by Herschel Mackelina
I’m pretty sure I’m not exaggerating when I say every African household knows the name of Princess Diana. 23 years after her death she’s still fondly spoken of and remains in the collective consciousness of so many African moms and aunts. How is it that a woman who most have never met or personally known can evoke such passion and emotion with the mere mention of her name? This is a phenomenon which has baffled me for quite some time.
Most late Generation Z’s, who might not find the British Royal Family and their lives that interesting, would probably have come to know her through Emma Corin’s amazing portrayal of the late princess in the hit Netflix series, The Crown. Corrin’s uncanny resemblance to Diana, coupled with her mannerisms which she perfectly mimics, could be mistaken as being historically accurate. However, I can’t help but think that most new fans of the late Princess don’t fully comprehend just how influential and iconic Diana really was.
Among the many things Diana is remembered for, the most widely known is her timeless fashion sense. Diana was a modern style icon in her days, and her name was virtually synonymous with style and grace. The ultimate compliment that a woman could receive was to have their style likened to that of the Princess. My mom recalls stories of whenever she would dress up for an occasion, a simple “Where are we going tonight Lady Di?”, would assure her that her look is on point.
But perhaps more than that it is Diana’s humility, kindness and sense of duty to the downtrodden and voiceless of society that endures her to this day. The gaze of the international media always focused on her and she diverted that attention to the numerous charities and causes she strongly supported. Who could forget the moment where she shook hands with an AIDS patient when in those days the stigmas of contracting the virus made society physically distance themselves from people living with HIV/AIDS. It was this warm gesture from a widely known public figure which for many changed their perceptions of those with AIDS.
Diana broke from the strict and cold royal protocol on many occasions, though it displeased and alienated her from the rest of the Royals, it brought her closer to the wider public in many ways. Her decision to take an active role in the upbringing of her sons moved many. It was also her approach in how she warmly and openly greeted members of the public with a handshake or hug, that showed her down to earth nature - not commonplace among royalty at the time.
Diana has a unique connection to Africa in the many humanitarian causes she held dear, and it is this which many remember. She frequently visited the continent and immersed herself not only in the culture but the issues that African people face. Just as she helped to dispel stigmas and perceptions attached to AIDS, so too did she bring awareness to leprosy patients by holding their hands to prove the disease isn’t spread by touch. Diana is remembered and spoken of as a friend gone too soon amongst our moms and aunts. Hers’ is a unique case among Royals, who were often thought to have a stiff upper lip and be unreachable to many.
It is also her experience of being othered and not fitting in with the rest of the royals which so strongly resonates with African moms, who all too well know what it feels like to exist in spaces that are unwelcoming and hostile. Her legacy lives on and she will always be remembered as our moms’ best friend.