The late Princess Diana is one of the most fascinating and beloved members of the British Royal Family in recent times. Before her tragic death in 1997, the princess devoted a great deal of time and energy to numerous charities. And perhaps the most famous of them all is the HALO Trust. Now, her youngest son Prince Harry has written an emotional letter to the organization that was so close to his mother’s heart.
Diana, Princess of Wales served as the chief patron of the HALO Trust. The charity, which was formed back in 1988, is dedicated to removing harmful objects from land that’s been abandoned in the wake of armed conflict. The most notable of these hazardous and potentially fatal products of war are unexploded bombs and landmines.
Princess Diana would help bring these important and under-reported issues to the attention of the public, including one truly iconic moment that we’ll get to a bit later. And Harry would purposefully follow in his mother’s famous footsteps more than two decades afterwards, when he wrote a letter to the aid organization.
Prince Harry’s message to HALO would be heartfelt and unequivocal. A great deal of thought appears to have been put into it by the British royal, who recently stepped out of the frontline of regal duties along with his wife Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex. Furthermore, the letter would be very revealing about him and his personal beliefs and feelings.
So, what did Prince Harry write in his heartfelt letter to the HALO Trust? Why did he feel so compelled to pen its workers a message? Well, we’ll get to the intriguing details of that a little later. Firstly, though, we should take a look at the life of his celebrated mother, with a particular focus on her activism.
Diana Frances Spencer entered the world in July 1961. Her place of birth was Sandringham in Norfolk, a historic county that lies in the east of England. More specifically, Diana was born and grew up at Park House, a storied and sizeable stately home that lies in the famous Sandringham royal estate.
As her place of birth suggests, the young Diana wasn’t born into poverty. Far from it, in fact. Indeed, the future Princess of Wales was born into a noble family that had strong and long-standing links with the U.K.’s royals. So deep-seated were the connections between the two families that Di’s grandma served in the Queen Mother’s household staff.
Furthermore, Queen Elizabeth II would be present at the nuptials of Diana’s parents. Her father was a man named Edward John Spencer, an earl who operated as an aide to both George VI and his successor Elizabeth II. Di’s mom was Viscountess Althorp, Frances Ruth Burke Roche – known in her latter years as Frances Shand Kydd.
Anyway, Diana would grow up mostly under the care of her father, after he emerged victorious from the custody battle for his four kids. Di was the Spencers’ third child, with two big sisters and a little brother. The future princess undertook some of her early schooling at home before going to Riddlesworth Hall School and West Heath School.
Diana Spencer became a Lady when her dad ascended to Earldom in 1975. She wrapped up her education at the Institut Alpin Videmanette in Rougemont, Switzerland, before returning to the U.K. and finding employment in London. Lady Diana demonstrated a love of kids from a young age and had a job for a while at a kindergarten.
Then, in 1977 Lady Diana started seeing a fellow with the rather lengthy name of Charles Phillip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor. That man, of course, was Prince Charles, the eldest son of the ruling monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. As such, he was the heir to the British throne, a position he continues to hold today.
The pair had initially become acquainted when Lady Diana was merely a kid and living in Park House on the royal Sandringham estate. Despite their sizeable 13-year age gap and seemingly different personalities, Prince Charles and Diana would become engaged in early 1981. They’d go on to tie the knot in July of that same year.
The extravagant wedding of Prince Charles and Diana was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and it was truly a worldwide event. Indeed, although only 2,500 or so people were at the ceremony, an audience of approximately one billion across the globe watched it all unfold on TV. And upon marriage, the bride went from being a Lady to a Princess.
Of course, Charles and Diana’s happiness – and ultimately their marriage – wouldn’t last. The couple separated at the end of 1992, and their troubled union was officially confirmed to be over in the summer of 1996. In the seemingly happier times of the early 1980s, though, the couple would produce two children, now known as Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex.
