Princess Diana, the people’s princess, born July 1, 1961, was just 8 weeks older than me. As her relationship with Charles, the Prince of Wales hit the media, I learned along with the rest of the world of her shyness. She held down a regular job first as a nanny then later as a teacher at a local kindergartener. The overwhelming media attention was daunting. Still, she smiled and peered out from those bangs and I felt a connection with this woman who lived halfway around the world from me.
As her wedding day drew near, Diana’s face was on every magazine cover. You couldn’t look at a magazine rack without seeing her smiling face. The scowls didn’t come until later.
Her wedding day was the most extravagant event of the century and watched by more than 750 million people around the world. I was one of them. It was like a real life Cinderella story. Though the vast majority of us never came close to the wealth her family had access to nor the advantages their nobility brought, she still seemed like one of us. Her youth, her buoyancy and her absolute wonderment at all the attention focused on her was not so unlike how you or I might have been in her shoes. And certainly if something like this could happen to her, it could happen to us. She made it seem so.
After the wedding, which took place July 29, 1981, the couple settled into royal life. Just 4 months later Diana’s first pregnancy was announced. The world watched as her children entered the world stage. Prince William and Prince Harry seemed to be the joy of her life.
Sadly rumors of infidelity, depression and bulimia surrounded Diana and we saw her as completely human, forced to live out the most private and painful moments of her life in the public eye. Her pedigree, her good looks and her entry into the royal family had not spared her from the types of problems my friends and I were facing. As her fairytale died on the pages of the tabloids and magazines, we came to feel a kindred spirit in her.
Diana tried to live her life as best she could under the watchful eye of the palace knowing her husband was in love with another woman. She fought to raise her boys with as much normalcy as she could. She tried to prepare them for the rigors of the public life that would follow them the rest of their lives and our respect for her grew.
She took on charitable work that others shunned. She was lauded for her work with children’s charities, HIV/AIDS and later she was a visible face decrying the use of landmines. She had found a way to marry her celebrity with worthy causes and do more good in the world than anyone ever imagined.
The royal couple separated in 1992. Diana was ostracized by the royal family and stripped of her title Her Royal Highness just before the divorce in 1996.
She was not always above it all. She reportedly leaked things to the press and made comments about goings on in the royal family. Yet she was still beloved. Her actions made her human. I felt sorrow for the romance that had looked so promising and turned out to be such a heartbreaking mess and I applauded the courage it must have taken to stand up to the palace and all that tradition demanded of her.
During her last year she seemed to have found peace and perhaps love. There was hope and a future. That was inspiring to me and my generation. For someone to survive the despair and humiliation she had endured and come out the other side with a shining life still in front of her gave me hope. No matter what I might face, there would always be a tomorrow.
Then her tomorrows were taken by a tragic and needless accident on August 31, 1997. The world mourned as never before and I spent hours in front of the television, waiting for details. I watched the funeral procession and cried as though I’d lost a best friend. Though millions never personally knew Diana, she revealed so much of herself to us that we all felt we did. She was after all, the people’s princess.
Sources: Personal Experience