20 years after death, Princess Diana inspires outreach by sons

By Danielle Haynes  |  Aug. 30, 2017 at 6:00 AM
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Aug. 30 (UPI) -- Twenty years ago, the world mourned the sudden death of Princess Diana, a humanitarian, the one-time wife of the future king of Britain and the mother of another.

The princess of Wales, born Diana Frances Spencer, was 36 years old when she died along with her companion, Dodi Fayed, and their driver, Henri Paul, in a car crash in Paris on Aug. 31, 1997. Diana's bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, was the only survivor.

An inquest in London in 2008 blamed the crash on negligence by Paul -- he was driving drunk -- and by the pursuing paparazzi, who were "racing" the Mercedes he was driving trying to obtain photographs of Diana and her rumored fiancee, Fayed.

Diana sustained severe injuries to her lungs and brain, and though doctors tried for 2 hours to save her, she died of internal bleeding. Her two young sons, 15-year-old Prince William, and 12-year-old Prince Harry, learned of their mother's death while vacationing with their father, Prince Charles, in Scotland.

Immediately, there was a global outpouring of grief, with flowers piled high at makeshift memorials to the princess at Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and even Central Park in New York City. And world leaders reacted, some traveling to Britain to attend her funeral.

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Former President Bill Clinton said: "Hillary and I knew Princess Diana and we were very fond of her. We are profoundly saddened by this tragic event. Our thoughts and prayers tonight are with her family, friends and especially her children."

Diana's brother, Charles Spencer, lashed out at the paparazzi, saying his sister "always believed the press would kill her in the end."

"But not even I could imagine they would take such a direct hand in her death, as seems to be the case. It would appear that every proprietor and editor of every publication that has paid for intrusive and exploitative photographs of her, encouraging greedy and ruthless individuals to risk everything in pursuit of Diana's image, has blood on his hands today."

Six days after her death, Princess Diana was laid to rest as 2,000 mourners, including members of the British royal family, heads of state and celebrities gathered at Westminster Abbey for her funeral. Though the young princes put up a brave front walking behind their mother's coffin in the funeral procession, they shed tears during the iconic moment with pop singer Elton John performed a version of "Candle in the Wind" in tribute to the princess.

"Those inside the catheral say that as the singer sang the line 'Your candle burned out long before your legend ever will,' Harry buried his face in his hands and sobbed," a UPI reporter wrote at the time.

File Photo by Ezio Petersen/UPI

Diana left a legacy in the humanitarian efforts she pursued while alive. During the 1980s, she was one of the early advocates for people living with AIDS, publicly making physical contact with them even before it was known how the disease was spread.

"HIV does not make people dangerous to know. You can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it. What's more, you can share their homes, their workplaces and their playgrounds and toys," she said in 1987.

She would later open Grandma's House, a home for young AIDS patients in Washington, D.C., and was a patron of the National AIDS Trust.

Princess Diana also advocated for the removal of landmines left behind after war as a patron of HALO Trust, and she started a leukemia charity for young people with cancer.

After her death, her sons picked up the charitable work in her name.

Prince William has become a patron of a number of charities his mother supported, including the Centrepoint charity for the homeless, the Royal Marsden Hospital and Mountain Rescue. Prince Harry, likewise, patronizes HALO Trust and started his own AIDS foundation, Sentebale, to help children orphaned by the epidemic in Lesotho.

But it's their mother's death that inspired the princes' latest outreach efforts.

In 2017, the two princes, along with William's wife, Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, launched the Heads Together Campaign, partnering with mental health charities to provide support to those who need it, raising awareness and tackling stigmas of mental illness.

The new campaign, "#OktoSay," encourages people to open up about emotional challenges.

"That's part of the healing process and it's part of sharing your problems, to half them and to make them better with someone you trust and someone you know is going to help you," Prince William said.

The campaign grew out of the emotional turmoil the young princes felt in the years after their mother's death.

"We've never really talked about losing a mum at such a young age, and then you speak to other families and little kids and stuff, and you think, 'Wow, I don't want them to have to go through the same things,'" Prince Harry said. "You want to help as much as you can and try and empower them to have that conversation."

William said the shared experience of losing their mother brought he and Harry together.

"You are uniquely bonded because of what we've been through. Even Harry and I though, over the years, have not talked enough about our mother."

Photo courtesy the Royal Foundation

"I always thought to myself, 'Whats the point of bringing up the past? What's the point in bringing up something that's only going to make you sad? It ain't going to change it,'" Prince Harry said. "When you start thinking like that, it can be really damaging."

"What happened with us, and must happen with others as well, is you have to prioritize your mental health," Prince William added. "Someone has to take the lead and has to be brave enough to force that conversation."

To mark the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's death, a number of documentaries have been released, including In Her Own Words on Britain's Channel 4, The Story of Diana on ABC in the United States and Diana, 7 Days on the BBC.

To observe the day Thursday, the princes are planning to hold a small ceremony in the garden at Kensington Palace, Princess Diana's former home and speak with staff who worked there and knew her.

Already, her many fans have piled up flowers, candles and other tributes to lay outside the gates of the London palace.

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