August 23, 2017 at 4:25 pm EDT | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Remembering Diana
Princess Diana, gay news, Washington Blade

Princess Diana at the Leonardo Prize Ceremony in 1995. (Photo by Nick Parfijonov; via Wikimedia)

The world looks back this week at the legacy of Diana, Princess of Wales as next week (Aug. 31) marks the 20th anniversary of her untimely 1997 death at age 36.

Diana, who became an ‘80s icon for her status as part of the British royal family, was widely known and loved for her fashion sense and charitable work. She was the first wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, the eldest child and heir apparent of Queen Elizabeth II. Her sons, Princes William and Harry, have continued America’s obsession with the royal family.

“Princess Diana was a true champion of HIV awareness,” said Ian Green CEO of the Terrence Higgins Trust, a U.K. HIV/AIDS charity. “She brought passion to the cause and did things that were truly remarkable. She was the first person of profile who was prepared to shake hands and touch people with HIV, which at the time was seen as a risk.”

Princess Diana, gay news, Washington Blade

Princess Diana visits AIDS patients at the London Lighthouse. (Photo courtesy Terrence Higgins Trust)

He said in an e-mail that Diana’s practice of visiting AIDS patients at the London Lighthouse, the country’s first HIV Center to care for people with advanced HIV/AIDS, was “inspirational.”

Patrick Lyster-Todd, director of community engagement for London LGBT Community Pride, remembers meeting Diana when he worked as a volunteer in the residential unit at London Lighthouse in the early ‘90s.

“She had a habit of just turning up with no one else but a lady in waiting and her PPO (personal protection officer),” Lyster-Todd wrote in an e-mail to the Blade. “We’d have received little more than an hour’s notice with virtually no one outside the unit aware of who would be arriving. No press, no ceremony; she would be there for one purpose only.”

He said the time she spent with AIDS patients spoke volumes about her character.

“She would take time to go round to all the residents, sitting and chatting with them, trying to share their burden,” Lyster-Todd said. “She made them feel loved, special and wanted.”

Lyster-Todd said Diana had many gay male friends and relied on them when things became strained between she and Charles. She was also known to visit the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, a gay pub, in disguise. The Telegraph reports that she once visited with Queen singer Freddie Mercury and British comedian/show host Kenny Everett, who were both gay and later succumbed to AIDS.

Others criticized Diana for not leaving money to AIDS charities in her will.

“The caring Princess clearly wasn’t that caring after all,” said Peter Tatchell. a long-time LGBT activist who heads an eponymous organization dedicated to human rights. “She was very happy to do charity work for people with AIDS providing it didn’t cost her anything. When it came to parting with her own money, she chose to keep it in her already super-rich family rather than share it with those in need.”

Lyster-Todd said Diana’s death hit London’s gay community hard. He said watching her funeral procession pass about 25 feet in front of him was sobering.

“It remains one of the saddest moment in my life,” Lyster-Todd said. “Within London’s LGBT community, it felt that we had been robbed of not just a confidante and a close friend, but someone who also fully understood us and loved us unreservedly for who we are.”

Princess Diana on TV

A spate of TV projects remember “the people’s princess” on the 20th anniversary of her untimely death. Several have already aired but are available to watch on In Demand.

Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy” aired on HBO in the U.S. and finds Princes William and Harry remembering their mother. It’s billed as being the first time the two have spoken at length about Diana as a mother.

Diana — Her Story” is on PBS and features videotapes made by Diana’s speech coach Peter Settelen.

Diana: in Her Own Words” is a National Geographic special that features less well-known images of Diana tracked down by Tom Jennings of 1895 Films.

ABC news earlier this month aired “The Last 100 Days of Diana” hosted by Martin Bashir.

NBC News has aired “The Life and Death of Princess Diana: a Dateline Investigation” and “The Story of Diana” is a two-night documentary mini-series on ABC.

Expected in 2018 is “Princess Diana: Her Life, Her Death, the Truth” from the “48 Hours” team to be hosted by Gayle King and season two of FX’s “Feud,” which is dedicated to Charles and Diana.

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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