Britain’s Prince William and Prince Harry unveiled a statue to their late mother Princess Diana in a ceremony Thursday at London’s Kensington Palace, on what would have been her 60th birthday. It’s the first time the brothers have met each other since the funeral of their grandfather, Prince Philip, in April.
Prince Harry flew to London last week from the United States, where he moved with his American wife, Meghan Markle, and their son Archie, after quitting royal duties last year. Meghan gave birth to a daughter, Lilibet Diana, last month.
William, who is 39, and Harry, 36, unveiled the statue in a ceremony in the sunken gardens of Kensington Palace, Princess Diana’s London home. They were joined by a small group of guests, including Diana’s brother Charles Spencer and the sculptor, Ian Rank-Broadley.
The two brothers did not speak publicly at the ceremony. In a statement they said, “Today, on what would have been our mother's 60th birthday, we remember her love, strength and character — qualities that made her a force for good around the world, changing countless lives for the better.”
“Every day, we wish she were still with us, and our hope is that this statue will be seen forever as a symbol of her life and her legacy.”
The statue depicts Diana surrounded by three children, which Kensington Palace said represented “the universality and generational impact” of her work.
The location of the statue in the sunken gardens of Kensington Palace is poignant, says royal author Richard Fitzwilliams. “She found it a particularly peaceful spot, so this particular place has been chosen as one that she would have approved of.”
Britain took Princess Diana into their hearts after her marriage to Prince Charles in 1981, says Penny Junor, a biographer of the royal family.
“Diana was the fairy tale princess, you know, when she married Charles, the whole country bought into the fairy tale. She was this beautiful young girl marrying her prince and she was an extraordinary woman. She was vulnerable in a way that members of the royal family never had been vulnerable before. We hadn't seen it. She touched people's hearts,” Junor told Reuters.
“She went about her royal work in a very different way. She would sit on a hospital bed and take people's hands in hers, whereas the traditional way of visiting a hospital would be, you know, probably gloved hands and certainly not sitting down on a bed but standing and talking. She just brought a very personal touch and people loved that,” Junor added.
The unconditional love and affection she showed for her sons broke royal traditions – but touched the hearts of millions around the world. She combined motherhood with glamour, traditional royal duties with a dedication to charity.
“I do think it’s important that there be a proper tribute to Princess Diana,” royal author Fitzwilliams told VOA. “She had a truly extraordinary life, and indeed her reaching out to AIDS sufferers and also her campaign against landmines are titanic achievements. If you consider the way also that the British people took her so much to their hearts and the outpouring of grief when she tragically died.”
“I mean there was no question that she was someone who was deeply personally unhappy and a very complex individual but achieved so much in a very, very short life,” said Fitzwilliams.
Diana and Prince Charles divorced in 1996. She died in a Paris car crash a year later, which also killed her fiancé, Dodi Al Fayed.
Britain, a nation once famed for its reserve and restraint, saw an outpouring of public emotion. At the funeral, William and Harry were made to walk behind the coffin in royal tradition – an experience that Harry says left deep mental scars, says Fitzwilliams.
“I think it was devastating for both of them but there’s no doubt that Harry was affected — as he’s spoken so publicly to help others as well who suffered with their mental health — for some 20 years.”
Speaking in May to U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey on the Apple TV+ series The Me You Can't See, Prince Harry described the royal family's unwillingness to talk about his mother’s death and how he had been willing to turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with the pain of losing her.
Twenty-four years on from Diana’s death, the royal family is engulfed in a new crisis. William and Harry and their wives, Kate and Meghan, once dubbed the fab four and seen as the youthful future of the institution, have fallen out very publicly.
In a separate interview with Winfrey, broadcast in March, Harry and Meghan — whose mother is Black — said a member of the royal family had questioned the color of their son’s skin. They spoke of their deep unhappiness in the royal household.
There have been numerous claims that Meghan was accused of bullying her staff, which she has denied.
Diana’s two sons now rarely speak to each other, said biographer Junor.
“I think it's incredibly sad that this statue was a joint project to celebrate the life of their mother that they both adored and they both miss and it's turning instead into — the eyes of the world will be looking at those two boys to see what the state of their relationship is,” she told Reuters.
Outside Kensington Palace Thursday, royal fans expressed their hopes for the family.
“I'm so excited about seeing the statue,” said Anne Daley, a royal fan who had travelled from Wales. “And I do hope that William and Harry can put (aside) their differences ... I squabble with my sister, but, you know, whatever you say, you're still flesh and blood.”
Royal analysts say William and Harry are now on very different paths.
For a brief moment Thursday, in the grounds of their childhood home, they were able to reflect together on an upbringing filled with a mother’s love for her boys; childhoods transformed through tragedy, played out in the public eye.
This report includes information from Reuters.