Belfast Telegraph

Kindness Princess Diana showed to my pal proved what a truly good person she was

By Frances Burscough

Diana, Princess of Wales, was my heroine. Despite a background of huge privilege, she was a champion of the underprivileged. In spite of her vast wealth, she was a spokesperson of the poor. She was radiant with health, but tirelessly campaigned for the sick.

But I wasn’t always a fan.

The “Lady Di” hype of the early Eighties annoyed me. To me, she was just another toffee-nosed aristocrat who was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and talked like it was still lodged in place.

Then when the world stood still and watched the royal wedding in 1981, I was utterly unimpressed. As a tomboy, the sight of all that frothy, frilly, fairytale imagery was like a scene from my worst nightmare.

For the whole day, my mum, all my sisters and a clutch of assorted aunties were permanently lodged in front of the TV, sipping endless cups of tea from a bone china commemorative teapot, gasping and gushing, clucking and cooing with awe at the right royal spectacle.

So, when I tentatively asked if I could switch channels to watch Hill Street Blues, you would have thought I had stood on a chair and shouted “Death to the Monarchy!” from the looks of horror and incredulity on their faces.

A few years later, I heard a story which changed my view of Diana completely. I was at university in Manchester and became friendly with a Pakistani girl called Rhuna, who had just graduated from fashion college and was attempting to set up her own business. She had few contacts and even less business acumen, but she idolised the princess and her dream was to design for her. So she wrote a letter, included a few sketches, and sent it to Kensington Palace. Nothing ventured, nothing gained was her attitude.

About six weeks later, she was contacted by one of the royal secretaries. A few correspondences later and Rhuna found herself sitting in a magnificent parlour in the palace, drinking Diet Coke with Diana and chatting about life, the universe and everything.

At one point, Sarah ‘Fergie’ Ferguson even popped her head round the door, then joined them briefly when she noticed a plate full of Hobnobs was up for grabs.

Rhuna told me that the princess was so normal and so friendly, it was like they had known each other for years. Despite their backgrounds being poles apart, and their circumstances at tangents, they had gelled instantly and subsequently struck up a friendship that lasted for years.

From thereon in, I was a Diana devotee.

In the late Eighties, Aids lured its ugly head and caused hysteria across the western world. There was complete confusion about how you could ‘catch’ it and a collective finger of blame seemed to point unfairly and squarely at the gay community. The way Diana tackled this issue elevated her, in my eyes, from an admirable public figure to the status of humanitarian heroine.

Who can forget the pictures of her sitting in an Aids clinic, holding hands and hugging those poor souls who were facing a slow painful death and the humiliation of public rejection?

By doing so — and inviting TV cameras and the Press to witness it — she single-handedly changed the attitude of our confused society and appealed for compassion and sympathy to replace the prejudice and bigotry surrounding the disease.

She did the same in Indonesia, when she embraced leprosy sufferers in full public, indeed worldwide view. Until then, and for thousands of years, they had been “untouchables”, often left to rot and die in abject poverty and unthinkable pain because the world had rejected them.

Diana sought out those who were most rejected and desperate in the world and greeted them with unconditional compassion. And I believe she did none of this for personal glory.

The Diana dynamic was to use her position of privilege and popularity to focus the cameras of the world on the real stories that mattered. And, despite great turmoil and sadness in her private life, she never succumbed to self-pity or bitter recrimination.

To me, she will always be up there on a pedestal as a visionary who taught the modern world an invaluable lesson about compassion.

So when the world stood still and watched Diana’s funeral, I joined in; permanently lodged in front of the TV, weeping and sighing with genuine grief and in awe of the right royal spectacle.

Belfast Telegraph

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