World·Royal Fascinator

Diana's legacy: Why it still resonates 25 years after her death

The open way in which Diana, Princess of Wales, made emotional connections with people who watched her from afar and a resurgence of interest in her in pop culture are helping to maintain her legacy 25 years after her death.

Resurgence in pop culture draws new generation of interest in celebrity royal who died in 1997

Messages and photographs of Diana, Princess of Wales, are seen Wednesday on the gate outside Kensington Palace in London, England, on the 25th anniversary of her death. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

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There weren't nearly as many flowers left by the gates of Kensington Palace this past week as there were 25 years ago.

Yet in front of her former home in London, the legacy left by Diana, Princess of Wales, was vividly remembered a quarter-century after her death.

The woman once known as Shy Di over time became a high-wattage celebrity royal, one with personal struggles and an open way that seemed to make an emotional connection with those who watched with interest from afar.

Those connections were top of mind for many as yet another anniversary passed of her death following a car crash in Paris on Aug. 31, 1997.

"I think people thought she was the future of the Royal Family, and they became very invested in her, and of course, in her children and in her charity work," royal commentator Afua Hagan told host Hannah Thibedeau on CBC News Network this past week.

WATCH | Royal watchers mark 25 years since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales:

Royal watchers mark 25 years since Princess Diana's death

3 months ago
Duration 7:35
Royal commentator Afua Hagan discusses the legacy of Diana, Princess of Wales, on the 25th anniversary of her death in Paris.

"She worked with refugees, she worked with AIDS patients, people who had leprosy. She did the famous landmine walk, things that no royal had done before her. 

"I think it was her affinity and her compassion that people really had an affinity with. She loved people and people loved her."

Yet, within the Royal Family, there were tensions and troubles.

"The Royal Family were not ready for a woman who when she came into the Royal Family was quite demure," said Hagan. "She was quite shy and for her to come into her own in that way, they absolutely were not ready for her to do that. They weren't ready for her to step out on her own, become this modern woman."

Diana hugs and plays with an HIV-positive baby in Faban Hostel in San Paulo on April 24, 1991. (Dave Caulkin/The Associated Press)

For some, there was immediate identification with that woman.

"She made you feel like you mattered," Tessy Ojo, who administers the Diana Award for young people who show compassion for others, told the CBC's Chris Brown in London.

"I remember vividly watching her. For someone of colour, watching her hold this little girl, who I think … had AIDS or her parents had AIDS … for me, I was that little girl and suddenly you were visible to her."

As much as Diana connected with people at the time, her legacy is also finding a following among those too young to remember her in the 1980s and '90s, when her picture would be on front pages around the world, showing her comforting AIDS patients or having some family fun with sons William and Harry.

Diana enjoys a ride on the Maid of Mist in Niagara Falls, Ont., in October 1991, with her sons Prince Harry, 7, left, and Prince William, 9. (Hans Deryk/The Canadian Press)

Nor were they witness to the disintegration of her marriage to Prince Charles, their divorce or the shock of her death, at age 36, and its tectonic impact on the Royal Family.

"I think there's a lot of interest because there has been such a resurgence of interest in Diana in popular culture," Toronto-based royal historian and author Carolyn Harris said in an interview.

Just in the past couple of years, there's been the controversial Season 4 of The Crown on Netflix and the film Spencer, with Kristen Stewart in the starring role. There was even a musical — also on Netflix — that was widely panned.

WATCH | Diana's legacy a quarter-century after her death: 

Princess Diana’s legacy 25 years after her tragic death

3 months ago
Duration 2:17
Twenty-five years after Princess Diana’s death in a Paris car crash, her legacy of compassion lives on.

"There's a whole new generation that don't necessarily remember the original events of Diana's passing and are now being introduced to these heavily fictionalized interpretations of her story," said Harris.

Prince Harry's departure from a role as a senior member of the Royal Family also plays into the broader focus on Diana now, Harris suggested.

"There's a lot of interest in her legacy, as both William and Harry clearly view themselves as having been shaped by their mother and her example, but they've chosen very different paths."

For Harry, that path has taken him and his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, to California.

This week, Meghan was the focus of media attention once more in a cover interview with a U.S. magazine and as her new podcast dropped another episode. 

The timing of the podcast launch — coming around the anniversary of Diana's death, when public attention would again be focusing on her — raised some eyebrows.

"[Meghan] is married to Prince Harry, and it is part of his legacy, but I think that timing could have been different," Diana Young, a personal branding consultant, told Brown in London.

On the move

Queen Elizabeth, left, stands with Prince William, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, and their children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during the Platinum Jubilee on June 5 in London. William, Kate and their family are moving closer to Windsor Castle, where the Queen lives. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

A year ago, royal officials insisted it was just speculation when reports surfaced that Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, were looking for a new home outside London.

And yet, that is exactly what's happening, as they leave Kensington Palace and settle with their children into Adelaide Cottage, a four-bedroom royal residence that is a 10-minute walk from the Queen's home at Windsor Castle.

The move is significant and symbolic on several levels, including the proximity to the Queen and the signals it sends about how the couple wants to raise their young family.

Much of the media reporting in recent days focused on the fact that with the move, the Cambridge children — Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis — will all be attending the same private school not too far from their new home.

Harris, author of the book Raising Royalty: 1,000 Years of Royal Parenting, said having all three children at the same school reflects 21st-century trends within the Royal Family.

"We see multiple [previous] generations of royal education where boys are educated with boys and girls with girls, so for George and Charlotte and Louis, they're going to be in a co-educational environment," said Harris.

