Belfast Telegraph

Remembering Diana: What the Princess meant to us

 

On the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, Kerry McKittrick talks to nine well-known personalities here about the impact she had on their lives.

‘She definitely put a bit of life into the royal family’

Paula McIntyre (50) is a chef and food writer and lives in Portstewart.  She says:

I remember when Charles and Diana got engaged and thinking 'poor girl', because of the hoopla that surrounded the whole thing. She was a few years older than me so I was still at school at the time.

I remember watching the royal wedding, it was so glam. I think she definitely put a bit of life into the royal family.

You can't take away the good that Diana did, particularly for things like Aids awareness. I remember her walking straight into the hospital and taking the hand of one of the patients there.

There was a massive fear of the disease at the time and her actions really helped to take away some of the stigma.

The landmines campaign was significant too - when she walked through a field of them in Angola.

She wasn't a well-educated woman, but she was clever enough to use her position to highlight those issues. She did a huge amount of good that way.

I remember when she died. I had a restaurant in Manchester at the time and was in a taxi, having just finished work. It came on the news that Diana had been in a car crash and broken her arm.

The next day I was coming back to Northern Ireland and got up really early. When I turned on the news and discovered she had died it was such a shock, I had thought she was going to be fine.

I really admire the Royal family. I met Prince Charles last year because he's patron of the Rare Breed Society which is closely aligned with the slow food movement. I think Charles is before his time."

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Diana on her wedding day in St Paul's Cathedral in 1981

‘I think it was tragic that her life was cut so short’

Leesa Harker (37) is a playwright and lives in Belfast with her two daughters, Lola (9) and Lexi (6). She says:

T he night Diana died I was on my way back from my first ever holiday away with my friends. We arrived home in the middle of the night just as the news was breaking.

I thought the princess was brilliant - she was so glamorous and had such a big heart. I remember when she shook hands with the guy who had Aids, then later walked through a field of landmines. It was shocking that she had done those things.

I watched a programme about Prince Harry in Africa a few years ago.

He was visiting babies who had been affected by the Aids epidemic and was just starring at an infant in his arms. I thought that his mum was in him certainly - it was like something she would do.

I cried my eyes out at the funeral. I even cried watching a documentary about her over the weekend.

Diana was so kind and it was tragic her life was cut so short.

She left behind her two boys and there was so much more she could have done. Charles seemed so cold-hearted next to her warmth."

‘William and Harry are her greatest legacy’

Jeffrey Donaldson (54) is DUP MP for Lagan Valley. He lives in Dromore with his wife Eleanor and their daughters, Claire (27) and Laura (25). He says:

I had the privilege of meeting the princess when she visited Belfast in the early Nineties. I was working in Ulster Unionist headquarters and she did a walkabout while visiting the Presbyterian General Assembly building across the road.

She was someone that I admired for her down-to-earth approach and the way that she was able to connect with ordinary people. She really brought the royal family into what was nearly the 21st century.

The paradox is the high profile came with the high price of media intrusion. She was quite a remarkable person, she was inspiring and that's what touched the hearts of people. She gave them hope and inspiration in world where that's not easy to find.

I remember very well where I was when I heard the news about her death. I was staying down the Co Down coast in a caravan with my family. We woke up to the news and spent the morning in shock like everyone else, glued to the TV.

Diana's legacy is her two sons who I think are a credit to her. They have continued her work of modernising the royal family and strengthening their standing. I think you can see Diana's influence in both of her sons and for me that is the greatest part of her legacy."

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Diana with Charles and their two sons William and Harry

‘The helicopter shook our home as she smiled down’

Frank Mitchell (56) lives in Belfast with his wife Helena and his daughter Laura (26). He presents a U105 radio show and is UTV's weather presenter. He says:

I think Diana was ahead of her time. She was progressive and very interested in causes. She broke new ground when she met with sufferers from Aids and when she walked in the minefields. Considering she was in a society that was in many ways very distant to us as ordinary people.

She had an incredible persona in the way she spoke and looked.

I did have one incredible moment with her.

She had been visiting the RUC headquarters near where I lived. Her helicopter came out of headquarters and dipped slightly as it going over our conservatory and there she was sitting in it, smiling at me while I watched TV while the house was shaken by the helicopter. I was shocked beyond belief to wake up and find out she had died - I didn't believe my mum when she told me. It was incredible to believe she was taken so young."

‘There was mourning, but also national guilt’

Kellie Armstrong (46) is Alliance Party MLA for Strangford and is married to Barry. She says:

My recollections of Charles and Diana's wedding are of her wrinkled dress and the massive train. She was one of the new breed of younger royals who were a bit more fun. They were very hip and trendy and girls at school kept getting their hair cut to look like Princess Diana.

When the news broke about her involvement in an accident in Paris I remember waking up and turning on the radio to hear pan pipes playing on every station.

The news had started to filter through about a terrible car crash and that she was seriously ill.

Then we learned that she had passed away and no-one knew what to do or say.

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Diana meeting children in Africa

I remember thinking about her boys and how they were left without a mother.

