Diana’s death stunned the world — and changed the royals

Princess_Diana_Legacy_02648 FILE - Britain's Diana, Princess of Wales, is pictured during an evening reception given by the West German President Richard von Weizsacker in honour of the British Royal guests in the Godesberg Redoute in Bonn, Germany Monday, Nov. 2, 1987. Above all, there was shock. That’s the word people use over and over again when they remember Princess Diana’s death in a Paris car crash 25 years ago this week. The woman the world watched grow from a shy teenage nursery school teacher into a glamorous celebrity who comforted AIDS patients and campaigned for landmine removal couldn’t be dead at the age of 36, could she?
Princess_Diana_Legacy_04312 FILE - Diana, Princess of Wales, talks to amputees, Tuesday Jan. 14, 1997, at the the Neves Bendinha Orthopedic Workshop in the outskirts of Luanda. Sitting on Diana's lap is 13-year-old Sandra Thijica who lost her left leg to a land-mine while working the land with her mother in Saurimo, eastern Angola, in 1994. Princess Diana is visiting Angola in an effort to create awareness about land-mines.
Princess_Diana_Legacy_09483 FILE - Lady Diana Spencer gets out of her car near her flat in the Earls Court district of London, around Nov. 1980. Above all, there was shock. That’s the word people use over and over again when they remember Princess Diana’s death in a Paris car crash 25 years ago this week. The woman the world watched grow from a shy teenage nursery school teacher into a glamorous celebrity who comforted AIDS patients and campaigned for landmine removal couldn’t be dead at the age of 36, could she?
Princess_Diana_Legacy_36633 FILE - Britain's Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer pose for a photo following the announcement of their engagement on Feb. 24, 1981. Above all, there was shock. That’s the word people use over and over again when they remember Princess Diana’s death in a Paris car crash 25 years ago this week. The woman the world watched grow from a shy teenage nursery school teacher into a glamorous celebrity who comforted AIDS patients and campaigned for landmine removal couldn’t be dead at the age of 36, could she?
Princess_Diana_Legacy_33797 FILE - Britain's Prince Charles and his bride Diana, Princess of Wales, are shown on their wedding day on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in London, July 29, 1981.
Princess_Diana_Legacy_52539 FILE - In this Nov. 9, 1985 photo provided by the Ronald Reagan Library, actor John Travolta dances with Princess Diana at a White House dinner in Washington. Above all, there was shock. That’s the word people use over and over again when they remember Princess Diana’s death in a Paris car crash 25 years ago this week. The woman the world watched grow from a shy teenage nursery school teacher into a glamorous celebrity who comforted AIDS patients and campaigned for landmine removal couldn’t be dead at the age of 36, could she?
Princess_Diana_Legacy_73562 FILE - Princess Diana, the Princess of Wales, shakes hands and talks to school children during her visit to a new shopping centre at Aylesbury, Bucks., England on March 2, 1983. Above all, there was shock. That’s the word people use over and over again when they remember Princess Diana’s death in a Paris car crash 25 years ago this week. The woman the world watched grow from a shy teenage nursery school teacher into a glamorous celebrity who comforted AIDS patients and campaigned for landmine removal couldn’t be dead at the age of 36, could she?
Princess_Diana_Legacy_75028 FILE - The Prince and Princess of Wales, Prince Charles and Princess Diana leave St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, London on Sept. 16, 1984 with their new baby son, Prince Harry who was born on Sept. 15.
Princess_Diana_Legacy_13691 FILE - Britain's Princess Diana wearing a white dress, races ahead during the mother's race, held during a sports day for Wetherby school, where her son Prince William is a pupil on Tuesday, June 28, 1989. Above all, there was shock. That’s the word people use over and over again when they remember Princess Diana’s death in a Paris car crash 25 years ago this week. The woman the world watched grow from a shy teenage nursery school teacher into a glamorous celebrity who comforted AIDS patients and campaigned for landmine removal couldn’t be dead at the age of 36, could she?
Princess_Diana_Legacy_94899 FILE - Princess Diana smiles in the reception line as she greets guests at a fund raiser for breast cancer research at the National Building Museum Tuesday night, Sept. 24, 1996 in Washington. From left are Princess Diana, Washington Post owner Katherine Graham, Vogue Magazine Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, designer Ralph Lauren and Georgetown University President Rev. Leo J. O'Donovan.
Princess_Diana_Legacy_15915 FILE - Britain's Princess Diana touches the leg of a leprosy patient at the Anandaban Leprosy Hospital in the south of Katmandu, March 4, 1993, the third day of the princess's five-day visit to Nepal. The hospital is owned by Leprosy Mission International, a London-based organization, of which the Princess of Wales is patron.
Princess_Diana_Legacy_12726 FILE - Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing protective gear on Wednesday Jan. 15, 1997 during a briefing by the British land-mine sweeping organisation Halo Trust in Huambo, central Angola, one of the most densely mined areas in the country.
Princess_Diana_Legacy_32620 FILE - South African President Nelson Mandela, left, escorts Diana, Princess of Wales, during a courtesy visit to Mandela while visiting her brother, Earl Spencer, in Cape Town on March 17, 1997. Above all, there was shock. That’s the word people use over and over again when they remember Princess Diana’s death in a Paris car crash 25 years ago this week. The woman the world watched grow from a shy teenage nursery school teacher into a glamorous celebrity who comforted AIDS patients and campaigned for landmine removal couldn’t be dead at the age of 36, could she?
Princess_Diana_Legacy_59603 FILE - Britain's Princess of Wales, right, and the Duchess of York, hold on to their hats in windy condition while attending the running of the 1987 Derby at Epsom racecourse in England on Wednesday, June 3, 1987.
