fayed that fateful night in Paris too. Crashing into the concrete wall of the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel while attempting to escape the prying lenses of the paparazzi, the car was rendered unrecognizable. Yet in the twisted mess of metal, first responders reported that the ‘people’s princess’ appeared peaceful with almost no visible injuries from the crash. A sea of flowers and cards and teddy bears in memoriam of the lost princess lined the outside of her home at Kensington palace, but the loss was put into true perspective in a quiet and simple moment.
Prince William and Prince Harry, both in simple black suits, walked behind their mother’s casket during her internationally televised funeral on September 6, 1997. Draped in the royal standard with a an assortment of white flowers, it was impossible to look away from the tiny wreath of flowers placed by the young princes, with a handwritten card to “mummy” written by Prince Harry. The sadness was palpable and universally understood.
In many ways William and Harry became extensions of their mother after her death; pieces of her left behind and the brightest hope after unbelievable tragedy. They represented the chance for Diana’s legacy to live on and more than ever before the world took on the princes as their own.
Now 37 and 34, it’s safe to say William and Harry continually prove that the love and legacy of Princess Diana lives on in them. Both in their personal lives and royal agenda, the values and causes important to Diana’s heart are present. Diana was connected to over 100 charities during her lifetimes and she once famously said “anywhere I see suffering, that is where I want to be, doing what I can.”
It was a life philosophy that brought her to the bedsides of HIV/AIDS patients, homeless shelters, poverty stricken villages in Africa and of course, vulnerable children. And these were charitable endeavours Diana took on without following traditional royal protocol. “I touch people,” she once said of her hands-on approach to royal duties. “I think everyone needs that. Placing a hand on a friend’s face means making contact.”
Diana also bravely tackled the stigma around mental illness, most notably by speaking about her own very personal struggles, in the now infamous 1995 Panorama interview. Diana touched on a lot of shocking truths in that interview; referring openly to Prince Charles’ long standing affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles in particular. But she also spoke of suffering from bulimia, self-harm and postpartum depression. It was a public airing out of royal life behind castle walls that shocked both Queen and country, quite literally, but more importantly it put a well known, loved and respected face on an issue affecting millions around the world.
Both William and Harry’s charitable work echo that of Diana’s. Harry co-founded the charity Sentebale which helps children dealing with extreme poverty and living with HIV/AIDS in Botswana and Lesotho. Sentebale was co-founded by Prince Seeiso of Lesotho and Prince Harry shared that they were both inspired by the work of their mothers. “The charity is a way in which Prince Seeiso and I can remember our mothers, who both worked with vulnerable children and people affected by AIDS,” Prince Harry has said of Sentebale.
Prince William also supports charities in Africa including being royal patron of the Tusk Trust which helps protect wildlife and conservation efforts across Africa. Princess Diana also valued the protection of animals and was patron of the Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage in Zimbabwe that rescued and cared for animals injured, orphaned or abandoned wild animals.
The princes have also made mental health a priority, and like their late mother have been brave enough to share their own struggles to not only help remove the stigma around openly speaking about mental health issues, but to let others know they are not alone.
The royal brothers along with the Duchess of Cambridge created the Heads Together campaign which encourages children and young adults to speak openly about mental health struggles. Prince Harry made international headlines as the campaign kicked off by admitting that he had sought therapy to help process the grief of his mother’s death which he had “bottled up” for
Prince William also put his mother’s words into action in July on what would have been her 58th birthday. The prince and now father of three quietly went out to greet a small group of people that come to lay flowers at Kensington Palace on Diana’s birthday. They had been there since 5:30 a.m. and William came, unannounced, to thank them for honouring his mother. William did just as his mother had once said: “Carry out a random act of kindness with no expectation of reward safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.”
It’s clear that William and Harry use their mother’s legacy as a guiding light in their work and are committed to honouring her memory. “We will do everything we can to make sure she’s never forgotten,” Prince Harry said in a recent interview. “And carry on all the special gifts that she had and that she portrayed while she was alive.”
‘I live for my boys’
“I live for my boys. I’d be lost without them,” Diana said, and it wasn’t hard to tell that she meant it. The princess not only put her boys before royal duty, she was determined to give them normal life experiences in hopes that one day as they built families of their own, they would seek out real love instead of royal approval. No doubt they lived a privileged childhood, but Diana made sure they saw life beyond royalty too. She took them to homeless shelters and theme parks, McDonald’s restaurants and chose to send them to school outside the palace. And it’s easy to see how those glimpses into life outside the palace has shaped their decisions; most importantly when it comes to their own families.
Both William and Harry are now married fathers. Neither chose a ‘royal’ match but rather someone they truly connected with. Prince William chose Kate Middleton, now famously known and loved as the Duchess of Cambridge. They married in April 2011 after eight years together; a lengthy courtship that William said gave Kate, a non-royal, ample time to decide if royal life was for her. It was no doubt meant to safeguard against what had infamously happened to his parents’ marriage. Will and Kate are now parents to three adorable children, George, Charlotte and Louis and although they protect the children’s privacy from too much media glare, as parents the royal duo once again mirror Diana’s warm approach to parenthood.
“I adore my children very much,” Prince William says. “I’ve learnt a lot about my myself and about family just from having my own children.”
William has also spoke candidly about how having a family of his own sheds new perspective on losing Diana at just 15. “You realize how precious life is. The idea of not being around to see your children grow up is horrible.”
Prince Harry, who many thought might remain the royal family’s most eligible bachelor for life, has also settled into family life recently. And his choice of bride made even more headlines as Harry fell head over heels for American actress Meghan Markle. The pair married at Windsor Castle on May 18, 2019 after a two-year whirlwind romance and on May 6 of this year, they welcomed their first son, Archie.
In typical Prince Harry fashion, nothing about his union with Markle, now known as the Duchess of Sussex, has been traditional. The couple are known to be affectionate in public, run their own social media account and chose not to bestow the title of prince on their new bundle of joy. Going forward he will simply be known as Master Archie.
The decision to go way off the beaten track has not always made for an easy time for the pair in the media. Markle in particular is often at the centre of negative press, especially after rumours began swirling that William and Harry are on the outs with each other since getting married. The Duchess has been slammed for everything from the cost of her wedding to her decision not to do a public photo op after Archie’s birth.
But despite it all, Prince Harry seems to be carrying his mother’s words in hand and protecting his family before all else. “Family is the most important thing in the world,” Diana once said. “If you find someone you love in your life, then hang onto that love.”
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex remain a united front despite the challenges of late and no doubt the strength to do so comes from the values of family first that his mother instilled in him. “I hope she’s looking down with tears in her eyes being incredibly proud of what we’ve established,” Harry so beautifully said of his William’s personal and public accomplishments.
It’s been a long time since Princess Diana left this world on August 31, 1997. The world continues to miss her and wonder what could have been. But her boys keep her spirit alive and well, holding tightly to her legacy of love.