PRINCESS Diana touched countless lives in her life and death.
Before the tragic car accident which took her life in August 1997, she worked with dozens of charities including The National Aids Trust, Meningitis Now and Children’s Cancer UK as well as hospitals such as London’s Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.
Nearly all that met her talk of her warmth, her jokey nature and her ability to light up a room. And for many, after a meeting with the Princess of Wales they were never the same again.
Here a few lucky enough to meet Diana reveal how the ‘People’s Princess’ touched their lives.
Sophia Wyatt, 45
Sophia, a mum of three and medical tattooist, from Guildford, Surrey, met Diana after having both legs amputated following a battle with meningitis.
Sophia says: “I was just 16 when I fell ill with meningitis and nearly died. I survived but after eight days in an induced coma I was transferred to Queen Mary’s Hospital, London, where surgeons amputated both legs and some fingers.
“I was in hospital for months and slowly, I was giving up the will to live. I hadn’t set foot out of my room in months. I was hooked up to drips and machines. I stopped eating.
“As an incentive, a nurse said a special guest was coming to open the brand new Douglas Bader Rehabilitation Centre and if I ate a bit and put on a few pounds, I could go.
“I wasn’t interested at first but then she told me it was Princess Diana. I’d always adored her it was just the push I needed to get myself on the mend. I started eating and did whatever I could to get my strength up.
“The buzz on the day was amazing. All the nurses were helping to get me ready, blow-drying my hair and getting me dressed. I’d done very little except lie in my bed and have bed baths for months. It felt very special. Diana didn’t disappoint.
People hit you in life and she is one person I will never forget
“When she arrived, she came straight to the table where I was sitting with my parents Jennifer, 73 and Bob, 78. I felt vulnerable and scared and was close to tears, but she knew just what to do. Usually when you are in a wheelchair, people talk to the person you are with. They overlook you. They talk about you and not with you.
“Diana got down on her knee crouching right down to my level. She held my hand and said ‘Meningitis did this to you didn’t it?’ For the first time in months, I felt like a person again. When she asked how I was I was silent. I didn’t know how to answer. She said ‘You never know what to say do you’ but she smiled and said people often ask her and she doesn’t know what to say either.
“I got a glimpse of the woman Diana was. Not the superhero we saw on TV, she was a human being. She rubbed my hand and said she wanted to help raise awareness of meningitis. It was after this that The Meningitis Trust – now Meningitis Now – really picked up its awareness campaign with Diana as its Patron.
“This happened at a time when meningitis was not spoken about. No one wanted to worry mums or cause panic. But there was Diana chatting to my mum as a mother and you could see she was a very hands-on parent who loved and cared for her boys. She had this aura, like a wave of electricity around her. We knew when she’d arrived without anyone telling us, as if someone had just turned the lights on.
“The meeting had a massive impact on my recovery. I wanted to make Diana proud and do everything I could to raise awareness of Meningitis. Princess Diana was right. Awareness really is key to saving lives. That was the day my life started again and it’s a day I’ll never forget her. I threw myself into fundraising and raising awareness, telling everyone I could about the symptoms of the disease that had nearly killed me. If I hadn’t met her that day, I honestly believe I would never have had the strength to get out of that hospital bed.
“Years later, now walking again and with a job, I’d just got home from a night out when I turned on the news and was shocked to see Diana had been in the car accident. Then they said she had died. I was so upset, I felt numb. People hit you in life and she is one person I will never forget.
“I was asked to represent the charity at her funeral and sat with my mother, just metres away from her coffin. It was incredibly sad for me to have lost someone who had been such an inspiration. Meningitis took so much from me but I feel blessed to have survived and so fortunate to have met her because of it.”
Cliff O’Gorman, 66
Cliff says he followed Diana’s advice to set up a charity – and Children With Cancer UK has now raised a staggering £275 million and saved countless lives.
Cliff says: “My parents Marion and Eddie had five children of which I was the eldest. We were a normal family and had never met any of the Royals. Our lives changed in 1986 when my brother Paul was diagnosed with leukaemia.
