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Princess Diana has always been a part of my life.
From drinking out of souvenir mugs from her wedding to Prince Charles to reading the newspapers my mum kept from the day she died, I’ve always felt connected to the late princess. But why?
I was born in 1999, two years after her death. I wasn’t alive to see her marry into and later divorce the royal family, or to witness her commendable charity work. But I, like many others, still feel the lasting legacy of the Princess of Wales through her influence on my own family and on wider British society.
My first memory of knowing about the princess was through the boxes of memorabilia my mum kept about her over the years. From books to magazines, newspapers to souvenirs – these possessions are nearly as dear to my mother as baby photos of me and my relatives.
My mum – like many older women of colour from Asian and African backgrounds – has always felt connected to Diana, and has passed that on to her children. To say a bad word against “Lady Di” would surely be cause for a heated argument, not that I would ever attempt to do so anyway.
While I didn’t fully understand this when I was younger, I now see the similarities between the princess’s life and that of many women of colour from certain cultural backgrounds – the pressures of pleasing in-laws, suffering silently in times of trouble, and an unconditional dedication to one’s family.
What was different about Diana was that she was able to leave the suffocating environment she was in – an option many women feel they don’t have. This is why these women identify with Diana – her struggles, and her bravery in many ways, appeal to those who have suffered in silence.
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Diana’s connection with cultures other than her own is something we can all learn from. Her many visits to Pakistan and her appreciation of our culture is surely cemented in the minds of Pakistanis at home and abroad, especially given the overwhelmingly negative portrayals of us throughout the media and society.
Not only this, but her commitment to humanitarian issues, especially those in countries such as Angola and Sri Lanka, drew attention to problems that may not otherwise have been given coverage. In particular, I remember learning of her walking through minefields in Huambo, Angola despite the risk, as well as her hugging HIV and Aids patients at a time of hysteria around the transmissibility of the illness.
In these moments, she changed public perception, broke down stigma, and further proved her selfless commitment to tackling societal issues, despite the alleged backlash she faced from the royal family in response.
Today, the legacy of Diana is still as present as ever, as she is remembered during every royal event – including last weekend’s platinum jubilee celebrations for the Queen’s 70-year reign. On these occasions, my mum will never fail to bring up Diana and how she should still be here.
There is a lot we should have learned from Diana’s life and death. Most importantly, in respect of the treatment of public figures by the British press. It is relentless, targeted, and often cruel, and the coverage of Diana’s daughter-in-law, Meghan, is a key example of this.
Prince Harry and Meghan stepped back as working members of the royal family in 2020, and have since shared details of their treatment at the hands of both the press and the royals. From the racist comments about Meghan in certain publications to the alleged concerns of the royal family about her son Archie’s skin tone, and the duchess’s battle with suicidal thoughts as a result – it’s impossible not to draw parallels between Meghan and Diana.
When the duke and duchess came forward about their experiences, it should have drawn people’s minds back to how Diana was treated, and caused another push for change. Instead, the backlash against the couple for speaking out was intense and unjust.
Despite this, Harry has said he has no doubt that his mother would be proud of him, as he is living the life she would have wanted for herself. I agree.
I see Harry as a man simply trying to protect his wife and children, just as Diana should have been protected. If there’s anything the late princess would have wanted, it would be for her children to live happy and safe lives, which is all Harry is trying to achieve.
Despite not knowing a time when Diana was alive, I see how her legacy lives on. Her charitable nature, family values and care for others are traits we can all learn from, 25 years after her death.