Princess_Diana_Legacy_50275 FILE - Diana, Princess of Wales wearing a black pleated chiffon dress, with floating side panel, by Christina Stamboulian, during a party given at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 1996. Above all, there was shock. That’s the word people use over and over again when they remember Princess Diana’s death in a Paris car crash 25 years ago this week. The woman the world watched grow from a shy teenage nursery school teacher into a glamorous celebrity who comforted AIDS patients and campaigned for landmine removal couldn’t be dead at the age of 36, could she?
Princess_Diana_Legacy_63093 FILE - Mother Teresa, left, walks with Diana, Princess of Wales, after receiving a visit from her June 18, 1997, in New York.
Princess_Diana_Legacy_82497 FILE - Princess Diana sits alone in front of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India on Feb. 11, 1992. Above all, there was shock. That’s the word people use over and over again when they remember Princess Diana’s death in a Paris car crash 25 years ago this week. The woman the world watched grow from a shy teenage nursery school teacher into a glamorous celebrity who comforted AIDS patients and campaigned for landmine removal couldn’t be dead at the age of 36, could she?
Princess_Diana_Legacy_85824 FILE - Princess Diana makes her entrance at the awards gala of the Council of Fashion Designers of America at New York's Lincoln Center, Jan. 30, 1995.
Princess_Diana_Legacy_06847 FILE - Britain's Princess Diana of Wales smiles as she sits with her sons, Princes Harry, foreground, and William, on the steps of the Royal Palace on the island of Mallorca, Spain, Aug. 9, 1987.
Princess_Diana_Legacy_03483 FILE - Princess Diana pauses at the bed of a seriously injured man as she visits Cook County Hospital in Chicago June 5, 1996. Above all, there was shock. That’s the word people use over and over again when they remember Princess Diana’s death in a Paris car crash 25 years ago this week. The woman the world watched grow from a shy teenage nursery school teacher into a glamorous celebrity who comforted AIDS patients and campaigned for landmine removal couldn’t be dead at the age of 36, could she?
Princess_Diana_Legacy_26433 FILE - Diana, Princess of Wales, left, and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II smile to well-wishers outside Clarence House in London on Aug. 4, 1987.
Princess_Diana_Legacy_25455 FILE - Diana, the Princess of Wales during her visit to Leicester, England on May 27, 1997 to formally open The Richard Attenborough Centre for Disability and Arts. Above all, there was shock. That’s the word people use over and over again when they remember Princess Diana’s death in a Paris car crash 25 years ago this week. The woman the world watched grow from a shy teenage nursery school teacher into a glamorous celebrity who comforted AIDS patients and campaigned for landmine removal couldn’t be dead at the age of 36, could she?
Princess_Diana_Legacy_20039 FILE - Diana, Princess of Wales, talks with AIDS patient Wayne Taylor at the Casey House AIDS hospice in Toronto Oct. 26, 1991. Above all, there was shock. That’s the word people use over and over again when they remember Princess Diana’s death in a Paris car crash 25 years ago this week. The woman the world watched grow from a shy teenage nursery school teacher into a glamorous celebrity who comforted AIDS patients and campaigned for landmine removal couldn’t be dead at the age of 36, could she?
Princess_Diana_Legacy_32890 FILE - Diana, Princess of Wales, right, and her companion Dodi Fayed, walk on a pontoon in the French Riviera resort of St. Tropez in this Friday, Aug. 22, 1997.
Princess_Diana_Legacy_37709 FILE- In this early Sunday, Aug. 31, 1997 file photo, police services prepare to take away the car in which Britain's Diana, Princess of Wales, died in Paris, in a car crash that also killed her companion Dodi Fayed, and chauffeur. It has been nearly 25 years since Princess Diana died in a high-speed car crash in Paris.
Princess_Diana_Legacy_32327 FILE - This is an aerial view showing the large pile of flowers at the gates of Kensington Palace in London, as the crowds continue to arrive to pay their respects to the late Princess Diana, in this Thursday, Sept. 4, 1997.
Princess_Diana_Legacy_39801 FILE - Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip view the floral tributes to Diana, Princess of Wales, at London's Buckingham Palace, Friday, Sept. 5, 1997. Above all, there was shock. That’s the word people use over and over again when they remember Princess Diana’s death in a Paris car crash 25 years ago this week. The woman the world watched grow from a shy teenage nursery school teacher into a glamorous celebrity who comforted AIDS patients and campaigned for landmine removal couldn’t be dead at the age of 36, could she?
Princess_Diana_Legacy_51609 FILE - Spectators weep in the crowd along London's Whitehall Saturday Sept. 6, 1997, during funeral ceremonies for Diana, Princess of Wales. Above all, there was shock. That’s the word people use over and over again when they remember Princess Diana’s death in a Paris car crash 25 years ago this week. The woman the world watched grow from a shy teenage nursery school teacher into a glamorous celebrity who comforted AIDS patients and campaigned for landmine removal couldn’t be dead at the age of 36, could she?
Princess_Diana_Legacy_53839 FILE - In this Tuesday, July 10, 2018 file photo Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, Meghan the Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry stand on a balcony to watch a flypast of Royal Air Force aircraft pass over Buckingham Palace in London.
Princess_Diana_Legacy_56186 FILE - Britain's Prince William, left and Prince Harry unveil a statue they commissioned of their mother Princess Diana, on what woud have been her 60th birthday, in the Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace, London, Thursday July 1, 2021.
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LONDON (AP) — Above all, there was shock. That’s the word people use over and over again when they remember Princess Diana’s death in a Paris car crash 25 years ago this week.

