Princess Diana's aura still captivates 20 years on

SPH Brightcove Video
Twenty years on, the world prepares to remember Princess Diana who died at the age of 36 on Aug 31, 1997 in Paris. Video footage of the day before and hours before the fatal car crash in a Paris tunnel is relived.
A picture of late Princess Diana is displayed at the bottom of the Liberty Flame monument at the Place de l'Alma, above the underpass where Diana Princess of Wales, was killed in a car accident on August 31, 1997.

LONDON (AFP) - Candles and flowers are already building up at the gates of Princess Diana's former London residence to mark 20 years since her death, which unleashed an unprecedented outpouring of grief in Britain.

"She was this ray of light in a fairly grey world," Prince William said of his mother Diana, princess of Wales, whose death two decades ago shocked the world.

"I still feel that love, I still feel that warmth 20 years on," her eldest son said in a new documentary marking the anniversary on Thursday (Aug 31). "If I can be even a fraction of what she was, I'll be proud."

The life of Diana - a shy, teenage aristocrat who suddenly became the world's most famous woman - and her tragic death at 36 still captivates millions across the globe.

Two decades on, her sons William and Prince Harry only now feel able to talk publicly about her death, a seismic event which continues to resonate in the monarchy and British society.

Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris in the early hours of Aug 31, 1997, along with Dodi Fayed, her wealthy Egyptian film producer boyfriend of two months, and a drink-impaired, speeding driver Henri Paul, who was trying to evade paparazzi.

The 10th anniversary of her death was marked with a memorial service and a charity concert at Wembley Stadium in London.

The passing of another decade has allowed for greater perspective, and this anniversary has been more reflective, marked by Prince William, 35, and Prince Harry, 32, opening up about their mother's life, and death.

No public events are planned for Thursday, but on Wednesday, the brothers will walk around the garden which has been especially created in her memory at Kensington Palace, her London home.

They will meet with representatives from charities she supported.


Candles, bouquets of flowers and pictures from well-wishers are already building up at the palace gates, while hardcore Diana fans have turned up with a cake bearing her picture.

But the scene is nothing like the sea of flowers laid in the week between her death and her funeral: an outpouring of national grief that commentators are still grappling with.

Prince William and Prince Harry have spoken of struggling to comprehend the "alien" tide of public mourning from people who did not know their mother, at a time when they, aged 15 and 12, could not process their loss.

Britain, the nation of the stiff upper lip, was now wailing and hurling flowers at a hearse.

A public that had lapped up every twist and turn in the life of their fairytale princess was crying for their lost icon, killed in the chase for the next day's pictures.

Princess Diana married Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, in 1981, but their marriage collapsed under the strains of public duty and their incompatibility.

The monarchy's shining star, now a fashion icon, humanitarian and self-styled "queen of hearts", found herself cast out of the royal family in the 1996 divorce she did not want but had made inevitable with an unprecedented and explosive television interview.

With all her mistakes and frailties played out in public, Britons felt wrapped up in Diana's life.

A testament to her enduring impact, British newspapers have been filled this month with special pull-outs and magazine articles covering all facets of Diana's life.

The complexity in Diana's character still fascinates.

Her strange combination of fragility and steel, her need for loving attention and an ability to make those she met feel loved.

She also had a caring nature mixed with a brutal vengeful streak and the air of being an ordinary girl but was actually a blue-blood aristocrat.


Prince William has said he tells his children, Prince George, four, and Princess Charlotte, two, about the Granny Diana they will never meet.

Perhaps her greatest legacy is her two sons.

"When you have something so traumatic as the death of your mother when you're 15, it will either make or break you," Prince William said in the "Diana, 7 Days" BBC documentary. "And I wouldn't let it break me. I wanted it to make me. I wanted her to be proud of the person I would become."

Prince Harry added: "We will miss our mother and I wonder every single day what it would be like having her around."

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