“He was 14 and died in February 1987. We put on a ball at The Grosvenor Hotel, London, to help other children with leukaemia and sadly by that time my sister Jean was diagnosed with breast cancer. She came to the ball but died two days later. The story appeared in a newspaper and shortly afterwards we got a call from Kensington Palace saying Princess Diana wanted to meet us.
“She consoled my mother, sharing photos of her own boys and giving her all the time in the world. She said she’d like to do something for us and it was her idea to plant a tree in memory of Paul and Jean at Mill Hill County High School, London, where Paul had been a student. She joked at the time saying ‘I don’t have very green fingers’ and we never liked to tell her but that tree didn’t do very well.
“Diana was always very easy to speak to – there were no airs and graces – and she loved a joke. Before her visit to Paul’s school, we had the whole school painted so it was pristine. We were sat down having coffee with her and my father asked ‘Is there anything you don’t like about your role?’ and she said: ‘Yes Eddie. Everywhere I go, I smell fresh paint.’
“It was Diana that asked how we’d spend the money we raised and when we said we’d donate it to charity, she said we should set up our own charity. We worked in retail and had no idea about setting up a charity but Diana promised to help. Usually, you have to wait months for a charity to be registered. Ours took a matter of weeks’ thanks to her.
“She was always there to support us, asking about the family, the charity and her tree. Thirty three years on, we’ve raised £275 million to help children with cancer and my family have given up our lives to do this job – and all because Diana suggested it.
“It’s never what we thought we would do with our lives. It brought something positive from losing Paul and Jean too and gave us a focus. When Paul was diagnosed he was given a 60 per cent chance of survival. Now, because of our work, a child like Paul would have a nearly 90 per cent chance of survival.
“We would never have raised so much money if it wasn’t for Princess Diana. People remember the Princess for land mines and Aids but few knew that by inaugurating this charity she saved hundreds, possibly thousands, of young lives who will never know how she helped them.”
Ruth Butlin, 69
Ruth, a retired doctor, from Eastbourne, East Sussex, met Princess Diana in 1993 when she visited The Leprosy Mission’s Anandaban Hospital in Nepal where Ruth was working. Ruth showed Princess Diana around the hospital and spoke to her extensively about the work they were doing.
She says: “When I was 41, I was working as a medical superintendent at The Leprosy Mission’s Anandaban Hospital in Nepal and was told that Princess Diana, who was a patron at the time, was going to visit. She arrived with an impressive entourage which included her lady in waiting and security. The British Ambassador for Nepal who had organised the visit to Nepal came too.
“Diana overstayed her allocated time of an hour and a half because she spent so long chatting to everybody! She was so friendly and gracious and when she spoke to someone, it felt to them as if they were the only person in the room.
“I took her on the tour and what was so noticeable is how unafraid she was. Some people would have been afraid to come into a ward for leprosy patients but she showed no fear or revulsion when speaking to the patients. She held their hands and sat on their beds and asked questions.
“The patients valued her visit so much. They couldn’t believe that a foreign princess came to see them. At the time of her visit, there was a highly respected monarchy in Nepal and we couldn’t have imagined that any one of them would have made the same visit. The patients made her a handcrafted gift and gave it to her before she left. They received a thank you letter a few weeks later and that was the icing on the cake for them.
“Seeing Diana with the patients was inspirational, she modelled how to treat leprosy patients in a kind and accepting way. She brought them out of the shadows and into the limelight with her, demonstrating kindness and acceptance. I was encouraged by her visit, as were all the staff.
“At the end of the visit we had some refreshments on the roof of the hospital which offered a beautiful view of Nepal. We chatted for quite a while about our work and the hospital. She came across as a very genuine person and she knew that she could help so many charities to get more attention by visiting them, because whatever she did attracted attention.
“She was a beautiful woman with a kind personality and used her fame to do so much good. Her visit meant a lot to us and for many years people still talked about the time that Princess Diana came to visit. I was still working at the hospital when I heard about her death just four years later. It was so sad to hear that she’d died in such horrible circumstances.”
