Princess Diana—activist, fashion icon and model mother—was a tireless advocate for those who needed her most. Fueled by the desire to give those wounded and physically broken by land mines a voice, Diana brought to light the human side of the damages the devices inflicted.
“The only early glimmer of what would become her passion—the things she did for others—was a trademark gesture,” wrote Newsweek’s Tom Masland in 1997. “In place of the regal wave, she lowered her arm and began to shake hands with strangers.” She did more than shake hands in that year’s trip to Angola to bring awareness to the human toll land mines were taking: She sat with children and cuddled, caressed wounds and shared soft smiles. “Sometimes when you’ve been traumatized to the extent that these people that I have met…the only thing you can hang on to is your own dignity. Everything else can be taken away, but not that.”
Even she was shocked by what she saw. “I’d read the statistics that Angola has the highest percentage of amputees anywhere in the world. That one person in every 333 had lost a limb, most of them through land mine explosions. But that hadn’t prepared me for reality.” Di visited a prosthesis clinic in Huambo where, at the time, 100 new prostheses were ﬁtted a month. That was just one of only ﬁve facilities in the whole country. While there, she sat with a 13-year-old girl who’d lost her leg up to her hip while going to get groceries with her mother, and who had been waiting three years for a prosthesis. The cameras were there too, and not just the ones she’d brought with her from the BBC. Paparazzi clamored, enough so that several times she batted them out of the faces of the patients she was spending one-on-one time with. “I have all this media interest, so let’s take it somewhere where they can be positive and embrace a situation which is distressing like this,” she averred, face to her own cameras. “She had a really good touch with the patients,” Carl Hefti, a Red Cross orthopedic technician, told CNN. “She was really involved with things. Sometimes, she was nearly crying. It was beautiful.” The Red Cross staff also recalled how the Princess “reached out to touch the stumps of their limbs in a rare gesture of compassion—a gesture not lost on the victims,” continued the story. “All my friends still ask me, ‘You saw Princess Diana—what is she like?’” said Lissette Dominga, who lost a limb in a mine accident. “I tell them she was so friendly, so down to earth.”
The next day, Diana walked the streets of Kuito, thought to be the most mined city in the world at the time. She even went so far as to don a riot helmet and flak jacket and follow Halo Trust’s Paul Heslop into the fields nearby to explode some mines—then stepped off camera to let the cloud of menacing black smoke fill the screen. After filming stopped, Diana didn’t. The fight to ban anti-personnel land mines became a personal crusade, one that would fill the last year of her life.