There was a huge amount of national mourning but also national guilt. If it hadn't been with us being so fascinated by her then she wouldn't have been hounded by the media so much."

'I saw her in the flesh just months before she died'

Broadcaster Claire McCollum (43), lives in Greenisland with her husband Alastair and their children Samuel (11) and Rose (9). She says:

I loved Princess Diana. I have two books that I wrote in P6 - it was about 1983. One was the Adventures of Willie the Weasel and the other was Princess Diana: Leader of Fashion.

It was the first big royal wedding I had ever seen and I still remember watching it in my granny's house in Bangor.

I was lucky enough to see her in the flesh. It was just months before she died. In the April of that year I was doing my journalism postgrad in London.

One day a week the college was turned into a radio station and we all had different roles; sports reporter, reporter, newsreader and engineer. I was sent out to cover Princess Diana's visit to St Mary's Hospital - she was meeting Sir Terry Wogan as the patron.

I was there with the Press pack which was about 10-deep and full of flashing cameras and she was only about ten feet away from me. She was absolutely stunning - there was an aura about her.

Then in August, I remember waking up in my aunt's house and hearing her being upset outside because of Diana's death.

I sat glued to the TV all day. It's still as shocking today, even though it's been 20 years. It's all happened in a blink. It's sad to think about William and Harry and all they've achieved (without their mum) and what a wonderful grandmother she would have been. She certainly made a mark on the world. I watched a programme about her this week which really showed how she changed things. So many people in the programme said they felt like they knew her and could totally relate to her.

She made the royal family much more accessible and left her two boys with so much. They've been really well brought up, and that has a lot to do with Charles as well.

She was a real princess. I remember her getting out of the carriage on her wedding day wearing that dress. So many young girls wanted to be a fairytale princess and she really was one."

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Diana speaking to an Aids victim during a visit to a hospital in Rio de Janeiro

‘Marrying into the Royals must have been difficult’

Sarah Travers (43) is a broadcaster and director of Bespoke Communications. She lives in Portstewart with her husband, Stephen Price, and their children Jack (20) and Evie (11). She says:

I have always been very interested in the Princess of Wales but I thought it must have been so difficult to have married into the Royal family and how I wouldn't have wished it on my worst enemy - she seemed so young.

I can vividly recall finding out she had died.

My son Jack had just been born that April and I was up really early that morning with him. I turned on the TV - I think I was waiting for the Teletubbies or something - and there was a news flash about it. I couldn't believe what I was hearing, first it was about the crash and then the next thing that she had died.

This was before the days of 24-hour news so it took a while for the details to come through.

I was swept up in the emotion of it, as I think a lot of people were. It was so very sad.

I've always followed the Royal family and have had an interest in them.

I think William and Harry are a real credit to her legacy, particularly the work that Harry has done, which has changed his image from that of a playboy prince, though given what he has been through that period of his life was probably understandable. Hearing him talk this week about the shock of his mother dying but having to have your game face on among crowds of crying people was very moving. He does a lot of work with other bereaved children and they both are great ambassadors for mental health awareness."

'She was fabulous but sad behind the whole facade'

Alison Clarke runs ACA models and the Miss Northern Ireland pageant. She has two sons from her first marriage, Stuart (26) and Philip (23), and is married to golfer Darren Clarke. She says:

I was in the same age bracket as Princess Diana so I was very aware of her from the word go. She personified elegance, glamour and everything else. I was Miss Northern Ireland a couple of years after the Royal wedding and her style heavily influenced what I was wearing.

She was fabulous but sad behind the whole facade.

Her handsome prince swept her off her feet but because she was so popular and successful he found that hard to deal with.

He wasn't able to cope with the following she had and as time went on she was living more and more of a lie. All she needed was love.

I remember my son Philip went to turn on the TV so he could watch cartoons. He came into me because he couldn't get them on - because every channel was about Diana.

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Diana during a visit to Angola to outlaw landmines

I recall watching the funeral too and when Elton John was singing the tears were tripping me.

I think Diana's legacy is her boys - as long as they are alive then she will be too."

‘A shy girl blossomed into a real fashion icon’

Lynda Bryans (54) is a lecturer in journalism at Belfast Metropolitan College. The former UTV presenter is married to Ulster Unionist Strangford MLA and former Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt (60) and they live in Castlereagh. They have two sons, PJ (22) and Christopher (20). She says:

Diana was a few years older than me but I remember I was on one of my very first jobs as a copy typist for the BBC. I had been sent out with Sean Rafferty, who was presenting Scene Around Six, to do vox pops about the royal wedding. Nobody could talk about anything else.

She was a really shy wee girl that day but she blossomed into a real fashion icon.

We never knew what really went on behind the scenes of the royal family but I don't think anyone could have imagined what was in store for her. What chance did she have, really? When she died 20 years ago I was on maternity leave having just had Christopher a couple of months before.

We were in Donegal and I found out when I switched on the TV.

There was a sense of disbelief that this had happened. It seemed impossible that someone so full of life and vibrant who was just getting her life back together again was suddenly gone.

I really identified with those little boys losing their mum at such a young age."

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