Jane Wells, 64
Jane, from Stroud, Gloucestershire, a mum-of-three and founder of the charity now known as Meningitis Now, met Diana after asking her to become the charity’s Royal Patron.
Jane says: “I made it my mission to raise awareness of meningitis after my son Daniel contracted meningitis aged two in an outbreak in the early 1980s. I founded the Meningitis Trust – now Meningitis Now – manning a helpline from my sitting room and going to parliament to try and raise awareness of the disease.
“Diana was living at Highgrove, not far from our charity offices in Stroud, Gloucestershire, and I knew what a difference it would make to get her involved. I sat up all night carefully constructing a letter asking her to become a Royal Patron. It was amazing, when around three months later, she accepted. I was over the moon and felt I had lots in common with Diana as her sons were the same age as my eldest children Daniel, 39, and Rachael, 37.
“She came to open the charity offices at Fern House in 1987. It was an amazing day, all the roads were closed off and Diana was helicoptered in to the local rugby club and driven down to us from there. When she arrived, she had time for everybody.
“She was warm and kind and knew a lot about the disease. I presented her with some charity t-shirts for the Princes. It was thanks to Diana that the charity was such a success. She made many private visits to people who had suffered from meningitis, which meant so much to so many people. It was little things like this that Diana did that gave me the inspiration to keep going, to keep raising awareness.
“She promoted our existence. She got us lots of publicity and this in turn raised much needed funds. I met Diana again at the charity’s fifth anniversary at Broughton Castle, Oxford. We had a big birthday cake and lots of children with us that day. She asked where my son Daniel was and I told her I’d invited him but he wanted to go to school, ‘Sensible lad’, she said. She was very lovely and liked a joke.
I asked her: ‘What happens when you go home, do you go to another engagement?’ She said: ‘Oh no I’m going home to have beans on toast and I’m going to watch EastEnders’
“Really Diana was very ordinary. That sounds an extraordinary thing to say about a Princess but it’s true. You felt like you knew her even though you didn’t. Princess Diana made a lasting impression on me personally. Her kindness and humanity will live forever in many people’s hearts, including mine. She was one in a million.”
Edith, from Manchester, met Diana when she was British Red Cross president for Greater Manchester in 1991.
Edith says: “Diana came to an event at the Manchester art gallery. I was invited because of my work with the Red Cross as was the Princess as patron of Red Cross Youth at the time. She was introduced to my husband Stephen and I.
“We talked about the Red Cross and then we just started chatting about everyday things. We’d been at the same Tina Turner concert so we talked about that. She was very ordinary if you can call a Princess ordinary, though she was quite statuesque – she almost towered over me – and she was very beautiful.
“I asked her ‘What happens when you go home, do you go to another engagement?’ She said: ‘Oh no I’m going home to have beans on toast and I’m going to watch EastEnders.’ We all really laughed at that. That has always stuck in my mind.
“A few years later she wrote me a lovely letter which she sent along with a photo and a trinket which we auctioned at a Red Cross event raising hundreds of pounds for charity. It was Diana’s dedication to the Red Cross that gave me the incentive to continue my own work for the charity.
“All these years later, I’m still a volunteer and that is largely down to Diana. Her total commitment to the cause inspired me. I’ve been President for 20 years and I was vice president before that. Diana didn’t just turn up to events like the one where we met her. She did a lot of work behind the scenes. She went to Africa a couple of times and was involved with a big campaign raising awareness about landmines.
“This inspired me to launch my own campaign raising awareness about landmines. I wanted people in the north west to know that this was something that was still going on. Diana was a total inspiration to me – and she still is.”
Nina Myskow, 75
Nina is a journalist and broadcaster from North London, who had a chance encounter with Diana in the ladies’ loo at a Mayfair restaurant in 1990.
Nina says: “I was having lunch with a publisher at Le Caprice, in a very upmarket restaurant in Mayfair in London, sitting at the bar. I was just about to leave when I glanced around the room. In the corner, almost hidden by a pillar, was Princess Diana.
