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Diana’s death shocked the world and changed royalty

LONDON– Above all, there was shock. That’s the word people use over and over again as they remember Princess Diana’s death in a car crash in Paris 25 years ago this week.

The woman the world watched grow from a shy teenage kindergarten teacher to a glamorous celebrity who comforted AIDS patients and campaigned for the removal of landmines couldn’t be dead at the age of 36, could she? ?

“I think we need to remind ourselves that she was probably the most well-known woman in the English-speaking world, aside from perhaps Queen Elizabeth II herself,” historian Ed Owens said.

“And, given this huge celebrity personality that she had developed, for her to die off overnight, for her to die under such tragic circumstances, at such a young age, I think it really was a huge shock to a lot of people.”

It was that disbelief that cemented Diana’s legacy as the woman who brought lasting change to the British royal family, helping to bridge the gap between centuries of tradition and a new, multicultural nation in the Internet age.

First, there was great grief from the public who flocked to the princess’ home at Kensington Palace to mourn the loss of a woman most had never known. That alone forced the royals to acknowledge that Diana’s common touch had connected with people in ways the House of Windsor had not yet thought of.

Since then, those lessons have inspired other royals, including Diana’s sons Princes William and Harry, to be more casual and approachable. For proof, look no further than the dazzling concert that was the centerpiece of June’s Platinum Jubilee to celebrate the Queen’s 70 years on the throne.

There were rock bands and opera singers, dancers and lasers painting images of corgis in the sky. But the biggest applause went to Elizabeth herself, who appeared in a short film to share a cup of tea with Britain’s national treasure Paddington Bear. She then solved a long-standing mystery and revealed what’s inside her famous black bag: a jam sandwich, just for emergencies.

It was not obvious that Diana would be a royal rebel when she married Prince Charles.

A member of the aristocratic Spencer family, Diana was known for her frilly bows, dainty skirts and boyish blond mane when she began dating the future king. After leaving school at 16, she spent time at a finishing school in the Swiss Alps and worked as a nanny and preschool teacher while living in London.

But she blossomed, becoming an international style icon the moment she walked down the aisle of St. Paul’s Cathedral draped in lace and followed by a 25-foot train on July 29, 1981.

From then on, reporters and photographers followed Diana wherever she went. While Diana hated intrusion, she quickly learned that the media was also a tool she could use to bring attention to a cause and change public perceptions.

That impact was most famously seen when the princess opened the UK’s first specialized ward for AIDS patients on April 9, 1987.

Such inauguration ceremonies are a staple of royal duties. But Diana realized there was more at stake. She reached out and took the hands of a young patient, showing that the virus could not be transmitted by her touch. The moment, captured by photos broadcast around the world, helped combat fear, misinformation and stigma surrounding the AIDS epidemic.

A decade later, Diana was even more media savvy.

Seven months before she died, Diana donned a protective face shield and bulletproof vest and walked a clear path through a minefield in Angola to promote the work of The HALO Trust, a group dedicated to clearing mines from former war zones. . When she realized that some photographers didn’t get the shot of her, she turned around and did it again.

The images brought international attention to the campaign to rid the world of explosives lurking underground long after wars end. Today, 164 countries have signed a treaty banning landmines.

But that public platform came at a price.

Their marriage disintegrated, and Diana blamed Charles’ continued relationship with his mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles. The princess also battled bulimia and admitted suicide attempts, according to “Diana: Her True Story — In Her Own Words,” published in 1992 and based on tapes Diana sent to author Andrew Morton.

“When I started my public life, 12 years ago, I understood that the media might be interested in what I did,” Diana said in 1993. “But I didn’t know how overwhelming that attention would become. Nor the extent to which it would affect both my public duties and my personal life, in a way that has been difficult to bear.”

In the end, it contributed to his death.

On August 30, 1997, a group of paparazzi camped outside the Ritz Hotel in Paris hoping to take photos of Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed chased their car into the Pont de l’Alma tunnel, where the driver lost control and it crashed.

Diana died on August 31, 1997.

A stunned world wailed. Bouquets of flowers, many of which included personal notes, carpeted the grounds outside Diana’s home at Kensington Palace. Weeping citizens lined the streets outside Westminster Abbey during her funeral.

The public reaction contrasted with that of the royal family, who were criticized for not appearing quickly in public and for refusing to lower the Buckingham Palace flag to half-staff.

The duel provoked soul-searching among members of the House of Windsor. They set out to better understand why Diana’s death had caused such an overwhelming spectacle, said Sally Bedell Smith, historian and author of “Diana in Search of Herself.”

“I think her legacy was something that the queen in her wisdom (sought) to accommodate in the first few years after her death,” Smith said of the focus groups and studies the monarchy used to understand Diana’s appeal.

“The queen was more likely to interact with people, and I think you see the informality magnified now, particularly with William and Kate,” he said.

William, his wife, Kate, for example, made improving mental health services a primary goal, even going so far as to publicly discuss their own struggles. Harry is also an advocate for wounded military veterans.

The rehabilitation of Charles’s reputation had to wait until public anger at his treatment of Diana began to fade. That is now well on its way, helped by his 2005 marriage to Camilla, which softened his image. Earlier this year, the queen herself said she hoped Camilla would become queen consort when Charles ascended the throne, trying to heal old wounds from her.

But there are lessons for the monarchy to learn as it grapples with the fallout from the scandal over Prince Andrew’s ties to convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Beyond that is the decision by Harry and his wife, Meghan, to step down from their royal duties for life in Southern California.

Meghan, a biracial American former actress who grew up in Los Angeles, said she felt limited by life in the palace and that a member of the royal family even asked about the possible skin color of her first child before he was born.

This episode shows that the royals have not fully learned their lesson from Diana, said Owens, author of “The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public 1932-1953.”

“Once again, not enough space was created,” Owens said of Meghan.

Diana had her own struggles with the palace, airing her grievances in a 1995 BBC interview that continued to make headlines. The BBC was forced to apologize last year after an investigation found reporter Martin Bashir used “deceptive methods” to secure the interview.

Diana’s brother said this year that the interview and the way it was obtained contributed to Diana’s death because it led her to reject continued protection from the palace after their divorce.

But her words about how she wanted to be seen remain firm in the memory.

“I would like to be a queen of the people’s hearts, in the hearts of the people, but I don’t see myself as queen of this country,” Diana said in the interview. “I don’t think many people want me to be queen.”

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