Lady Di - People's Princess

Lady Di - People's Princess

Lady Di, the iconic figure who changed the face of the British monarchy.

Lady Diana Spencer, known as Lady Di, is an English aristocrat and member of the royal family. An artist and sportswoman at heart, she dreamed of becoming a ballet dancer. But fate finally made her Princess of Wales. This rank brought her its share of burdens, including a suffocating media coverage, but she quickly turned it into an asset, using her notoriety to spread her endless generosity and working for numerous humanitarian causes around the world.

After becoming Princess of Wales, following her marriage to Prince Charles, she was expected to make regular public appearances in hospitals, schools and other institutions. She quickly developed a taste for this and became increasingly involved with a number of charities from the 1980s onwards. She made 191 official engagements in 1988, and no less than 397 in 1991.

AIDS, cancer, leprosy, landmines, health, education, homelessness or animal welfare, Diana is involved wherever her heart leads her. "I am not a political figure. My interests are humanitarian."

She has developed an intense interest in serious diseases and health issues outside the scope of traditional royal involvement, including AIDS and leprosy. Since 1991, Diana has been a patron of the National Aids Trust, which fights AIDS, and she wants to raise awareness and change people's perception of the disease.

At the time, some people believed that AIDS was transmitted by simple contact. So on April 9, 1987, Diana went to the AIDS ward at Middlesex Hospital, the first hospital unit dedicated to this cause in the United Kingdom that she had opened. There she shook hands with a person with AIDS, to show the public that these people are not dangerous and do not deserve to be turned away. The image of this handshake went around the world.

Two years later, in 1989, she opened the Landmarks Aids Centre, a specialized care center in London, and in October 1990, the Grandma's House, a home for young people with AIDS in Washington, D.C. "AIDS patients need to be embraced, just like everyone else. […] 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."

In March 1997, Diana traveled to South Africa, where she met President Nelson Mandela. On November 2, 2002, he announced that the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund would join forces with the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund to help people with AIDS. This partnership had been planned a few months before Diana's death.

Mandela later spoke highly of Diana: "When she stroked the limbs of someone with leprosy or sat on the bed of a man with HIV/AIDS and held his hand, she transformed public attitudes and improved the life chances of such people." Diana used her celebrity status to "fight stigma attached to people living with HIV/AIDS" he also said.

Lady Di is the first to hug, smile and listen to the sick in hospitals. In recognition of her actions as a philanthropist, Stephen Lee, director of the Institute of Charity Fundraising Managers in the United Kingdom, said "her overall effect on charity is probably more significant than any other person's in the 20th century."

On her first official solo trip, Diana visits the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, a cancer treatment hospital in London. This charity was one of the organizations that benefited from the auction of her clothes.

Indeed, based on her love of fashion, Diana has repeatedly held auctions of her dresses at Christie's auction houses, and donated the proceeds from these events to charity. In June 1995, thanks to the sale of 65 of her outfits, she raised 5.7 million dollars for the fight against cancer and AIDS.

The trust's communications manager said she had "much to remove the stigma and taboo associated with diseases such as cancer, AIDS, HIV and leprosy", Diana became president of the hospital in 1989. In 1993, she opened the Wolfson Children's Cancer Unit.

She also traveled to Pakistan in February 1996 to visit the children's cancer wards of a new cancer hospital built by Imran Khan and attended a fundraising dinner for the charity in Lahore.

A few months later, she traveled to Chicago in her capacity as president of the Royal Marsden Hospital to attend a fundraiser at the Field Museum of Natural History. She helped raise over £1 million for cancer research.

She also visits patients at Cook County Hospital and speaks at a conference on breast cancer at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law after meeting with a group of breast cancer researchers.

In 1988, Diana opened Children with Leukaemia (later renamed Children with Cancer UK) in memory of two young cancer victims. 

Diana was also the patron of HALO Trust, an organization that removes landmines left behind after the war. January 1997 was marked by photos of Diana in a ballistic helmet and body armor visiting an Angolan minefield. She visits the maimed survivors and warns of the injuries the mines cause. "Even if the world were to decide to ban these weapons tomorrow, this terrible legacy will continue to weigh on the world's poor nations."

HALO says Diana's efforts have raised international awareness of landmines and the suffering they cause. Her work on the landmine issue has been described as influential in the signing of the Ottawa Treaty, which created an international ban on the use of landmines.

Introducing the second reading of the Landmines Bill 1998 in the British House of Commons, Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary, paid tribute to Lady Di's work: "All Honourable Members will be aware […] of the immense contribution made by Diana, Princess of Wales to bringing home to many of our constituents the human costs of landmines. The best way in which to record our appreciation of her work, and the work of NGOs that have campaigned against landmines, is to pass the Bill, and to pave the way towards a global ban on landmines."

