How Princess Diana Used the Power of Touch to Smash Stigmas

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Princess Diana Hug Photo (C) GETTY IMAGES
Princess Diana Hug Photo (C) GETTY IMAGES

How Princess Diana Used the Power of Touch to Smash Stigmas: ‘She Wasn’t a Gloves Person’

At the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1987 Princess Diana did something truly remarkable: She shook hands with an AIDS patient in London, a simple act that reverberated around the globe and smashed stigmas at a time when public fears about catching the disease were prevalent.

To her brother Charles, 9th Earl Spencer, it was not a surprise. “She was not really a gloves person,” he tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story.

Visiting New York in 1988, Diana headed to a children’s hospital in Harlem where she met staff including Dr. Margaret Heagarty Photo (C) PEOPLE
Visiting New York in 1988, Diana headed to a children’s hospital in Harlem where she met staff including Dr. Margaret Heagarty Photo (C) PEOPLE

“She was very real and very about human contact,” he says. “And what really mattered that day was to get across a very clear message that, ‘I’m going to touch this gentleman — and you can all exist in a community with people who are suffering, and we must help.”

Today her sons Prince William and Prince Harry have carried on the mantle of her work of breaking down barriers toward public health, with Harry recently taking an HIV test alongside Grammy winner Rihanna.

Sharon Smith, a manager at London’s Mildmay hospital recalls the many times Diana would come to visit patients – often in secret. “She’d ring up and say, ‘I’ll be along this evening, no cameras, it’s a private visit.’ She’d just come in jeans, jacket, baseball cap or from a dinner or a gala in all her finery and have a cup of tea to see the patients.”

The three strand pearl bracelet was originally worn by Princess Diana (pictured in Hong Kong in 1989) and was designed by British jeweller Nigel Milne
The three strand pearl bracelet was originally worn by Princess Diana (pictured in Hong Kong in 1989) and was designed by British jeweller Nigel Milne

Visiting New York in 1988, Diana headed to a children’s hospital in Harlem where she met staff including Dr. Margaret Heagarty.

“When she picked this little boy up, she said ‘Oh you’re as heavy as Harry!’” recalls Heagarty. “Here she was, this impeccably dressed woman who was beautiful beyond belief, holding an infant with AIDS.”

Another key cause later in Diana’s life was tackling the lethal landmines that littered war zones in Angola, Africa and the former Yugoslavia.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by News Group/REX/Shutterstock (187592c) Princess Diana Talking to AIDS patient Princess Diana visiting the AIDS Unit at the Middlesex Hospital, London, Britain - 1991 Princess Diana visiting the AIDS Unit at the Middlesex Hospital, London, Britain - 1991 Copyright (c) 1991 Rex Features. No use without permission.    187592c 187592c Rex Features
Mandatory Credit: Photo by News Group/REX/Shutterstock (187592c)
Princess Diana Talking to AIDS patient
Princess Diana visiting the AIDS Unit at the Middlesex Hospital, London, Britain – 1991 Princess Diana visiting the AIDS Unit at the Middlesex Hospital, London, Britain – 1991 Copyright (c) 1991 Rex Features. No use without permission.
187592c 187592c
Rex Features

Jerry White, CEO of Global Impact Strategies, and Ken Rutherford journeyed with Diana to Bosnia in August 1997 – her last humanitarian tour.

White appears alongside Spencer and other friends and confidants in a two-night television event from PEOPLE and ABC, The Story of Diana, airing on ABC Aug. 9 and 10 at 9 p.m. E.T.

ANGOLA - JANUARY 05:  Diana, Princess of Wales wearing protective body armour and a visor visits a landmine minefield being cleared by the charity Halo in Huambo, Angola  (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
ANGOLA – JANUARY 05: Diana, Princess of Wales wearing protective body armour and a visor visits a landmine minefield being cleared by the charity Halo in Huambo, Angola (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)

“I saw how she had this eye for suffering,” he recalls. “She used to say to me, ‘Jerry, you have to care enough to show up first and foremost.’ A father was showing his stump and his scars. But Diana would reach out, unintimidated, and touch. In another case, with a young 16-year-old girl who was missing a limb, she’d touch her necklace, just little gestures showing that Diana was paying attention.”

He adds, “I’ve had the privilege of working with leaders all around the world. I’ve never experienced this charismatic light energetically coming off of someone. And, actually, changing things.”

Source: PEOPLE COM

Tags: Princess Diana, Princess of Wales, Royals, AIDS, Princess Diana Golves, Yugoslavia, Angola, Africa, Harlem, landmines, Tackling, Diana’s Life, Patients, Hospital, New York, Television, Heagarty, Margaret Heagarty, Earl Spencer, Gloves Person, Brother Charles, Human Contact

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