LOUD WHISPERS: Princess Diana’s True Legacy

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When Princess Diana Spencer died on August 31st 1997, there were two events that broke the hearts of millions watching reports of the demise of ‘the People’s Princess’. The first was the sight of her two sons, Princes William and Harry being driven to church early on September 1st, the Sunday morning after the death of their mother in a car crash in Paris. Diana’s body had not arrived back in England yet, but her two sons were forced to go to church in order not to break the routine of the royal family. People wondered why the two boys could not have been left at home to be comforted and counselled through the tragedy. That is what ‘normal’ families do. Unfortunately, the Princes were not ‘normal’, they were the heirs to the House of Windsor.  The middle-upper class English are famous for their ‘stiff upper lip’, which entails a fair amount of condescension and disdain for public displays of emotion. For the royals who are in a totally different social class altogether, laughing too hard, crying, hugging and other such displays in public are frowned upon. The ride to the church that morning was painful for the world to see, but for the young princes in question, it was a part of their royal training. The second heartbreaking scene was the sight of the two young boys walking stoically behind their mother’s coffin at her funeral, flanking their father Prince Charles. Princess Diana always spoke about bringing up her children to be ‘normal’ even though the circumstances of their birth made this a bit of an oxymoron – ‘royal’ and ‘normal’ do not work well together. Queen Elizabeth was in Balmoral Castle in Scotland when Diana’s death was announced, so she decided to stay there in the days following the death of the Princess. The Queen said nothing and made no appearances for five days. Even though the Queen and her family were obviously trying to grieve in private, this came across as insensitive and unfeeling to the general public and it resulted in a huge backlash. This forced the Queen out of Balmoral and down to London where she came face to face with the impact of Diana’s death on her citizens. That seemed to be the moment when the Royal Family discovered that even though they represented centuries of tradition and stability, they could be swept away by public opinion if they were deemed to be too irrelevant for a modern era.

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Years after the death of Princess Diana, her wish for her young princes seems to have come true. Against all odds, William and Harry have turned out to be ‘normal’ young men. William married a ‘girl next door’, Kate Middleton, and they have three cute children. On Saturday, the world watched Prince Harry do the almost impossible. He married a beautiful, bi-racial, divorced American television star in a ceremony that was moving and very different from the conservative traditions of the British monarchy. Even though people are silent on whether this would have been possible for Prince William who is second in line to the throne as opposed to Prince Harry who is now sixth in line, it is refreshing to note how times have changed. The history of modern royals is replete with love stories gone sour, with royal duty taking precedence over romantic love. Queen Elizabeth’s late sister Princess Margaret was prevented from marrying the love of her life. Prince Charles did not marry Camilla Parker Bowles when he was young because she would have been ‘unsuitable’. Prince Andrew was once in love with a model called Koo Stark, but the relationship was doomed because she was deemed unfit to be a royal bride. The same fate would have befallen Harry and Meghan Markle twenty years ago. On Saturday May 19th, the world watched as a nervous groom waited for his bride to arrive, and when she did he shed tears of joy. This was not a Prince waiting for his Princess. It was simply a young man beholding the love of his life and unashamed to let the world know how he felt. In the times that we live in, full of ugliness, unpleasantness and strife, I took a great deal of delight in watching the proceedings of the royal wedding. For me it symbolizes what happens when we dare to work, dream and hope for a better world. Meghan’s marriage to Prince Harry will not make racism or classism go away in Britain. However, what we saw on Saturday was evidence that with time, new ways of seeing the world are possible. The wedding service featured Reverend Michael Curry, a black preacher from the US who was described as ‘fiery’. When the predominantly white media describe someone as ‘fiery’ the underlying message is that the person is saying something that is hard to hear. Doria Ragland, Meghan’s mother had dreadlocks. At a royal wedding! Meghan’s mother was described as ‘elegant and composed’, words that would hardly be used to describe Kate Middleton’s mother. Why? The statement really means, ‘elegant and composed for a black woman’. There was an all-black choir singing the lovely song ‘Stand by me’, directed by a black woman. These were things never seen before at any royal wedding, an indication that even though change happens slowly, it does happen.

Who would have thought twenty years ago that there would be a black President of the United States? How would a black British Princess have been possible? Years ago, during the times when powerful men such as Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein ruled the entertainment business, aspiring young actresses were abused and exploited with impunity. Now there is the #Metoo Movement which, like a tsunami, has swept powerful sexual predators away. As a young girl at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) I and my peers were made to understand that lecturers demanding certain favours for marks was normal, part of their ‘perks of office’. A culture of silence and impunity which has reigned for years is now being challenged, and hopefully current or potential predators now know that they will be held accountable.