“As I watched she got up from her table and made her way downstairs to the ladies’ loo. Overcome by an instant impulse I got up, followed her and dived into a cubicle. I was so overcome that as I was pulling up my tights I snagged them with my finger. As I shot out, there she was washing her hands. She was wearing blue trousers, a white t-shirt and white blazer and looked immaculate, as always.
“I just blurted, ‘Oh God! I’ve put my finger through my tights’. No, ‘Oh ma’am’ as you might expect. But unfazed, Diana said, ‘I’m so sorry, I don’t have any nail varnish to stop the ladder.’ So there we stood side by side – me washing my hands, Diana putting on her Chanel lipstick. To my amazement she continued the conversation.
“She said her problem was that she’d eaten a lot of garlic with lunch. She said: ‘I’m going out to a function later and I don’t want to breathe fumes over everybody’. I told her she could paint strip a wall with her breath at 20 paces and nobody would mind. She giggled. I suggested a sprig of parsley. She asked if she should chew it but, getting skittish, I suggested putting it behind her ear, saying people would be so puzzled that they wouldn’t notice her breath. Diana roared with laughter.
“As we left the ladies, we started back up the steep staircase and I joked that is was a good restaurant for lunch but perhaps not dinner as the stairs would be tricky to navigate after a few glasses of wine. Again, we both had a good laugh. We parted at the top of the stairs and that was it. It was such an extraordinary encounter. It was a very girly exchange, the sort of chat we women often have in the loo.
“Just for that moment we had a very personal connection. We bonded very quickly over a pair of tights and garlic breath.I never saw Diana again but on the day after her death, I was reporting from in front of Kensington Palace for Richard and Judy’s This Morning and found myself crying live on TV.
“Her death very upsetting and I still find it sad. If anything, what my encounter with Diana taught me is that life is too short for missed opportunities. If you have a chance, you should grasp it. I wasn’t there to get a scoop, or a story. I just had this human instinct to be up close to Diana and to make a connection. It is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Marcus Hunter-Neill, 39
Marcus, from Belfast, Northern Ireland is a drag artist and leadership development quote. He says his whole life has been inspired by Princess Diana and he follows her idea of committing random acts of kindness as often as possible.
He says: “When Princess Diana was visiting patients who had HIV or Aids, it wasn’t fashionable or done with fanfare. She visited those people, frequently off grid, because she cared and wanted to help. She changed the face of Aids in the world, more so than anyone else.
“The way she would cross the line and touch real people was unprecedented but she knew by embracing patients it would make other people uncomfortable with their reluctance to get involved. She even said: ‘HIV does not make people dangerous to know, so you can shake their hands and give them a hug.’ Heaven knows they need it.
Diana walked the walk. She didn’t just preach about being kind and making a difference, she put her money where her mouth was and lived it
“To this day, I try to follow in Princess Diana’s footsteps as much as possible and carry out random acts of kindness. During lockdown I had to move my drag career online as I knew that for some the loss of a weekly connection would have a huge impact for many of the people who attended the shows, as they would miss the social interaction. I set up weekly zoom bingo for all members of the LGBTQI+ Community, especially those in their 40s and 50s so they had at least an hour of social interaction each week.
“Nowadays people say they’re kind but they think that just means putting a quote on social media. Diana walked the walk. She didn’t just preach about being kind and making a difference, she put her money where her mouth was and lived it.
“What a woman she was, she knew the importance of physical contact and it’s something I’ve lived by. If I think something needs cheering up, I’ve never been afraid to hug them – I think it can be more powerful than words.
“I’ve got a picture of Princess Diana as the screensaver on my laptop, and every time I open it, I see her and am reminded to be a bit more like Princess Diana every single day.”
MORE ON THE ROYAL FAMILY
For more Royal Family related news, check out Princess Diana’s most iconic moments revealed – from shaking the hand of an Aids patient to dancing with John Travolta.