"The succession reforms that came into force in 2015 that made the succession gender neutral …  we're seeing [that in] royal education as well … we're seeing a similar education for both princes and princesses."

People walk with Windsor Castle in the background.
Windsor Castle is seen from the Long Walk, in Windsor, England, on April 16, 2019. The new home for Prince William, Kate and their children, and the children's new school are both close to the castle, west of London. (Matt Dunham/The Associated Press)

The move is also thought to be attractive to William and Kate for the opportunity it could give them to raise their family away from the hustle and media swirl in central London.

"We've seen William and Catherine in the past have been fiercely protective of their children's privacy, but their children are in the public eye for big events like the Platinum Jubilee," said Harris. "So it's clear William and Catherine would like them to be educated in some degree of privacy."

Observers also see significance in the relocation particularly for how it reflects current dynamics within the Royal Family.

"The move underlines the strength and importance of the relationship between William and his grandmother," BBC royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell wrote on the network's website.

"It is a relationship which grows in significance as the Queen relies more and more on Princes Charles and William for their advice on the issues facing the monarchy and the family."

Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle on April 28. While the Queen is currently at her Balmoral estate in Scotland, she is expected to return to her home at Windsor Castle by early October. (Dominic Lipinski/Reuters)

Reports about the move have noted the relative modesty of Adelaide Cottage, as far as royal residences go — some headlines suggested there won't be enough space for the children's nanny to live there, too.

Still, it's another house for William and Kate, who also have Anmer Hall in Norfolk, north of London. Because of that, the move has drawn criticism, coming as it does as people in the U.K. deal with a cost-of-living crisis.

"While ordinary households are struggling with their energy bills and facing crippling inflation, why are we giving yet another home to William and Kate? This is disgraceful," said Graham Smith, CEO of the lobby group Republic, which wants to see the monarch as the British head of state replaced with an elected president.

"It is worse still to see this spun as moving into a more modest home, when they're adding a fourth large house to their luxury lifestyle," Smith said in a post on the group's website.

Unlike the controversial refurbishment of Kensington Palace before William and Kate moved in there a few years ago, no major renovation is expected at Adelaide Cottage.

Prince William, Kate and their family have been living at Kensington Palace, and hosting guests there, such as U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and his wife, Michelle Obama, centre. Prince Harry, back right, was also present as they met on April 22, 2016. (Stephen Crowley/AFP/Getty Images)

Using smaller royal properties as residences "is a way of sidestepping some of the scrutiny" that can focus on royal finances at such times, Harris said.

Adelaide Cottage has an interesting history of its own, and a brush with royal intrigue of years gone by.

It was built in 1831 for Queen Adelaide, wife of King William IV. In the mid-20th century, it was the home of Group Capt. Peter Townsend, the equerry to King George VI with whom the Queen's sister, Princess Margaret, was linked before ultimately declaring she would not marry him.

Harris said it's interesting to see that members of the Royal Family themselves are now using some residences that had once been used by significant members of the royal household. 

"There's less interest in multiple generations of the Royal Family being based in larger palaces and stately homes that require a great deal of staff."

Adding up the security costs

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, left, and Prince Charles meet students during a visit to Assumption Elementary School in Vanier, Ont., on May 18. (Patrick Doyle/Reuters)

RCMP costs for security when Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, were in Canada earlier this year came in at more than $300,000.

Figures from the police force show costs of $172,175 for overtime and $189,156 for travel, for a total of $361,331. The three-day trip from May 17 to 19 took the couple to St. John's, Ottawa and the Northwest Territories.

Security costs from the previous visit to Canada by Charles and Camilla — a three-day trip from June 29 to July 1, 2017 — were more than $185,000.

For that trip, which took the couple to Nunavut, Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., and Trenton and Prince Edward County in eastern Ontario, overtime costs were $150,412 and travel costs were $36,317, for a total of $186,728, the RCMP said.

Prince Charles and Camilla visit Dettah Dene First Nation Community Centre in Yellowknife on May 19. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

Canadian Heritage, the federal department overseeing the visit in May, said just before Charles and Camilla arrived that final costs for the trip would be made public once it was over.

A Canadian Heritage spokesperson said Thursday they are still "finalizing the accounting" for the visit. 

"The process of gathering information from various sources is complex and can take some time." 

We'll let you know when we receive further information on the accounting.

Royally quotable

"Britain's only surviving Black newspaper has become an institution and a crucial part of the fabric of our society. This is why I was so touched to be invited to edit this special edition." 

— Prince Charles, who has edited an edition of British African-Caribbean newspaper The Voice to mark its 40th anniversary.

Royal reads

  1. In a first, Queen Elizabeth will remain in Scotland, where she is on her summer break, to receive Britain's outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his successor this coming week. The Queen, who has ongoing mobility issues, also missed a Highland Games event she has regularly attended. [CBC, BBC] 

  2. The BBC has given £1.42 million (about $2.16 million Cdn) from the sales of its 1995 Panorama interview with Diana to charity. An investigation found that reporter Martin Bashir used fake documents to gain access to the late royal. [BBC]

  3. The Queen's granddaughter Lady Louise Windsor has been working several days a week at a garden centre over the summer for around the minimum wage. [Daily Mail]

  4. Prince Harry and Meghan are set to visit the U.K. this coming week to attend charity events "close to their hearts." [BBC]

  5. The Duchess of Kent, 89, has revealed a weakness for gangsta rap and says Ice Cube is one of her favourites. [The Guardian]

  6. A car driven by Diana in the 1980s has sold at auction for £650,000 (nearly $1 million Cdn). [ITV]

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Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.

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