This article is from May 2017, and has been republished in remembrance of Princess Diana on the anniversary of her death.
Princess Diana captured the world’s attention as a royal trendsetter, but during her time in the public eye, she also became a prominent philanthropic force. Diana worked tirelessly on behalf of charities around the world, using her fame to raise awareness of a number of important humanitarian issues. Twenty years after her death, here’s why Diana will always be remembered as the “People’s Princess.”
1) She changed the face of the British monarchy.
Through her charity work, Diana highlighted how royalty, which had previously been known for its stuffiness, could be in touch with the public. In her interview with BBC’s Panorama in 1995, she said, “I would like a monarchy that has more contact with its people.” This statement became something of a personal mission for the Princess. Diana was at some point patron of over 100 charities. During her many visits to hospitals, schools and fundraising galas, she became known for spending hours talking to people and listening to their stories. Although she found the media’s intrusion into her personal life “intolerable,” Diana found a way to use this to bring attention to the people and the causes that needed it most.
2) She led a campaign for a worldwide ban on landmines.
After a visit to Angola in 1997, Diana became anti-landmine activists’ most prominent advocate. During that trip, which was captured by the BBC for a Heart of the Matter documentary, the Princess was photographed putting her own safety at risk as she walked through a recently cleared minefield. “I’d read the statistics that Angola has the highest percentage of amputees anywhere in the world,” she told the cameras. “That one person in every 333 had lost a limb, most of them through land mine explosions. But that hadn’t prepared me for reality.” Diana’s commitment to mine clearance work captured the public’s attention and decades after she started her campaign, the support for the cause continues. Her son Prince Harry, who is now patron ofleading landmine charity, The HALO Trust,recently called for the world to become free of the weapons by 2025.
3) She changed the world’s perception of HIV and AIDS.
In April 1987, when speculation around the virus was rife, Diana was invited to open Britain’s first AIDS ward at Middlesex hospital. A photograph, which made front-page news around the world, showed her shaking hands with HIV-positive patients without wearing gloves. This publicly challenged the notion that HIV/AIDS was passed from person to person by touch and highlighted Diana’s affection and compassion for people living with the disease. In the following years, she went on to make several bedside visits to patients at a number of hospitals, including a hostel for abandoned children in Rio de Janeiro and a hospice in Toronto.At the time of her death, Gavin Hart, of the National AIDS Trust, told the BBC: “In our opinion, Diana was the foremost ambassador for AIDS awareness on the planet and no one can fill her shoes in terms of the work she did.”
4) She raised awareness of leprosy.
Like her AIDS efforts, Diana traveled to countries with a high leprosy rate in order to remove the stigma surrounding the disease. As patron of The Leprosy Mission, she visited hospitals in India, Nepal and Zimbabwe and by spending time with patients, she dispelled one of the myths surrounding the illness-that it can be passed on by touch. “It has always been my concern to touch people with leprosy, trying to show in a simple action that they are not reviled, nor are we repulsed,” she said of the disease.
5) She made regular personal visits to London’s homeless centers.
Despite relinquishing most of her charitable causes after her divorce from Prince Charles in 1996, Diana became patron of Centrepoint in 1992 and remained in the role until her death in 1997. Both William and Harry were taken by the Princess to see the help offered at the charity’s shelters and, at the age of 23, William followed in his mother’s footsteps when he became patron. Speaking at the time, he told The Telegraph: “My mother introduced that sort of area to me a long time ago. It was a real eye-opener and I am very glad she did. It has been something I have held close to me for a long time.”
6) She reached out to children.
Diana displayed a great affinity for young people and became a champion for some the most vulnerable. As patron of The Royal Marsden Hospital, known for treating childhood cancers, and Great Ormand Street Hospital for Children, she was often pictured comforting children and made a personal connection with many. Speaking about her work with the Royal Brompton Hospital, London, she said: “I make the trips at least three times a week, and spend up to four hours at a time with patients holding their hands and talking to them. Some of them will live and some will die, but they all need to be loved while they are here. I try to be there for them.”
7) She was an avid supporter of the arts.
Diana loved dance and after her divorce, The English National Ballet was the only non-humanitarian charity she chose to dedicate her time to. She was often seen enjoying performances and was known to take her sons William and Harry along with her. Her support and presence at fundraising galas helped to raise thousands of pounds for the company.
8) She was a devoted mother.
Whether she was doing the school run or taking her sons on a day out to a theme park, Diana did her best to give her young sons a “normal” childhood. She was passionate about helping others, but royal commentators said motherhood was clearly the job she loved the most. She led by example and often took William and Harry along with her on hospital visits. Today, the Princes continue to support their mother’s legacy as patrons of some of the charities she so prominently supported.
9) She inspired others to give to charitable causes.
According to The Princess Diana Memorial Fund, set up in response to the donations which poured in at the time of her death, the general public and community groups donated some $44 million. By the time the Fund closed in 2012, it had awarded 727 grants to 471 organisations, and spent over $145 million on charitable causes. In March 2013, The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry took over the legal ownership of the Fund, ensuring any future income is donated to charities.