Queen of hearts

Princess Diana
Princess Diana.
The 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death, marked last week, renewed the contradictions and contrasting views surrounding the woman dubbed Britain’s "people’s princess".

For many people, the hype around Diana and her death was over the top, even at the time. To endure the plethora of coverage to mark the significant anniversary has been simply unbearable. And, of course, many are too young to remember Diana and will inevitably wonder what all the fuss is still about.

Yet for many, in Britain, this country and elsewhere in the Commonwealth, there is an enduring fascination. She was the woman who breathed renewed life into the monarchy, regarded as increasingly irrelevant at a time of British economic and social turmoil.  Much like the "Jacinda effect" being seen here, Princess Diana represented change on many levels.

She was young, female, beautiful, yet did not conform to expectations. She shook up the status quo, and the stuffy Royal Family, interacted personally with the public, took up causes previously unheard of for royalty, and wore her heart on her sleeve. She was seen as relatable, trustworthy, likeable. People viewed her as an intimate friend or family member. They felt they knew her.

The irony of course is Diana was something of an enigma.

She certainly had two sides. She was clearly shy (which made her all the more likeable), but also (in the early days at least) basked in the public spotlight. Despite the position she held and the influence she wielded, behind the scenes she was uncertain and insecure.She was equally victim and manipulator, powerful and vulnerable.

Yet because she was all of these things, she was loved and respected as a fully rounded human.

It is ironic that in many ways she saved (certainly revitalised) the monarchy, yet she was also a threat to it. She did not play by the rules and her intimate public confessions had a destabilising effect on the Royal House, and must have been immensely difficult for all those close to her to witness.

Not only did she have a profound effect on the public’s perception of the monarchy, she had a profound effect on the public’s perception of the press.

At the beginning, the British press adored her, and fed the public’s insatiable appetite. But, the tabloids — not known for their subtlety — and the newly fuelled paparazzi  made life hell for her and, indeed  were blamed for being complicit in her death in a car crash in Paris, along with her boyfriend Dodi Fayed and driver Henri Paul. In the aftermath of her death the media was publicly reviled. As well as an opportunity for public reflection then, the anniversary of her death offers further opportunity for the media to reflect on its principles and practices,  on the way we cover tragedy as well as triumph, on the need to respect privacy, while balancing the public’s right to know.

There is relevance too, in the ongoing recognition of the outpouring of grief Diana’s death engendered.

Her death allowed a nation known for its stiff upper lip to come together to grieve. It made it acceptable for grown men to cry. In a tough society, people clearly needed the softer touch.

Again, New Zealand can — and needs to — learn from those lessons. Our hard-man attitudes are not always helpful. Mental health is a pressing issue here. Youth, in particular, can feel isolated, unworthy, disengaged. The talking Princes William and Harry have done around the issue and the anniversary of their mother’s death is significant. It is pleasing as well to see Harry, in particular, carry on some of the sort of social and humanitarian causes his mother was known for. Role models are always important, and Princess Diana  was certainly  one to many. That is why she is not easily forgotten.

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