The Princess who foreshadowed a bright future for the British Disease
When Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom passed away in 2022 and we saw news reports and images of grief throughout the United Kingdom, many of us may have been reminded of 25 years ago. It was the funeral of Diana, the former Princess.
Kensington Palace, where she lived with then Prince Charles, and other palaces and castles associated with Diana and the royal family were covered with countless offerings of flowers from the public.
On the other hand, Queen Elizabeth, who had been silent about Diana, considering her a civilian who had left the royal family after her divorce from the Crown Prince, was moved by the public’s deep condolences and had to take the unusual step of delivering her eulogy live on television. For this reason, this floral tribute has been called the Floral Revolution.
Why was Diana so loved by the British people not only when she was Crown Princess, but also after she left the royal family, and why is she still so loved today? The reason can be discovered by tracing the footsteps of one woman, Diana herself.
After World War II, the United Kingdom focused on welfare policies to rebuild the country. In the 1970s, however, society as a whole became weary of the burden of sustaining the generous welfare programs, and the sense of competitiveness faded away, leading to a loss of vitality and motivation among the people, a phenomenon known as the British Disease.
In 1979, the Thatcher administration came to power with the hope of transforming such a society.
The “self-responsibility,” “freedom,” and “choice” that formed the basis of her neoliberal economic policies were very innovative ideas at the time. For the people of the United Kingdom, change was being driven by an ideology that would transform their traditional outlook on life.
In 1981, two years after the birth of the Thatcher administration, Diana married Prince Charles.
At that time, Prince Charles was attracting attention as the most handsome man in the world, and there were rumors of him with various women, but Diana’s name was not among them. To the public, it must have felt like a princess in a fairy tale had truly appeared unexpectedly.
The reception was extraordinary, and the Diana fever that ensued generated tremendous economic benefits.
On the other hand, if we look at the situation from a calm perspective, there may have been a variety of reasons behind Diana’s sudden selection as Crown Princess.
First, her appearance. With her bright blonde hair, youthful, innocent expression, boyish body, and sometimes sexy, yet classy and elegant features, Diana was the perfect person to portray a bright image for the future of the United Kingdom.
Diana’s family of birth was the Spencer family, an aristocratic family that was even more prestigious than the royal family.
The current British royal family is descended from the Duke of Hanover in Germany. In 1917, during World War I, Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather, George V, changed the name to the more “British” Windsor, and Queen Elizabeth II succeeded him.
In other words, the royal family, which until then had not had so many problems with being Germanic, became more British as it became the symbol of British national unity and, in a sense, British identity.
The young and beautiful Princess Diana, who suddenly appeared in the uncertain and stagnant British society around the time when the Thatcher administration started, was a symbol of a future full of hope, and at the same time, her lineage as a British aristocrat seemed to reaffirm the proud traditions and history of the United Kingdom.
Diana acted according to her own judgment and choice
However, while Diana may have looked an idol and a pretty doll, she acted in ways that were contrary to this image.
For example, she would break traditional royal taboos and even reveal her feelings by putting out her life history. In fact, she once said, “I do not follow a rule book. I follow my heart, not my head.”
So was she a selfish person who ignored traditions and rules? She was respectful of royal traditions, and she would actively engage in charitable activities.
In the United Kingdom, the aristocracy and other upper classes have traditionally been involved in charitable activities. During the Thatcher era, under the cause of “freedom” and “choice,” people in need due to illness or poverty were relegated to the margins of society, and a tendency to abandon them spread. Diana reached out to such people.
In fact, in England, there is the legend of the “royal touch” by which those who are directly touched by the king are cured of their illness. However, no one in the modern royal family has ever taken off their gloves and touched a patient with their bare hands.
However, Diana visited AIDS and leprosy patients and poor elderly people, sometimes even late at night, and gave them words of encouragement and compassion as she touched them with bare hands. The people there were not only surprised and delighted, but also reminded by her of the legendary kings who had healing powers.
There are many such examples of Diana. Diana’s behavior was often described as breaking old authoritative conventions and rules, while at the same time reaffirming the good old traditions of the British.
These seemingly contradictory actions may have been consistent in Diana’s mind, in the sense that she was free to do things according to her own judgment and choice, rather than being bound by rules or following someone else’s instructions.
In fact, Diana’s way of life was different from that of conservative women who followed gender norms, as well as from the women’s liberation movement and feminist activism that flourished at the time. Rather, it is a way of life created by her own intuition.
On the one hand, she was a healthy wife and mother who endured her husband’s infidelity and protected her children. She was a wife who could not disobey her mother-in-law’s instructions and was forced to divorce her husband, and even so, she had romance after the divorce.
Shortly before her death, she stood in the minefields of Angola, where landmines are buried, to advocate for a ban on landmines. Her courage and unwavering strength of mind as she went step by step astounded the world.
Diana’s activities led the United Kingdom, which had been unmoved by the theory and logic of a landmine ban, to finally ratify the International Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines. In addition, the activists who had continued to call for a ban on landmines were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997.
Princess Diana, who could be said to have been born during the Thatcher administration and at the behest of the royal family, had, however, grown into a princess who captivated the public far beyond their intentions.
Her elusive and mysterious charm, which was also the source of her endearing power, attracted people’s sympathy and therefore exerted a great influence.
Conversely, through Diana’s activities and actions, issues of prejudice and discrimination related to diseases such as AIDS, issues such as poverty, homeless, self-harm and eating disorders, and war were made vividly visible. Diana had already faced these issues herself which all of us face.
Even today, a final evaluation of Diana has not been determined, and there are negative evaluations. However, the fact that she was the catalyst for bringing these issues into the spotlight is highly commendable.
What can be seen by digging deeper into Diana’s life
Data shows that in the four weeks following Diana’s death, the number of suicides among white women in the United Kingdom rose.
Of course, the loss of Diana was in the background, but what this data suggests is that Diana, who represented the image of a woman who made free choices and lived a dashing life, died unexpectedly in a car accident, making them keenly aware of the price of self-responsibility. This may have been one of the reasons for the suicides.
In fact, there are reports that when people talk about the royal family, they are not talking about the royal family itself, but about themselves.
This is due to the fact that the royal family has branded itself as an exemplary family in order to increase its closeness with the people and be a symbol of national unity. When commenting on their personalities, words and actions, the narrator is actually expressing his or her own morals and values through the filter of the royal family.
When we talk about Diana, we are also talking about the Diana who embodies our own values. That is why the loss has been so great, and one might also say that a sort of Floral Revolution has also taken place.
It is a rare person who, despite being chased by the paparazzi and written about in so many different ways, continued to fascinate people and, through the way she lived her life, raised people’s awareness of various issues in society.
Some have pointed out that this is because Diana was a member of the royal family, whose mission was to act selflessly, and that is precisely the noblesse oblige she was imbued with. But why do we still feel a free spirit in Diana?
I believe that digging deeper into the life of such a person, rather than merely looking at superficial information, may provide hints for us to consider how we should live our lives, how we should relate to things, and how our society should be.
* The information contained herein is current as of March 2023.
* The contents of articles on Meiji.net are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.
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