Role Model Review: Princess Diana

When Princess Diana died in August of 1997, something unprecedented occurred, and on a global level. This was not, of course, the first time the world reacted in a common grief over the passing of a beloved public figure, but it was the actual life and being of Diana that made this outpouring of sorrow unique. Diana was not a leader of a nation, a military commander, or a revolutionary figure. She was not a doctor, nor was she a groundbreaking scientist. In fact, she was of the aristocracy, and had led from birth an extraordinarily privileged life. Nonetheless, her death stunned people everywhere: “The monumental scale of mourning Diana...constituted a dramatic and heavily dramatized phenomenon of epic proportion”. She was, very simply, one of the most universally beloved people of the 20th century, as she was eulogized as an inspiration and a role model for, literally, billions.

This astounding scenario, in which a wealthy and privileged young woman was to become so enormously influential and revered, stems from the gradual transitions Diana herself made in her life. As Lady Diana Spencer, she came to the attentions of Charles, Prince of Wales, somewhat late in the game, in regard to his seeking a suitable bride; it was 1980 when the Queen Mother told her grandson to consider her as a choice, and the famous royal wedding of Charles and Diana occurred only a year later. It is possible that Diana herself expected nothing more, then, than what the rest of the world expected for her: tours, elegant balls, charity activities, and being a perfect mother to heirs of the throne, as well as an ideal representation of the British royal family.

However, it seems that, as Diana's marriage eroded, she was simultaneously gaining distinct worldviews, and these would radically alter how she went about her business as a princess. Whether these feelings were within her from the start, or emerged through her access to previously unknown venues, Diana began to express several, and distinctly complementary, worldviews. Although she was careful to present herself in a way appropriate to her wealth and rank, she increasingly distanced herself from the usual concerns of this class and became devoutly involved in causes of suffering. This worldview necessarily is tied to those of ethics and human values, for it became apparent, through her ceaseless humanitarian involvements, that Diana saw herself as possessed of a great responsibility. Positioned as she was to attract global attention, she came to use this as the valuable asset it was, to draw attention to people in need.

For example, while attending the 1987 opening of the first hospital in Britain dedicated to AIDS, Diana made global headlines by touching the patients without wearing gloves. In those years, this was commonly considered a dangerous action; Diana, however, saw it as an opportunity to increase human understanding of a disease, and to lessen the dread associated with it.

Diana, late Princess of Wales, exists as a role model chiefly because, against insurmountable pressures to play a specified and limited, iconic role, she broke away from the image and was committed to reaching out to ordinary, and often severely disadvantaged, people. Unlike any previous member of the royal family, Diana took the glamor and prestige of royalty into new territory, blurring the lines between the old aristocracy, whether of family or money, and the disenfranchised, hurting people of the world. In a very real sense, Diana united what had always been the opposed camps of the privileged and the needy, merely by virtue of her own abandoning of her regal stature.