The death of Diana, Princess of Wales, sent shockwaves reverberating around the world. Yet her untimely passing affected none more than her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. And once the two boys grew into men, they set about ensuring their mother would be remembered by often speaking about her life and legacy.
However, they tended to remain reticent about the more personal details, explaining that Diana was an excellent mom but never quite going into their thoughts and feelings about the time leading up to her death. Now, 20 years on, a new tribute has changed all that.
Even people who disapproved of Diana seemingly struggled to find a bad word to say about her parenting. Both before and after her divorce from Prince Charles, Diana appeared to be a caring and deeply attentive mother. She refused to kowtow to royal demands about how her sons were to be raised, and she even took them to school by herself as often as she could.
In fact, William and Harry had as normal a childhood as was possible within the confines of royal family protocol. But, sadly, it all seemed to come to an end on August 31, 1997. That fateful night, Diana was killed in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris. Her boyfriend Dodi Fayed and her driver Henri Paul – later found to have alcohol in his system – also died.
The public reaction to Diana’s death was like nothing the royal family had ever seen before. The entire country seemed to come to a standstill, united in grief. Within a matter of weeks, the pile of flowers left outside Kensington Gardens in London had actually started to compost. People wanting to sign a book of condolence had to queue right through the night to get to it, too. And, of course, it was a media circus.
In the middle of all this, though, were two young children grieving the sudden death of their mother. In later years, the princes would speak of their anger at being made to walk behind Diana’s coffin, watched by millions. “I don’t think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances,” Harry told Newsweek in June 2017. “I don’t think it would happen today.”
Despite experiencing such a terrible blow in their formative years, William and Harry appear to have grown up to be sensible, well-adjusted young men. The youngest, though, seemed to have the most trouble getting through his teenagerhood. Indeed, Harry’s occasionally controversial antics saw him nicknamed the “party prince” by tabloid newspapers.
Yet Harry, and his brother, grew up to be major advocates for mental health awareness. And in 2016, Harry and William came together, along with Kate Middleton, to lead a campaign aimed at reducing the stigma around mental health issues. This was another way of keeping Diana in their lives, as she, too, had been a huge supporter of health charities and campaigns aimed at reducing the stereotypes around conditions like AIDS.
It was clear to any followers of royal family news that William and Harry had done plenty to honor their mother throughout their adult lives. But that wasn’t quite enough for the two princes. Although it was positive that the world remembered Diana as a good and charitable person, the brothers wanted people to see what a wonderful mom she had been as well.
So, William and Harry began putting together a new documentary – one that would air around the 20th anniversary of their mother’s death. Titled Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, in it William spoke about why they had decided to do such a thing. And their reasoning was very moving.
“Part of the reason why Harry and I want to do this is because we feel we owe it to her,” William said in the documentary. “I think an element of it is feeling like we let her down when we were younger. We couldn’t protect her. We feel we at least owe her 20 years on to stand up for her name and remind everybody of the character and person that she was.”
“Do our duties as sons in protecting her,” William added. It was a poignant reminder of everything that the two young princes had lost during their childhood. And when the documentary aired in Britain on July 23, 2017, there were plenty more emotional moments to come. One of the saddest of all was William and Harry’s reminiscence of their last conversation with their mother – something they had never spoken about before.
Just hours before her death, Diana had called Balmoral, the royal family’s Scottish residence, from Paris and had a seemingly normal goodnight conversation with her sons. The boys, being young children excited to be staying with their cousins in Scotland, had been in a hurry to go off and play. “Harry and I were in a desperate rush to say goodbye,” William said. “If I’d known now, obviously, what was going to happen, I wouldn’t have been so blasé about it.”
Harry’s memories of that day were even more remorseful. “It was her speaking from Paris,” he told the documentary cameras. “I can’t really necessarily remember what I said, but all I do remember is probably regretting for the rest of my life how short the phone call was. If I’d known that that was the last time I was going to speak to my mother, the things I would have said to her.”
Harry added, “Looking back at it now – it’s incredibly hard. I have to deal with that for the rest of my life: not knowing that it was the last time I’d speak to my mom, how differently that conversation would have panned out if I’d had even the slightest inkling that her life was going to be taken that night.” It’s a feeling that many children who have lost a parent at a young age can probably relate to. Harry was, after all, only 12 when she died.
Though that particular detail is not a happy one, the princes also took care to speak about the good times they had had with their mother. “When everybody says to me, ‘So she was fun, give us an example,’ all I can hear is her laugh in my head,” Harry said. “She was one of the naughtiest parents. She would come and watch us play football and, you know, smuggle sweets into our socks.”
The documentary also revealed one thing that Diana fans might not have known about her: she had a wicked sense of humor. “I would be at school and I’d get a card from my mother,” William explained. “Usually she found something, you know, very embarrassing, you know, a very funny card, and then sort of wrote very nice stuff inside… but I dared not open it in case the teachers or anyone else in the class had seen it!”
William also spoke about his own children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, and the impact Diana may have made on their lives if she had lived. “I do regularly bring George and Charlotte to bed and talk about her,” he said. “Just try to remind them there are two grandmas [the other is Carol Middleton, Kate’s mother], were two grandmas in their lives, and it’s important they know who she was and she existed.”
William then opened up about what kind of grandparent Diana may have been. “She’d be a nightmare grandma, absolute nightmare. She’d love the children to bits, but she’d be an absolute nightmare.” He meant that fondly, however. “She’d probably come at bath time, cause an amazing amount of sea and bubbles and bathwater all over the place and then leave.”
It’s deeply tragic that the brothers grew up without a mother, and now William’s brood – and any children Harry may have – will grow up without knowing their grandma. However, the two princes and their extended family clearly take comfort in the fact that they can still share Diana’s achievements, legacy and personality with the world.
“Her 20th anniversary year feels like a good time to remember all the good things about her and hopefully provide maybe a different side others haven’t seen before,” William said to the cameras. And the documentary is indeed a fitting tribute to Diana. Even better, her sons, though they still seem to miss her terribly, are thriving both as royal family members and – perhaps more importantly – as people.