Remembering Lady Di, the 'people's princess' | DW | 30.08.2022 (2022)

Be it a Banksy artwork or an Elton John song, Princess Diana's legend permeates pop culture — even 25 years after her death. Her relatability could be key.

"It is a point to remember that of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest was this: Agirl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age."

It is hard to forget these hard-hitting lines that were part of the stirring — sometimes vitriolic — tribute delivered by Charles, 9th Earl Spencer, at his older sister's funeral 25 years ago.

Diana, Princess of Wales died at the age of 36 in a car crash on August 31, 1997, in Paris together with her then partner, Dodi Al-Fayed, and the vehicle's driver, Henri Paul. Only her severely injured bodyguard, Trevor Reese-Jones, survived the crash.

While her death itself sent shockwaves worldwide, it was the circumstances surrounding it that prompted an outpouring of grief — and fury.

Once deemed "the world's most photographed woman," Lady Di was hounded by paparazzi as her driver sped through a tunnel at the moment of the crash. Tabloid media were blamed for her death, andfacedthe wrath of not just her brother but her two sons,Princes William and Harry, and the public at large.

Diana's two sons, Princes William and Harry, unveil her statue to mark her 60th birthday last year

However, in 1999, French investigators held driver Paul solely responsible for the crash, as he was found to have been driving under the influence of both alcohol and prescription drugs.

In 2008, the jury at a British inquest returned a verdict of unlawful killing through grossly negligent driving by Paul and the following paparazzi vehicles.

Tough relationship with media

Princess Diana also attracted media attention — be it through her fashion choices; the best-selling tell-all book authored by Andrew Morton in 1992; or her 1995 interview with journalist Martin Bashir that recently saw the BBC being criticized for "falling short of high standards of integrity and transparency."

The BBC returned the BAFTA it won in 1996 for the Panorama interview that was secured through 'deceit'

It was during this interview with Bashir for BBC's Panoramathat Diana famously said: "There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded" — referring to theextramarital affair of the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, and his now wife, Camilla Parker Bowles.

Besides that, she spoke of her own affairs, her bulimia and her attempts to take her own life due to the stress of rigid palace life and protocols.

Yet, she remained overwhelmingly beloved among the public, probably because she led, to some extent, a life that diverse people could relate to: dutiful yet wronged wife, loving and devoted mother, glamorous fashionista, down-to-earth royal, pop musicfan andavid dancer, and compassionate champion of the homeless and the sick.

Diana also used her celebrity to draw attention to the dangers of landmines

Her bold decision to buck royal protocol by going gloveless and shaking the hand of an unidentified AIDS patient in 1987is described by Insider.com as "one of her finest humanitarian moments." She would go on to utilize her celebrity to champion diverse causes — from her advocacy against landmines to promoting the arts.

Thus, she cemented her status as a pop culture icon. And the minutiae of her life have since provided fodder for numerous retellings of Diana's life in the form of documentaries, interviews, films, an award-winning Netflix series, and even a widely-panned musical.

Queen of hearts

After she was pronounced dead on August 31, 1997, a visibly shaken Tony Blair, who was then British Prime Minister, spoke to the media in which he introduced the term the "people's princess."

Part of the cover of her tell-all book that gave readers a glimpse into palace life

"You know how difficult things were for her from time to time, I'm sure we could only guess at, but the people everywhere — not just here in Britain, everywhere — they kept faith with Princess Diana," Blair said. "They liked her, they loved her, they regarded her as one of the people. She was the 'people's princess.' And that's how she will stay, how she will remain, in our hearts and in our memories, forever."

Born Diana Frances Spencer, she gained several titles after marrying Prince Charles, but once they divorced, she lost her HRH title which she was reportedly upset about. It also meant that she wouldnever become the queen of England.

However, she stated how she'd like to be recognized in her now infamous Panorama interview: "I'd like to be a queen of people's hearts, in people's hearts."

That perhaps explains the almost 2.5 billion people who had tuned in to watch her funeral 25 years ago, and why she remains a beguiling subject of pop culture to this day.

  • Remembering Lady Di, the 'people's princess' | DW | 30.08.2022 (5)

    Princess Diana: How her legend lives on in pop culture

    Di-faced tenners

    Nothing could better underscore one's pop culture street cred than being a muse for the artist Banksy. Now a coveted Banksy print, the "Di-Faced Tenner" created in 2004 is a play of words. The face of the late Princess Diana — popularly called "Lady Di" — replaced Queen Elizabeth II's that traditionally graces the British £10 note. The note, commonly called the "tenner," has thus been "defaced."

  • Remembering Lady Di, the 'people's princess' | DW | 30.08.2022 (6)

    Princess Diana: How her legend lives on in pop culture

    An orchid for 'England's rose'

    "Goodbye England's rose…" was the first reworded line in Elton John's "Candle in The Wind 1997." Diana's untimely death was met with shock and sorrow in the British Commonwealth countries too. Diana was due to have visited Singapore's Orchid Garden in 1997 to view an orchid named after her: the Dendrobium Memoria Princess Diana. She was however killed in the car crash just two weeks before that.

