Happy Birthday Princess Diana: 6 Times Her Charity Work Changed the World
Although Princess Diana is known as a royal style icon, her time in the public eye was not merely devoted to setting fashion trends — she was also a prominent philanthropist. Princess Diana’s charity work raised awareness of a number of essential humanitarian issues, from homelessness to AIDS.
Diana shifted the perspective many had of British royalty — namely that the entire monarchy was inaccessible and stuffy. The Princess announced her intentions to get in touch with the common people (she became known as the “People’s Princess”) and was at one point the patron of over 100 charities. She spent time visiting hospitals, schools, and fundraising galas, famous for stopping to chat with strangers and listening intently to their stories.
While Diana’s charity work allowed her to highlight global causes, the Princess of Wales still found time to devote to her own family — she gave her sons as “normal” a childhood as they could’ve hoped for — and 25 years after her death, Princes William and Harry continue to support their mother’s legacy as patrons of several of the charities she once helmed.
Diana would have been 61 today. In honor of her birthday, we’ve collected six examples of her prodigious charity work.
1) She worked to ban landmines.
Princess Diana became an anti-landmine activist after visiting Angola in 1997. On her trip — filmed by the BBC for a documentary called Heart of the Matter — Diana was photographed walking through a recently cleared minefield, despite the risks to her own safety. She told the documentary crew that in Angola, one in every 333 people had lost a limb, most of them due to landmine explosions. James Cowan, the CEO of The HALO Trust — a mine-removal charity that cleared the minefield Diana walked through — credits the Princess with the success of the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty, an international treaty signed by 122 countries after her death that prohibits the use of landmines. Prince Harry is now patron of The HALO Trust, and has called for the world to become free of the weapons by 2025.
2) She regularly visited the homeless.
In 1992 Diana became patron of Centrepoint, a UK charity that aims to get young and homeless people off the streets. She took both of her sons to the charity’s shelters in an effort to teach them how less fortunate people lived — and William went on to become Centrepoint patron himself when he was 23. He told The Telegraph, “My mother introduced that sort of area to me a long time ago. It was a real eye-opener and I am very glad she did. It has been something I have held close to me for a long time.”
3) She reached out to children in need.
In addition to taking an interest in homeless youth, Diana was patron of both The Royal Marsden Hospital, known for treating childhood cancers, and Great Ormand Street Hospital for Children. Throughout her lifetime, she was frequently photographed interacting tenderly with kids. In describing her work with the Royal Brompton Hospital of London, Diana said “I make the trips at least three times a week, and spend up to four hours at a time with patients holding their hands and talking to them. Some of them will live and some will die, but they all need to be loved while they are here.”
4) She educated people about HIV and AIDS.
When the AIDS epidemic hit the world in the mid-80s, people were terrified and (mistakenly) believed the virus could be transmitted via a simple handshake. In 1987, Diana opened England’s first AIDS ward in London, and was photographed shaking hands with HIV-positive patients (without gloves). In doing so, she became the first celebrity to publicly oppose the stigma of the virus and correct the assumption that it could be passed by mere touch. Following her death, Gavin Hart of the National AIDS Trust told the BBC, “In our opinion, Diana was the foremost ambassador for AIDS awareness on the planet and no one can fill her shoes in terms of the work she did.”
Prince Harry went on to undergo a test for HIV live on Facebook in 2016, further combating the stigma surrounding the disease. This act reportedly led to a huge surge in people ordering at-home HIV-testing kits.
5) She raised awareness about leprosy.
Similar to her efforts with AIDS, Diana worked to dispel the myth that leprosy was a disease spread by touch. She became patron of Leprosy Mission and visited hospitals in India, Nepal, and Zimbabwe to meet infected patients, where she was once again filmed touching and interacting with them. “It has always been my concern to touch people with leprosy, trying to show in a simple action that they are not reviled, nor are we repulsed,” the princess said of the disease.
6) She had a long-lasting charitable influence on others.
While Diana was at one point linked to over 100 charities, she cut ties with many in order to lead a more private life following her difficult divorce from Princes Charles in 1996. She remained the patron of six up until her death in 1997. The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund was set up in response to her passing, and public donations amounting to more than $100 million poured in. The Fund closed in 2012, but not before awarding 727 grants to 471 organizations and spending over $145 million on charitable causes (according to the Fund itself). In March 2013, The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry took control of the Diana Fund in order to safeguard any future income (though the Fund has stopped actively fundraising, it still sees some income through occasional donations).