LONDON (AP) – Most people wouldn’t volunteer to walk through a minefield. Princess Diana has done it twice.

On January 15, 1997, Diana walked cautiously on a narrow, cleared path through an Angolan minefield, wearing a protective visor and bulletproof jacket bearing the name of The HALO Trust, a group dedicated to clearing landmines. former war zones. When she realized that some of the photographers accompanying her had not taken the photo, she turned and started again.

She later encountered a group of landmine victims. A young girl who had lost her left leg was perched on the princess’s lap.

Images of the day have appeared in newspapers and on TV sets around the world, drawing international attention to the then languid campaign to rid the world of devices that lurk underground for decades after conflicts ended. . Today, a treaty banning landmines has 164 signatories.

Those touched by the life of the preschool teacher-turned-princess remember her before what would have been her 60th birthday on Thursday, recalling the complicated royal rebel who left a lasting mark on the Windsor home.

Diana had “the emotional intelligence that allowed her to see this picture as a whole … but also bring it back to human beings,” said James Cowan, a retired major general who is now CEO of The HALO. Trust. “She knew she could reach their hearts in a way that would outsmart those who only had influence through the head.”

Diana’s walk among landmines seven months before her death in a car crash in Paris is just one example of how she helped make the monarchy more accessible, changing the way the royals get along reported to people. By interacting more intimately with the audience – kneeling at a child’s height, sitting on the edge of a patient’s hospital bed, writing personal notes to her fans – she connected with people in a way which inspired other members of the royal family, including his sons, Princes William and Harry, as the monarchy strived to become more human and remain relevant in the 21st century.

Diana did not invent the idea that members of the royal family visit the poor, the destitute or the oppressed. Queen Elizabeth II herself visited a Nigerian leper colony in 1956. But Diana touched them – literally.

“Diana was a real hug in the royal family,” said Sally Bedell Smith, author of “Diana Finding Herself”. “She was a lot more visibly tactile in the way she interacted with people. It wasn’t something the Queen was comfortable with and still isn’t. ”

Critically, she also knew that these interactions could draw attention to her causes as she was followed everywhere by photographers and television crews.

Ten years before kissing landmine victims in Angola, she shook hands with a young AIDS patient in London at the start of the epidemic, showing people that the disease cannot be transmitted through touch.

As her marriage to Prince Charles deteriorated, Diana used the same techniques to tell her side of the story. Kiss his children with open arms to show his love for his sons. Sitting alone in front of the Taj Mahal on a royal trip to India. Walking through this minefield as she started a new life after her divorce.

“Diana understood the power of imagery – and she knew a photograph was worth a hundred words,” said Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty magazine and author of “Diana: An Intimate Portrait”. “She wasn’t. An intellectual. She was never going to be the one to give the right words. But she gave the right image.

And it started the day Lady Diana Spencer, 20, married Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, on July 29, 1981, at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Elizabeth Emanuel, who co-designed her wedding dress, describes an event akin to the transformation of a chrysalis into a butterfly, or in this case of a kindergarten teacher in wise cardigans and skirts into a fairytale princess.

“We thought, right, let’s make the biggest, most dramatic dress possible, the ultimate fairytale dress. Let’s do it big. Let’s have big sleeves. Let’s have ruffles, ”Emanuel said. “And St. Paul’s was so huge. We knew we had to do something that was a statement. And Diana was completely ready for it. She loved the idea. ”

But Emanuel said Diana also had a simplicity that made her more accessible to people.

“She had this vulnerability about her, I think, so that ordinary people could relate to her. She wasn’t perfect. And none of us are perfect, and I think that’s why there’s this thing, you know, people think of it almost like family. They felt they knew her.

Diana’s sons have learned from their mother’s example, making more personal connections with the public during their charitable work, including supporting efforts to de-stigmatize mental health issues and treat young patients with the disease. AIDS in Lesotho and Botswana.

William, who sits second to the throne, worked as an air ambulance pilot before assuming full-time royal duties. Harry traced Diana’s footsteps across the minefield for The HALO Trust.

His influence can also be seen in other members of the royal family. Sophie, the Countess of Wessex and the wife of Charles’ brother Prince Edward, had tears in her eyes, for example, in a TV interview as she shared her feelings with the nation in the wake of the death of her stepfather, Prince Philip.

Audiences have even started to see another side of the Queen, including her turn as a Bond girl in the London 2012 Olympics in which she starred in a mini-movie with Daniel Craig to open the games.

Most recently, the monarch reached out on Zoom calls, joking with schoolchildren about meeting Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. What was he like, ma’am?

“Russian,” she said categorically. The Zoom filled with laughter.

Cowan, of HALO, said the attention Diana, and now Harry, has given to the landmine problem has helped attract the funding that has allowed thousands of workers to continue the slow process of ridding the world of devices. .

Sixty countries and territories are still contaminated with landmines, which killed or injured more than 5,500 people in 2019, according to Landmine Monitor.

“She had this ability to reach out and inspire people. Their imaginations were ignited by this work, ”said Cowan. “And they love it and they want to fund it. And that’s why she left us such a deep legacy. ”



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