This past July 1st would have been Princess Diana’s 56th birthday. In honor of this, it is fitting to highlight the Princess of Wales’ passionate endeavors in charity work. Through her genuine connections with people, Princess Diana’s kindness seems to be an overarching memory for those who knew her, and for the watching world, it has created a space for her in history as a true humanitarian.
Diana, Princess of Wales was the first wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, who is the eldest child of Queen Elizabeth II, making him the heir apparent. Together they had two sons, the princes William and Harry.
As Princess of Wales, Diana was very engaged in charity work, sometimes taking on work that wasn’t universally popular or was thought to be too political for a princess. For Diana, as her son Prince Harry aptly put it, “This wasn’t about the politics; it was about people.”
Diana visited areas such as Huambo in Angola and Travnik in Bosnia, regions known for their exposure to landmines. The now famous image of Diana standing in an active minefield in Angola in January of 1997 brought the world’s attention to a serious cause, as the princess had known it would.
Diana heard people in these respective communities express their fears about landmine exposure, and their constant fear that their next step would become their last. The princess also met with those whose lives had been changed by their injuries from landmines and decided to share the issue with the world, while also taking part in the coalition that was created to end it.
Prince Harry, on his mother’s work with The Coalition to End Landmines, said, “She knew she had a big spotlight to shine, and she used it to bring attention on the people that others had forgotten, ignored, or were too afraid to support.”
The princess also began her work with AIDS victims in the 1980s. Diana was not opposed to making physical contact with AIDS patients, though it was still unknown at the time whether the disease could be spread through casual physical contact.
In 1987, the princess held hands with an AIDS patient in one of her early efforts to de-stigmatize the condition. One of Diana’s noted statements on the disease was, “HIV does not make people dangerous to know. You can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it.” In 1989, she opened the Landmark Aids Centre in South London.
In February of 1989, Diana spent a few days in New York and took a tour of the Harlem Hospital Center. In a time when coverage of AIDS victims was finicky and scarce, Diana made a profound impact on the media and on public perception by spontaneously hugging a seven-year-old child with AIDS.
To Diana’s disappointment, the Queen did not support this type of charity work, suggesting the princess get involved in “something more pleasant” instead.
Diana often visited the Royal Brompton Hospital in London to spend time with seriously ill or dying patients. Regarding the trips, 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.”
The Princess visited Mother Teresa’s Hospice for the Sick and Dying in Kolkata, India in 1992, “and visited every one of the 50 patients who were close to death,” her memorial fund website notes. When she later met Mother Teresa, the two formed a strong personal bond.
Princess Diana understood what a role her position in the public eye could play, and used it to help those who had been marginalized by society. The world took notice of Diana, and Diana took notice of the parts of the world that, more than anything, needed kindness.
“I think the biggest disease the world suffers from in this day and age is the disease of people feeling unloved,” she said. “I know that I can give love for a minute, for half an hour, for a day, for a month, but I can give. I am very happy to do that, I want to do that.”
There is a reason that even two decades after her death, the world is still enchanted by Diana. She left behind a legacy of love.
In her position as a royal figure, Princess Diana knew some of her efforts were considered too “risky,” and still continued with them.
“I don’t go by a rule book,” she said. “I lead from the heart.”
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