15 Major Ways Princess Diana Changed the Royal Family
When 20-year-old Lady Diana Spencer married into the royal family in 1981, there was much about the institution that had remained unchanged for decades, even centuries. As she began to feel her way through royal life, Diana's fresh, informal, and progressive style initially sent shock waves through the corridors of the palaces, but the changes she brought about have helped the family evolve with the times — and her children and grandchildren continue to benefit to this day. See 15 major ways Diana changed the royal family.
Meet and Mingle
On public engagements, it had always been customary for the royal family to process through the crowds without stopping, until the queen introduced the royal walkabout on a tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1970. It was Princess Diana, however, who took things to another level as she waded into crowds with her hand outstretched, welcoming hugs and crouching down on the floor to chat with children to create a feeling of intimacy and empathy. One of the many traditions that William and Harry have inherited from their mother is this trait, often revealing little tidbits of information about their family or personal lives along the way.
Public Displays of Affection
Until Diana came along, the royal family had always been very proper in public. There was no holding hands, no kissing, and no hugging — so Diana's tactile nature tore up the rulebook on protocol, and her sons appreciate that still now. In 2017, Harry recalled in a documentary to mark the 20th anniversary of Diana's passing, "She would just engulf you and squeeze you as tight as possible. And being as short as I was then, there was no escape, you were there and you were there for as long as she wanted to hold you. Even talking about it now I can feel the hugs that she used to give us."
While Harry has been known to offer hugs as he's greeting young fans, William is always on hand for a kiss and a cuddle with his children.
Royal tours used to be months long, and children would be left at home with nannies and governesses, but when Charles and Diana were set to tour Australia and New Zealand in 1983, there was never any question that 10-month-old Prince William would go with them. Now William and Kate have very much followed suit, taking their young children with them to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Poland, and Germany. Harry and Meghan also brought baby Archie with them during their Southern Africa tour.
Come Fly With Me
It is tradition that those in direct succession to the throne do not take the same flight together, just in case the worst happens and two heirs are lost. However, when William and Harry were young, Diana insisted that she and Charles travel with their sons in order to have as normal a family experience as possible. Now when William and Kate fly, they are accompanied by their children.
Customarily, royal babies were always born at home — the queen came into the world at her grandparents' house at 17 Bruton St. in London, and Prince Charles was born in Buckingham Palace — however, Diana wanted to bring the antiquated birthing experience up to date, and she delivered both of her children in a hospital. William became the first future British monarch to be born in a hospital when he was delivered at St. Mary's on June 21, 1982. His three children — George, Charlotte, and Louis — were born there, too. Meanwhile, Harry's son, Archie, was born at the private Portland Hospital in Westminster, England.
Members of the royal family had always been educated behind palace walls with a governess, and although Prince Charles went to school at the age of 7, at Diana's insistence, Prince William was the first heir to the throne to be in the public education system right from the beginning. The young prince was 3 when he started at Mrs. Mynor's nursery in 1985, and his son, George, followed in his footsteps when he started at Westacre Montessori School at age 2 and a half in 2016. Princess Charlotte followed suit when she attended Thomas's London Day School in 2019.
Out and About
Diana was determined from the beginning that her sons wouldn't be hidden away in palaces and castles and pushed for them to have as many everyday experiences as possible so that they wouldn't feel isolated and out of touch as they grew up. She would take them on the bus and the subway and to candy stores and burger joints. William and Harry still benefit from this now, as they slip subtly into movie theaters, music festivals, local pubs, high street stores, fast food restaurants, and gigs.
Rough and Tumble
There was no neatly combed hair or polished shoes when the princess and her sons were on their downtime. Diana made sure her boys were able to have the same kind of fun days out as their friends, taking them to theme parks, public swimming pools, and the beach. Similarly, Prince George has been spotted on trips to a local playground, Santa's grotto, and on the teacup ride at London's Winter Wonderland.
Breaking Down Barriers
The age-old formal relationship between employer and employee was also blurred by the princess. Boundaries were broken when Diana encouraged William and Harry to wander in and out of royal kitchens, chat with the staff, and get involved with the cooking if they fancied helping out. The princess was friendly with many of her employees (including her butler, Paul Burrell, pictured), and William and Harry often played with the children of her staff. Mixing with all sorts of people meant that from an early age the two princes were aware of life beyond their tight-knit royal circle.
Diana the Clown
All memories of staid royal photocalls were forgotten when Diana decided to add a little humor to proceedings. Pictures of her clowning about in Klosters with Sarah Ferguson are reminiscent of the pictures of William and Kate smashing snow in each other's faces on their family ski trip in 2016.
Reach Out and Touch
Back in the 1980s, when the world was hearing about HIV and AIDS for the first time and scaremongering meant there was a deeply damaging stigma around the disease, Diana led by example and showed her love and compassion for sufferers by holding their hands and hugging them close. She taught her sons to follow suit, and now they approach people in the same tactile vein, while Harry continues in his mother's footsteps in supporting HIV/AIDS sufferers with his charity Sentebale.
When Diana threw her weight behind the campaign to eradicate landmines, she didn't just lend her voice to the issue — she also knew the importance of her image and how it was presented. It's something her sons have inherited, and pictures of the princes at their engagements are now splashed across websites and front pages whenever they make an appearance.
The queen has always been famously tight-lipped when it comes to her private life, and although she received criticism for initially staying quiet after the death of Diana, for the most part it has set her in good stead. However, Charles and Diana were the next generation, and William and Harry are another, and these days people respond more to those who wear their heart on their sleeve. Diana speaking openly about the breakdown of her marriage meant that people could identify with her, and now when William and Harry speak of their struggles with bereavement and mental health issues, it's an important step further along the path that the princess started upon.
The royal family have long been supporters of hundreds of charities, but it was Diana who popularized not just attending events as a patron but also essentially directly asking for money. She did it with a well-publicized auction of some of her most iconic dresses back in 1997. Now, William and Harry occasionally attend charity events purely to raise money for their favorite causes, as seen when William and Kate bolted a trip to LA onto their Canadian tour in 2011 and when Harry went to Brazil following his Caribbean tour in 2012.
As soon as it became public knowledge that Prince Charles was dating Lady Diana Spencer, public appetite for the young aristocrat was insatiable, and the paparazzi frequently overstepped the mark when it came to their pursuit of her. They were eventually found to be a contributing factor in her death, and the terrible event forever changed the relationship between the press and the royal family.
Reporters and photographers were brought closer, and agreements were made between the palace and the British press in order to decrease the demand for paparazzi pictures obtained in questionable circumstances. The agreements are still in place to this day.
Throughout the course of his relationship and marriage to Meghan Markle, Harry has also been very outspoken about the unfair treatment his wife has received from the British press. In 2019, he took legal action by filing a claim against British tabloid company Associated Newspapers, which includes Mail on Sunday.