Diana – who was still known as the Princess of Wales title after the divorce but lost the “Her Royal Highness” moniker – admitted that the overwhelming media interest in her marriage and life was tough to take. She battled the eating disorder bulimia as well as depression. There were also persistent rumors of affairs, and in an infamous Panorama interview in 1995, the princess was questioned about Charles’ relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles. She told interviewer Martin Bashir that “there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”
In the early 1980s, while she was still married to Prince Charles, Diana had begun to take a keen interest in charity work. Indeed, by the mid-point of the decade she was already closely linked with specific charities, including London’s Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. Princess Di also focused her energies on organizations that hadn’t typically received royal patronage, such as those dealing with debilitating health issues, most notably leprosy and AIDS.
In fact, Diana has been credited with playing a key role in altering the widespread attitudes and beliefs towards AIDS and HIV sufferers that were prevalent in the 1980s. During the spring of 1987, the Princess was present at the opening of Great Britain’s inaugural specialist ward to combat the disease in Middlesex hospital. While there, a gloveless Di shook the hands of HIV-positive patients who were receiving treatment.
A photograph of this episode was splashed across the front pages of newspapers around the world. In effect, Diana had openly contested the idea that HIV/AIDS was so contagious that it could be transmitted through mere contact with human skin. The photo op also clearly displayed the princess’ empathy towards patients who were beset with the immunodeficiency illness.
At one point during her union with Charles, Diana was a patron of some 100 charitable organizations. This number would drop dramatically upon the couple’s split, however, when the princess sought a less public existence. Nonetheless, Di would continue to be heavily involved in several foundations that were close to heart, including the homeless charity Centrepoint, The Leprosy Mission, the National Aids Trust and the English National Ballet.
Moreover, as we mentioned earlier, there was one organization in particular that would become particularly well-known for receiving Diana’s heartfelt backing. That charity was the HALO Trust. Yes, the Princess of Wales was deeply committed to the cause of removing landmines and other harmful objects from warzones. This perilous task was central to the mission of the aid organization formed by Guy Willoughby and the late British MP Colin Campbell Mitchell.
By the mid-1990s, Princess Diana would be the most famous anti-landmine campaigner in the world. And her position as the leading advocate of this noble cause would be cemented during a visit to Angola early in 1997. While she was in the in the war-torn nation African nation, which lies in the continent’s southwest, the Princess of Wales would embark on a now-iconic stroll.
Yes, in January 1997, close to the city of Huambo, Diana would provide us with one of her most celebrated moments. Dressed in a green safety jersey carrying the charity’s logo, a security mask and some beige slacks, the princess would set off on a walk laden with potential danger. The apparently fearless royal sauntered across terrain that had only just had potentially fatal mines removed from it.
The footage of Diana’s defiant wander across potentially dangerous territory in the midst of a brutal civil war would be beamed around the globe. Likewise, photos of the moment were seen in many newspapers and magazines, bringing unprecedented and much-needed attention to the cause of removing landmines, as well as to the people affected by their presence. Britain’s renowned television network the BBC even filmed the princess’ trip for a documentary.
Diana’s fearless support for the HALO Trust’s work in Angola – and her public encounters with those injured by such landmines – would really capture the imagination of the world. The devastating civil conflict there – which began back in 1975 – had resulted in the nation becoming one of the most heavily littered with mines on the planet. The charity once estimated that there were well over 1,000 minefields in the country.
According to Harper’s Bazaar, on that January day in 1997 Princess Diana would tell the press, “I’d read the statistics that Angola has the highest percentage of amputees anywhere in the world. That one person in every 333 had lost a limb, most of them through land mine explosions. But [even] that hadn’t prepared me for reality.”
The Angolan civil war would continue on until 2002, by which time, of course, Princess Diana had long since departed this world. The beloved Princess of Wales was killed at the age of 36 in a high-speed automobile accident in Paris in August 1997. Dodi Fayed – her partner at the time – and chauffeur Henri Paul were also killed. A shocked world was almost united in grief.
The princess’ work with the HALO Trust would thankfully not be in vain, though. Not long after her tragic demise, in fact, the United Nations put forward a legally binding treaty that prohibited “the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines.” By fall 2019, more than 160 nations had agreed to become parties to the pact, which is often referred to in the press as the Ottawa Treaty.
