Princess Diana was many things: A style icon, the “people’s princess” and a humanitarian.
The late royal was associated with more than 100 charities during her lifetime. Even after her high-profile divorce from Prince Charles, where she might have been tempted to retreat from public life given the scrutiny she was placed under, she continued to use her platform for good - right up until her tragic, untimely death in 1997.
In recent years, Princes William and Harry have opened up about the effect their mother’s death has had on them, as well as the huge influence she had on their charity endeavours. Here's how the brothers are channelling their mother’s mark on the world.
THEIR DEVOTION TO AFRICA
Both Prince William and Prince Harry support charities in Africa. Prince Harry famously spent some of his gap year in the continent and later set up his charity Sentebale which cares for child victims of extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS in Botswana and Lesotho.
On the organisation’s website, the Prince explains that a large reason why he and Prince Seeiso of Lesotho co-founded their charity was to make their mothers proud.
“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,” he wrote. “I really feel that by doing this, I can follow in my mother’s footsteps and keep her legacy alive.”
Earlier, this year Harry said Africa is where he feels most relaxed. He told Town and Country he first visited the continent shortly after his mother died “to get away from it all”.
“This is where I feel more like myself than anywhere else in the world,” he said.
Some of the most iconic photos of Princess Diana are of her in Africa cradling orphan children. The Princess also attracted global media interest when she fearlessly walked through an area containing active land mines in Angola to raise awareness of those living with serious injuries and amputations from exploded land mines left after war. In the years that followed, various states signed the Mine Ban Treaty in Ottawa. Prince Harry recently urged the world to get rid of land mines by 2025 and regularly works with the HALO Trust - the organisation Diana visited Angola with.
Prince William is a royal patron of the Tusk Trust, which helps protect wildlife and conservation efforts across Africa. Before her death, Diana was a patron of the Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage in Zimbabwe which rescued and cared for orphaned, injured and abandoned wild animals.
THEIR FIGHT TO END THE STIGMA SURROUNDING HIV AND AIDS
It was in the field of HIV and AIDS where Princess Diana truly made her mark. In the 1980s, at a time where there was widespread misinformation, fear and stigma surrounding the relatively new disease, Diana was photographed hugging, shaking hands and sitting with people dying from AIDS. She was Patron of the National Aids Trust and even opened the first “landmark aids centre” in London in 1989.
Prince Harry has also actively continued to fight the stigma through his work with the Terrence Higgins Trust. Last year, he took an HIV test at Guys' and St Thomas' hospital in London live on Facebook to reduce the stigma around getting tested by showing how easy it is. The charity praised him for “normalising HIV testing to a global audience” and inspiring “a generation to take control of their sexual health”.
The Prince hasn’t kept this limited to the UK either. At the end of last year, he joined forces with Rihanna to take a public HIV test for World AIDS Day in her native country Barbados.
SPEAKING OPENLY ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH
In 1995, Princess Diana took part in a searingly honest interview with the BBC where she said she had suffered from post-partum depression after giving birth to William. She also revealed she had previously self-harmed.
“You’d wake up in the morning feeling you didn’t want to get out of bed,” she said of the post-partum depression. “You felt misunderstood, and just very, very low in yourself.”
Given that we are still at a point where mental health issues can come with a stigma, it was remarkable and inspiring that one of the most famous women, and mothers, in the world was helping to break down the taboo. She told interviewer Martin Bashir that she was aware being open about her illness had left her with a “new label” of her being “unstable and mentally unbalanced”.
Recently, Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge co-founded the Heads Together campaign to open up the conversation around mental health. Prince Harry also revealed the struggles he has had with his own mental health, saying he sought therapy after bottling up years of grief over his mother’s death in an interview with The Telegraph. He was praised by mental health experts for the honest admission.
HELPING VULNERABLE CHILDREN
Another area Diana devoted her time and resources to was looking out for vulnerable children. She was the President of the charity Barnardo’s, whose services include counselling abused children and supporting child victims of domestic violence, from 1984 to 1986. She resigned from this position and several other key charity posts a day after announcing her divorce from Prince Charles, The Independent reported at the time. The Princess continued as President of Great Ormond Street children’s hospital in London and regularly visited patients until her death.
USING THEIR EXPERIENCE OF GRIEF TO HELP OTHERS
As well as Harry’s candid interviews about grieving for his mother, Prince William has used the heart-breaking event of losing his mother at such a young age to support other children going through a similar thing. As the royal patron of Child Bereavement UK, William has spoken of grief being "the most painful experience that any child or adult can endure."
Earlier this year, he also sat down with a nine-year-old girl whose father had passed away from cancer. He told the girl he too had lost his mother at a very young age and stressed the importance of talking about her dad and her feelings, People reported.
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