The Duke of Cambridge and Duke of Sussex have reunited to unveil a statue of their mother Diana, Princess of Wales, on what would have been her 60th birthday – and spoken movingly of her “love, strength and character”.
William and Harry were joined by other members of their mother’s family, including her brother and sisters, as well as one of Diana’s closest friends, in what was described by a Royal source ahead of time as “a small event and a very personal moment for the family”.
The bronze statue shows Diana surrounded by three children and is said to be based on the final period of her life as she gained confidence in her role as a humanitarian ambassador, aiming to convey “her character and compassion”.
“Today, on what would have been our mother’s 60th birthday, we remember her love, strength and character – qualities that made her a force for good around the world, changing countless lives for the better,” William and Harry said in a joint statement on the day.
“Every day, we wish she were still with us, and our hope is that this statue will be seen forever as a symbol of her life and her legacy.”
The statue is situated in the Sunken Garden in the grounds of Diana’s former home of Kensington Palace, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge still live with their three children George, Charlotte and Louis when in London.
Beneath the statue is a plinth engraved with Diana’s name and the date of unveiling, while a paving stone in front is engraved with an extract from the poem ‘The Measure of A Man’, which featured in the programme for the 2007 memorial service for Diana.
The garden has also been totally redesigned for the occasion in a project that began well before the pandemic and aims to create a “calmer, more reflective setting” for both the Royals and public visitors to the palace.
All eyes were on the brothers, who’ve reportedly experienced a rift in recent years, and were last seen in public together at the funeral of their grandfather, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at St George’s Chapel in Windsor in April.
In January 2020, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced they were stepping back from royal duties and subsequently moved their family to the US. A year later, the couple gave an explosive interview to Oprah Winfrey that lifted the lid on Meghan’s mental health struggles and a racist comment made to her about son Archie’s skin colour by an unnamed member of the Royal Family.
The Sunken Garden, a favourite spot of Diana’s, was also where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their engagement to the world’s press in November 2017, the same year that it had been temporarily replanted and renamed The White Garden, to mark the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death.
Diana was 36 when she was killed in car crash in Paris on August 31,1997, when she was being pursued by the paparazzi. Her sons were just 15 and 12. Harry revealed in the run-up to the 20th anniversary how he came close to a breakdown after not speaking about the loss of his mother for many years.
A sea of flowers was left at the gates of Diana’s home, Kensington Palace, by shocked members of the public and hundreds of thousands of mourners gathered in London on the day of the funeral.
Many Royal fans also gathered ahead of Thursday’s statue unveiling to show their respects to the princess on what would have been her 60th birthday.
William and Harry personally commissioned sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley to design their mother’s statue in 2017. It was privately funded, with a six-strong selection committee charged with shortlisting artists and raising funds.
Rank-Broadley is no stranger to the royals, having previously designed the effigy of the Queen that appears on the back of many British and Commonwealth coins, as well as portraits of both the Queen Mother and the Queen and Prince Philip that have featured on various commemorative coins, too.
“Diana, Princess of Wales was an icon who touched the lives of people right around the world, so it has been a privilege to work alongside Prince William and Prince Harry on this statue which commemorates her life,” he said.
“We wanted to capture her warmth and humanity while showcasing the impact she had across generations. I hope that people will enjoy visiting the statue and the Sunken Garden, and taking a moment to remember the princess.”
The sculptor was among a small group of guests at Thursday’s unveiling, along with the garden designer Pip Morrison, Diana’s brother Charles, the Earl of Spencer, her sisters, Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes, and the princess’s close friend, psychotherapist and grief expert Julia Samuel, who is also godmother to Prince George.
None of Diana’s five grandchildren attended the event, nor were either the Duchess of Cambridge or the Duchess of Sussex there with their husbands.
Ongoing Covid-19 restrictions meant the gathering was smaller than originally planned, with many of Diana’s friends and colleagues unable to attend.
A royal source said: “Plans have been scaled back due to the current Covid-19 restrictions and media arrangements reflect both the size and tone of the event.”
Harry left his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, at home in California with their son Archie and newborn daughter, Lilibet Diana, whose names pay tribute to her great-grandmother – Lilibet was the Queen’s nickname – and grandmother. Baby Lily shares her middle-name of Diana with her cousin, Princess Charlotte.
Flying into London for the unveiling, Harry first attended the star-studded awards ceremony of the WellChild charity at Kew Gardens on Wednesday night, apparently completing his quarantine early by providing a negative Covid test.
“As a father of two, I feel all the more connected, inspired and in awe of the resilience of these families,” he told guests at that event.
The redesign of the Sunken Garden – where Diana could often be seen walking – began in October 2019, with five gardeners devoting more than 1,000 hours to the planting. It now features a staggering 4,000 individual flowers, including the princess’s favourite forget-me-nots and other spring and summer blooms.
There are more than 200 roses of five varieties, including Ballerina and Blush Noisette, 300 tulips of three varieties, including White Triumphator and China Pink, and some 500 lavender plants, more than 100 dahlias and 50 sweet peas.
“While she was in residence at Kensington Palace, Diana, Princess of Wales regularly admired the changing floral displays in the Sunken Garden and would always stop to talk with me and the other gardeners who cared for it,” recalls Graham Dillamore, deputy head of gardens and estates at Historic Royal Palaces, who knew Diana.
“Over three decades later, I’m honoured to have been part of the team preparing the garden for the installation of this statue,” he added.
“We’ve incorporated a number of the princess’s favourite flowers into the design, and I hope that visitors to the palace and gardens will enjoy its peaceful setting, and take a moment to reflect on the life and legacy of the princess.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.