The woman the world watched grow from a shy teenage nursery school teacher into a glamorous celebrity who comforted AIDS patients and campaigned for land mine removal couldn’t be dead at the age of 36, could she?

“I think we need to remind ourselves that she was probably the best known woman in the English-speaking world, aside from perhaps Queen Elizabeth II herself,’’ said historian Ed Owens.

“And, given this massive celebrity persona that she had developed, to have that extinguished overnight, for her to die in such tragic circumstances, at such a young age, I think really came as a massive shock to many people.”

It was that disbelief that cemented Diana’s legacy as the woman who brought lasting change to Britain’s royal family, helping bridge the gap between centuries of tradition and a new, multicultural nation in the internet age.

First, there was the outpouring of grief from the public who streamed to the princess’ home at Kensington Palace to mourn the loss of a woman most had never met. That alone forced the royals to recognize that Diana’s common touch had connected with people in ways that hadn’t yet occurred to the House of Windsor.

Those lessons have since inspired other royals, including Diana’s sons, Princes William and Harry, to be more informal and approachable. For proof, look no further than the glitzy concert that was a centerpiece of June’s Platinum Jubilee celebrating the queen’s 70 years on the throne.

There were rock bands and opera singers, dancers and lasers painting pictures of corgis on the sky. But the biggest applause was for Elizabeth herself, who appeared in a short film to share a pot of tea with British national treasure Paddington Bear. She then solved a longtime mystery and revealed what’s inside her famous black handbag: A marmalade sandwich — just for emergencies.

It wasn’t obvious Diana would be a royal rebel when she married Prince Charles.

A member of the aristocratic Spencer family, Diana was known for flouncy bows, sensible skirts and a boyish blond bob when she started dating the future king. After leaving school at 16, she spent time at a finishing school in the Swiss Alps and worked as a nanny and preschool teacher while living in London.

But she blossomed, becoming an international style icon the moment she walked down the aisle of St. Paul’s Cathedral shrouded in lace and followed by a 25-foot train on July 29, 1981.

