The world had seen iconic women before. Princess Grace. Jackie Kennedy. They were internationally admired, and their tragedies affected us. But Princess Diana was different. She belonged to the world. Her story was ours. With her beauty, her charm, her humour, her passion, her sidelong glances that betrayed every emotion, she stole her way into all our hearts – and then she was gone. And when the news broke, her death was shattering.
It felt like the loss of a family member, no matter how far away we were.
So how did Diana affect so many millions of people on such a personal level? It was her paradoxical appeal as fairytale girl next door. She was a Hollywood script come to life, the timid 19-year-old who transformed into a dazzling, tiara-crowned beauty. It was love at first sight, on a global scale. Here in Canada, almost everyone has a story about how they or their families got out of bed early to watch the royal wedding live on television, or where they were when they received the unthinkable news that she’d died.
She wasn’t just the face of royalty. She was royalty. In many countries, notably the U.S., little was known about the Royal Family before the spotlight fell on “Shy Di” in 1980, and this lack of understanding of British tradition sparked a fierce protectiveness in legions of Diana admirers around the globe. As she struggled with her place in the system, they felt she was misunderstood. She always sat just a little on the outside – like us.
And her empathy reached mythic proportions in all corners of the Earth. While other public figures performed acts of kindness, Diana was a ministering angel who stepped where even angels feared to tread. She literally walked through minefields in Angola. She reached out and took the hand of an HIV-positive patient at the height of global terror about AIDS – a single, simple act that transformed her into an idol akin to Mother Teresa. She was the first great celebrity philanthropist, opening the door for the likes of Angelina Jolie and George Clooney. Fearless, she put herself in harm’s way, both physically and politically, and around the world admiration was layered onto adulation.
At the same time, like all the best heroes and heroines, she was flawed. She was impulsive, sometimes self-destructive. And we loved her for it. We didn’t expect her to be perfect. But we did want her to get her happy ending.
And that’s why, when she left us, the world’s sights turned to the one thing in life that had always made Diana happy: her two young sons.
The Princes of Hearts.
Alison Eastwood is Editor-in-Chief of Hello! Canada. The above is an excerpt from Diana: Princess, Mother, Style Icon – a Hello! Special Collector’s Edition on newsstands now.