London — It was so human. So accessible. So very Diana: Prince William, the heir to the British throne, sprinting down the track at London’s Olympic Park with his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, and his brother, Prince Harry, in a relay race this year promoting mental health.
There was a time when such a scene would not have happened.
Princess Diana, a preschool teacher thrust into the glare of celebrity by her marriage to Prince Charles, dragged Britain’s ribbon-cutting royals into the modern world. She made a direct connection with the public — once running her own race in a flowing white skirt and baggy sweater — and promoted causes far from the mainstream at the time, like land mine removal and AIDS research.
That link lives on through her sons, who have adopted their mother’s more personal approach to monarchy and in the process reinvigorated the institution.
“She was the first royal who really took the public’s heart,” said Sandi McDonald, 55, standing outside an exhibit of the late princess’ dresses at Kensington Palace. “I think her sons are the same — the public just loves them.”
William and Harry are the most obvious reminders of Diana’s impact. They have spoken openly about their own mental health issues over losing their mother while so young and broken down taboos just as their mother did by embracing AIDS patients to ease fears about the disease. But the princess’ most far-reaching legacy is her popularization of the idea that celebrities can use their ties to millions of people they’ve never met to bring about change.
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