  • Remembering Lady Di, the 'people's princess' | DW | 30.08.2022 (7)

    Princess Diana: How her legend lives on in pop culture

    Never sung live again

    Elton John's 1973 hit "Candle in The Wind" was originally a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, who like Diana, had died aged 36. John sang a reworded version at Lady Di's funeral and vowed never to sing it live again, unless asked by one of her sons. Government documents released by the National Archives last year reveal that initially the palace wasn't in favor of it, deeming it "too sentimental."

  • Remembering Lady Di, the 'people's princess' | DW | 30.08.2022 (8)

    Princess Diana: How her legend lives on in pop culture

    The myth and the legend

    Delivering the tribute at her funeral, Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, drew parallels between her and her namesake mythical Greek goddess. "A girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age," alluding to her being constantly pursued by the media. Seen here is a statue of the goddess Diana, who's often depicted with a deer by her side.

  • Remembering Lady Di, the 'people's princess' | DW | 30.08.2022 (9)

    Princess Diana: How her legend lives on in pop culture

    Silver screen avatars

    Kristen Stewart is among several actresses who have portrayed Diana in films. Stewart was nominated for — but didn't win — the Best Actress gong at the 2022 Oscars for her role in the film "Spencer," a psychological drama that focused on Princess Diana's existential crisis during Christmas 1991, when she considers divorcing Prince Charles and leaving the British royal family.

  • Remembering Lady Di, the 'people's princess' | DW | 30.08.2022 (10)

    Princess Diana: How her legend lives on in pop culture

    Diana for a season

    Emma Corrin, who played Diana in Season 4 of Netflix's "The Crown," won a Golden Globe in 2021 and thanked the late princess in her acceptance speech: "You have taught me compassion and empathy beyond any measure I've ever imagined. On behalf of everyone who remembers you so fondly and passionately in our hearts, thank you." Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki will play Diana in Seasons 5 and 6.

  • Remembering Lady Di, the 'people's princess' | DW | 30.08.2022 (11)

    Princess Diana: How her legend lives on in pop culture

    Mindless musical

    Meanwhile, Jeanna de Waal (pictured) played the princess in "Diana: The Musical," a short-lived Broadway show that was filmed and premiered on Netflix in October 2021. It won five Golden Raspberry Awards in March this year, including the Worst Screenplay prize for "featuring some of the year's most ridiculed dialogue and lyrics, including rhyming 'Camilla' with both 'Manilla' and 'Godzilla.'"

  • Remembering Lady Di, the 'people's princess' | DW | 30.08.2022 (12)

    Princess Diana: How her legend lives on in pop culture

    Dancing queen

    Princess Diana had always loved dancing, as proven in this November 9, 1985 photo of her with American actor John Travolta at a White House dinner in Washington D.C. The midnight blue velvet Victor Edelstein gown she wore, nicknamed the "Travolta dress," was featured in a 2017 exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Lady Di entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London.

  • Remembering Lady Di, the 'people's princess' | DW | 30.08.2022 (13)

    Princess Diana: How her legend lives on in pop culture

    Fashionista forever

    Diana was once "the most photographed woman," partly for her inimitable style. When she first made headlines as Prince Charles' fiancée, she was known for her "Sloane Ranger" style of clothes consisting sometimes eye-catching knitwear, pie-crust collars, calf-length skirts and a strand of pearls. Thanks to Netflix's "The Crown," the style enjoyed a recent resurgence besides inspiring designers.

  • Remembering Lady Di, the 'people's princess' | DW | 30.08.2022 (14)

    Princess Diana: How her legend lives on in pop culture

    Forlorn at monument of love

    During a royal tour of India in February 1992, Diana visited the Taj Mahal alone while Prince Charles was engaged elsewhere. This stark image of the princess seated alone on a bench against India's famous monument to love "broke hearts," but royal watchers and detractors saw it as a calculated move on her end to gain sympathy. Later that same year, the royal couple announced their separation.

  • Remembering Lady Di, the 'people's princess' | DW | 30.08.2022 (15)

    Princess Diana: How her legend lives on in pop culture

    The 'People's Princess'

    While opinions are divided on whether Diana manipulated the press or vice versa, she undoubtedly banked on her celebrity to give worthy causes a platform. This picture of her shaking hands — gloveless — with an unidentified AIDS patient in 1987 was impactful in dispelling fake news about the illness in its early days. She did the same for leprosy, besides championing the cause of the homeless.

    Author: Brenda Haas


Edited by: Elizabeth Grenier

  • Date30.08.2022
  • AuthorBrenda Haas
  • Related SubjectsDiana, Princess of Wales, Charles, Prince of Wales
  • KeywordsPrincess Diana,Princess of Wales,royal family,Prince Charles,paparazzi
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