Furthermore, Diana’s wholehearted activism clearly rubbed off on her young children, Princes William and Harry. Both of them have strived in their adult years to continue their mother’s legacy. Among many other organizations, William has been heavily involved with the homeless charity Centrepoint, which was important to his late mom.
Prince Harry, meanwhile, has both figuratively and literally followed in his mother’s footsteps. For example, in late September of 2019, when he was on a royal tour in Africa, Harry made a point of reproducing the Princess of Wales’ iconic walk across the Huambo minefields in Angola. It was a powerful image, despite the exact location of the walk looking very different two decades on, with schools, businesses, domestic residences and a flourishing society now in place.
Harry told the press that recreating Diana’s walk had a profound effect on him. According to Hello!, he said, “It has been quite emotional retracing my mother’s steps 22 years on and to see the transformation that has taken place from an unsafe and desolate area into a vibrant community of local businesses and colleges.”
Harry then lamented the fact that Angola was still littered with landmines. He stated, “Twenty-two years after my mother visited Angola, there are still more than 1,000 minefields in this beautiful country that remain to be cleared… I wonder, if she was still alive, whether that would still be the case. I’m pretty sure she would have seen it through,”
Then, in May 2020 Prince Harry wrote a powerful letter to the workforce of the HALO Trust, an organization that had been so strongly advocated by his mom. In his message, the prince detailed his profound respect for the selfless work the charity does and its response to the current global predicament. The correspondence was made public on May 26.
“In these trying times, hope comes from the light of our common humanity,” the Duke of Sussex wrote. “Nowhere is that light burning brighter than at the Halo Trust… As countries closed their borders, lockdowns came into force and international travel became harder, many might have chosen to suspend operations. Instead, Halo kept open a presence in all 25 of its country operations.”
As we’ve heard, the prince had traveled to Dirico in Angola a year earlier to view the HALO Trust’s work in person. That fall day, he threw on some protective clothing to examine scrubland from which the organization’s workers were in the process of removing landmines. And more recently, the group has been helping the world in ways outside of its usual remit.
Harry addressed this fact in his letter, writing, “HALO might just have stuck to its core role, but I would also like to salute you for pivoting so quickly to meet the challenges unexpectedly presented.” The charitable organization – which has in excess of 8,000 workers across more than 20 nations – has been delivering PPE, logistical assistance and ambulances to health organizations in the likes of Afghanistan, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, Somalia and Zimbabwe.
The Duke of Sussex continued, “The fact that [the HALO Trust] can operate across conflict affected countries like Afghanistan is also a precious resource.” He seemed genuinely touched and even a little amazed at the determination of the charity’s staff. The prince added, “It is at times like this that the work and efforts of people like you – prepared to do whatever it takes to help, serve and protect others – shines through.”
Finally, the prince remarked on the inherent dangers faced by the HALO Trust’s workforce and his personal pride in being an advocate of the charity made famous by his mom, Diana. “In sometimes hazardous and dangerous situations, your commitment to your communities and people who need your help is remarkable,” he wrote. “I am hugely proud to be able to support such an extraordinary organization.”
Reaction to Harry’s heartfelt letter was overwhelmingly positive. James Cowan, the current CEO of the organization, told Hello!, “It is very thoughtful of the Duke to write to HALO staff in this way. Not many people realize we do more than landmine clearance… We have the skills and equipment to respond [to crises]. And above all we can operate in some very dangerous places with the trust of the local people.”
The popular YouTube channel Steps of Sussex, which follows the travails of the Duke and Duchess Harry and Meghan, received instant reactions from the public to the earnest letter in a live video. One viewer, who seemed to represent the majority who commented, wrote, “Prince Harry is a decent, humble, wonderful, passionate person. He is a true humanitarian. Princess Diana would’ve been so proud of Prince Harry!”
So, there you have it. Prince Harry, after making a significant visit to Angola and following in his mom’s footsteps, has paid emotional tribute to the HALO Trust. He and his elder brother are continuing to honor the immense humanitarian legacy of their deceased mother. In the aforementioned Panorama interview from 1995, Diana remarked, “I would like a monarchy that has more contact with its people.” It’s fair to say that the late princess, and subsequently her two sons, have made good on that bold promise.