A few months after Diana's death in 1997, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Today, her son Harry has taken up the torch and denounces, despite the treaty, the slow pace of demining in some African countries.

In 1989, following her visit to a leprosy hospital in Indonesia, Diana became the patron of Leprosy Mission, an organization providing medicine, treatment and other support services to people affected by leprosy. A patron of this organization until her last breath, she visited several other leprosy hospitals around the world, including India, Nepal, Zimbabwe and Nigeria, meeting and even touching patients when many thought the disease could be contracted through casual contact.

The Diana Princess of Wales Health Education and Media Centre in Noida, India was opened in her honor in November 1999, funded by the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund to provide social support to those affected by leprosy and disability.

Diana was also a long-time active supporter of Centrepoint, a charity that provides housing and support to the homeless, and became its patron in 1992. She was a supporter of homeless youth and often spoke out on their behalf, arguing " they deserve a decent start in life. […] We, as a part of society, must ensure that young people—who are our future—are given the chance they deserve."

Diana used to take her sons, William and Harry, on private visits to Centrepoint services and homeless shelters. "The young people at Centrepoint were always really touched by her visits and by her genuine feelings for them," said one of the charity's staff members.

Diana was also a benefactor of charities and organizations that worked with the homeless, youth, addicts and the elderly. In 1989, she became president of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. She was also patron of the Natural History Museum and President of the Royal Academy of Music.

Diana has also been a long-time supporter of charities and organizations focused on social and mental health issues, including Relate and Turning Point.

Relate, relaunched in 1987 as a revamped version of its predecessor, the National Marriage Guidance Council, is a UK-wide charity offering relationship support for couples, families, young people and individuals, sex therapy, mediation and training courses. Diana became the Patron in 1989.

Turning Point, founded in 1964, is a health and social care organization to help and support people affected by drug and alcohol abuse and mental health problems. In 1990, during a speech for Turning Point, Diana stated, "It takes professionalism to convince a doubting public that it should accept back into its midst many of those diagnosed as psychotics, neurotics and other sufferers who Victorian communities decided should be kept out of sight in the safety of mental institutions."

Despite the protocol issues associated with traveling to a Muslim country, she is traveling to Pakistan later this year to visit a rehabilitation center in Lahore as a sign of "her commitment to working against drug abuse."

From 1984 to 1996, she was President of Barnardo's, a charity founded by Dr. Thomas John Barnardo in 1866 to care for vulnerable children and young people.

In 1988, she became a patron of the British Red Cross and supported the organization in other countries such as Australia and Canada. She made several long visits a week to the Royal Brompton Hospital, where she worked to comfort seriously ill and dying patients.

From 1991 to 1996, she was a patron of Headway, a brain injury charity.

In 1992, she became the first patron of the Chester Childbirth Appeal, a charity she had supported since 1984. The charity was able to raise over a million pounds with her help.

In 1994, she helped her friend Julia Samuel to launch Child Bereavement UK, which supports children of military families, suicide victims and terminally ill parents. She became its patron.

In 1987, Diana was awarded the Honorary Freedom of the City of London, the highest honour the City of London can bestow on anyone.

In June 1995, she went to Moscow to visit a children's hospital that she had previously supported by providing medical supplies. There she received the International Leonardo Award, given to the most distinguished benefactors and individuals in the fields of arts, medicine and sports.

In December 1995, Diana received the United Cerebral Palsy Humanitarian of the Year Award in New York for her philanthropic efforts.

In October 1996, she received a gold medal for her work on the elderly at a health care conference hosted by the Pio Manzù Center in Rimini, Italy.

In May 1997, Diana opened the Richard Attenborough Centre for Disability and the Arts in Leicester, after being approached by her friend Richard Attenborough.

This long and yet so brief article only recounts some of Lady Di's humanitarian actions, the countless charities she supported and the immense influence she had in the world.

To name a few, Diana was also a patron of the Landmine Survivors Network, Help the Aged, the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, the British Lung Foundation, Eureka! National Children's Orchestra, British Red Cross Youth, Guinness Trust, Meningitis Trust, Malcolm Sargent Cancer Fund for Children, Royal School for the Blind, Welsh National Opera, Variety Club of New Zealand, Birthright, British Deaf Association (for whom she learned sign language), All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, the Anglo-European College of Chiropractic, the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, the British Sports Association for the Disabled, the British Youth Opera, the Faculty of Dental Surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the London City Ballet, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Pre-School Playgroups Association.


Written By Julie Poutrel for Adama Toulon.