Twenty years have passed since Lady Diana Spencer, or rather Princess Di’s tragic passing. The car accident was brutal and unnerving. I still remember how shaken I was to learn about it. I was only 17 years old at the time, and I was not really fascinated with “The Royals”. I was so busy studying for the SAT tests, figuring out which college I was going to attend. But her sudden death was Breaking News then, and even I paid attention. I remember telling my mother that “Diana had passed away”, and my mother cried. She thought I was talking about someone at our church. When I mentioned “Princess” Diana to clarify, she sighed with relief, but only briefly, only to sob again.
The epic car accident along the Paris, France tunnel was just stunning for how arbitrary it was. It also showcased the bitter irony of the unsatisfied media which had embossed and promoted Diana’s beauty as well as her controversy. As a result of their relentless pursuit to photograph the princess, they would in turn hound her to her death—literally. What a crime what the photographers, known at that time as paparazzi, had done to our beloved Princess Di!
Twenty years later, the world still misses her. I still remember the lady in a grey sweater, crouched on her knees before the well-guarded Buckingham palace, sobbing uncontrollably in grief. The fields of flowers outside the palace and ribbons of mourning around London, the country—and even the world—are unforgettable, too.
What was it about Princess Diana’s tragic death on August 31, 1997 that gripped the world so strongly, and that still holds us to this day? She had indeed captivated the world, but with a warmth that was glorious, astounding, and irreplaceable. She was a darling person. Everyone wanted to see her, to know her. She was glamorous, but also so available, approachable. She cared about others, and she applied her grace and charisma to causes which others would have shunned. Diana would make them important and mainstream.
She brought two beautiful children in to the world, particularly Prince William, who carries himself with a particular honor and daring reminiscent of his long-departed mother. She cared for her children in public, but not with a severe concern for public opinion. Who else could love their children with such glowing abandon?
Although born into minor aristocracy, she was not born a royal. She became one, and she continued to live like one, even after the bitter divorce from Prince Charles. Diana represented the Cinderella fantasy, which later became reality, and sparked a sense of honor for those who honored her. “I may not have the same distinction as she, but it could happen,” some women would ponder. More importantly, though, she treated us common people with great dignity, as if we were peers in her kingdom. There is no greater honor than to receive glory from one who is already glorious. Like the other royals—to the extent that the public was informed—she did carry on an affair just as her husband had done, but she avoided the perverse philandering of her peers and in-laws. She was not bawdy or brutal, and she spent more time granting attention to others rather than to herself.
Twenty years later, we are still talking about Diana. Yet for all the charm she carried, it still doesn’t make sense why the press is so pressed to impress the world about her. One article even outlines for the Millennial generation what they need to know about her, who would have never have known about her if not for the relentless press coverage she still receives. Why such lavish attention paid to a former princess who passed away two decades ago?
Like former President Barack Obama, Diana Spencer was a media creation, too—something she clearly disliked throughout her life, especially into her later years following the very public divorce with Prince Charles. In fact, the ravenous paparazzi who had pursued her, captured her likeness, and elicited her ire—would induce her sad demise. That abusive arrangement had started out well between the press and her highness. Her marriage to Prince Charles in 1981, who was then 33 while she was only 19, turned into a world-wide spectacle as 750 million people watched the event. Even Americans watched the pageantry, staying up into the wee hours of the morning since the ceremony was held 9 hours ahead. Throughout her private as well as public career, the photographers stalked her and displayed her for the public. The media’s obsession certainly frustrated her loving heart. Once, she vigorously confronted a cameraman to leave her alone—for the sake of her children. Such forceful grace made her all the more captivating to us.
Unlike Obama, however, she had a story, a life worth following, worth telling, and worthy of retelling. What kind of woman was Diana, that commanded such attention, which brought such admiration? She was indeed very beautiful. Her calm gaze, her whimsy engaged people. She was down-to-earth as a noblewoman, and then as a monarch-in-waiting. Isn’t that what so many people want in their leaders? She cared about common people. She reached out to them without a sense of burdened condescension. This time, though, the fairy tale of a kind princess who steals the hearts of all was true, only made more poignant by her tragic, unnecessary death. In a cynical sense, the press resurrects her memory because they profit from her death as they had done while she lived. Nevertheless, we are blessed to remember her.
Diana was fun, a real life to behold, not afraid to face challenges publicly, and to do so in such a royal fashion. Her classy disdain of pomp and circumstance following her divorce confirmed that her heart had always been in the right place: for the people. And for that, she did indeed deserve to be the Queen of People’s Hearts. Good night, sweet princess. Rest in Peace.