From that moment on, reporters and photographers followed Diana wherever she went. While Diana hated the intrusion, she quickly learned the media was also a tool she could use to bring attention to a cause and to change public perceptions.

That impact was seen most famously when the princess opened the U.K.’s first specialized ward for AIDS patients on April 9, 1987.

Such ribbon-cutting ceremonies are a staple of royal duties. But Diana realized there was more at stake. She reached out and took the hands of a young patient, demonstrating the virus couldn’t be transmitted by touch. The moment, captured by photos beamed worldwide, helped combat the fear, misinformation and stigma surrounding the AIDS epidemic.

A decade later, Diana was even more media savvy.

Seven months before she died, Diana donned a protective visor and flak jacket and walked down a path cleared through a minefield in Angola to promote the work of The HALO Trust, a group devoted to removing mines from former war zones. When she realized some photographers didn’t get the shot, she turned around and did it again.

The images brought international attention to the campaign to rid the world of explosives that lurk underground long after wars end. Today, a treaty banning land mines has been signed by 164 countries.

But that public platform came at a price.

Her marriage disintegrated, with Diana blaming Charles’ continuing liaison with longtime mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles. The princess also struggled with bulimia and acknowledged suicide attempts, according to “Diana: Her True Story — In Her Own Words,’’ published in 1992 based on tapes Diana sent to author Andrew Morton.

“When I started my public life, 12 years ago, I understood the media might be interested in what I did,’’ Diana said in 1993. “But I was not aware of how overwhelming that attention would become. Nor the extent to which it would affect both my public duties and my personal life, in a manner that’s been hard to bear.”

In the end, it contributed to her death.

On Aug. 30, 1997, a group of paparazzi camped outside the Hotel Ritz in Paris in hopes of getting shots of Diana and boyfriend Dodi Fayed pursued their car to the Pont de l’Alma tunnel, where their driver lost control and crashed.

Diana died Aug. 31, 1997.

A stunned world mourned. Bouquets of flowers, many including personal notes, carpeted the grounds outside Diana’s home in Kensington Palace. Weeping citizens lined the streets outside Westminster Abbey during her funeral.

The public reaction contrasted with that of the royal family, who were criticized for not quickly appearing in public and refusing to lower the flag over Buckingham Palace to half-staff.

The mourning prompted soul-searching among members of the House of Windsor. They set about to better understand why Diana’s death had prompted such an overwhelming spectacle, said Sally Bedell Smith, a historian and author of “Diana in Search of Herself.’’

“I think her legacy was something that the queen in her wisdom (sought) to adapt in the early years after her death,’’ Smith said of focus groups and studies the monarchy used to grasp Diana’s appeal.

“The queen was more likely to interact with people, and I think you see the informality magnified now, particularly with William and Kate,” she said.

William, his wife, Kate, for example, made improving mental health services a primary goal, going so far as to publicly discuss their own struggles. Harry also is a champion for wounded military veterans.

The rehabilitation of Charles’ reputation had to wait until public anger over his treatment of Diana began to fade. That’s now well under way, helped by his 2005 marriage to Camilla, who softened his image. The queen earlier this year said she hoped Camilla would become queen consort when Charles ascends the throne, trying to heal old wounds.

But there are lessons for the monarchy to learn as it struggles with the fallout from the scandal over Prince Andrew’s links to convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Beyond that, there’s the decision of Harry and his wife, Meghan, to give up royal duties for life in Southern California.

Meghan, an American biracial former actress who grew up in Los Angeles, has said she felt constrained by palace life and that a member of the royal family even inquired about the potential skin color of her first child before he was born.

This episode shows the royals haven’t fully learned the lesson of Diana, said Owens, author of “The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public 1932-1953.”

“Once again, not enough room was created,” Owens said of Meghan.

Diana had her own struggles with the palace, airing her grievances in a 1995 BBC interview that continues to make headlines. The BBC was forced to apologize last year after an investigation found reporter Martin Bashir used “deceitful methods” to secure the interview.

Diana’s brother said this year that the interview and the way it was obtained contributed to Diana’s death because it led her to refuse continued protection from the palace after her divorce.

But her words about how she wished to be viewed remain firmly in memory.

“I’d like to be a queen of people’s hearts, in people’s hearts, but I don’t see myself being queen of this country,” Diana said in the interview. “I don’t think many people will want me to be queen.”

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For more stories on Princess Diana: https://apnews.com/hub/princess-diana

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