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As I sat there watching the royal wedding, my feeling of excitement grew. It is hard not to be cynical after years of advocating for social change, and experience has shown that every ‘victory’ either comes with an expensive price tag or is all too fleeting. Yet, every now and then, we see the beauty of possibility. The images of two shattered boys walking behind the coffin of their mother, watched by millions around the world have now been replaced with new ones. Even though they are the inheritors of so much power and privilege, the Princes are still able to exude a fair amount of normalcy, expressed through a desire to dream of a more inclusive world. I have been irritated by the sexist and racist references to the Harry and Meghan union as one in which the fairy tale Prince charming does a commoner a favour by marrying her and raising her status. Sadly, that is the world we still live in. The fact that a smart, independent, American television star, with her own platform and voice, agreed to marry into a historically dysfunctional family where her voice and freedom might be gone forever seems to many a fair exchange for a life of status and privilege. I am very certain that Meghan thought long and hard about the choice she was making, and apart from her love for her Prince Charming, the desire to create a new world together would have been a huge incentive. For Harry, he skipped many ‘obvious’ choices to marry someone ‘different’. This is true love, but it is also a deliberate choice, drawing a line in the sand to make a statement of the kind of world the young royals want to be a part of.  I believe this is Diana’s true legacy. Diana wanted her sons to grow up in a different world, one in which they saw and treated others with dignity and respect, and to use their royal status to influence the world positively. I hope that many more in the world will take this lesson to heart and start to see the world differently from their perches of privilege. For those so steeply invested in traditions of exclusion that add no value, this is another case study in how change is possible. Every reason to deny women opportunities because of their sex, every excuse to marginalize black people and ignore the needs of poor people will one day be truly gone. It will not happen today or tomorrow, but I am assured that it will happen. Congratulations to Harry and Meghan. I wish them a lifetime of happiness and may all their dreams and those who think like them come true.

 

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

 

 

 

 

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8 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: Princess Diana’s True Legacy

  1. Olakunle Olajide May 23, 2018 at 7:41 am

    Spot on ma’am.
    Great and critical analysis on the Royal Wedding.
    The Prince and the new Princess took a decision and they followed it through irrespective of the circumstances or situation. They were dogged and at the same time wise in their approach.

    I really wish them a happy married life knowing fully well that their resolve would be tested but i trust they will always win because the wedding points to that.

    Reply
  2. Dom Dom May 24, 2018 at 6:03 am

    The world is changing and this is a very apparent testament to that. A lot has changed, changing and will still change but this shows that some things in this life are moving in the right way, and the barrier of social, racial, religious and ethical classes can still very well become a thing of the past. Above all, I wish them a very happy married life

    Reply
  3. Femi Diipo May 24, 2018 at 6:10 am

    I’ve hardly followed this story due to my latest engagements and schedules. However, Your relevance, awareness, appreciation and analysis of current events will always be an inspiration for me ma’am and many times being part of this platform has given me the opportunity to catch up and understand events around the world I may totally I’ve missed out on.
    I pray their marriage bring even more happiness and hope for them as their wedding has brought the rest of the world.

    Reply
  4. DSEED May 24, 2018 at 9:55 am

    This is what we should referred to has breaking of barriers. It is a great privilege to lay down a legacy and see it accomplished. Princess Diana legacy didn’t go down into the grave with her. While Living let’s stand for something significant to our world, so that in our absential it will be spoken of. Happy married life to the Royal couple.

    Reply
  5. Adebukola Daniels May 25, 2018 at 1:44 am

    Sincerely, i just kept screaming Diana as I watched the wedding ceremony live. It felt like we were seeing her there. A black Preacher, Black Choir? Sincerely, change Happens!!!

    Reply
  6. Loreta Williams May 25, 2018 at 1:48 am

    I couldn’t help but gush and gush. I really love love. I appreciate the fact that the kids carried on the legacy of their mother. Prince Harry has a foundation for children in Africa, he carries on his mother’s legacy. I know Meghan and Harry will be social advocates and her voice can never go into thin air because she is a strong woman and according to her, she said, ”women have voices, they just need the right platform to be heard”. So, I am certain Meghan’s voice will be louder than ever. I wish them the very best.

    Reply
  7. Adeshina Oye May 25, 2018 at 1:51 am

    No matter how far along the road to change takes, the change will definitely happen. We have seen status quo change, we have seen traditions move. I believe this was what Diana fought and died for and now, it has happened. She sure danced the hell out in heaven watching her dream come true. I am happy because this gives hope for Nigeria. The change will happen no matter how long, we will have a better world here and enjoy the growth it brings.

    Reply
  8. Eric Onuoha May 30, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    Definitely, things are changing from what used to be the norm. I myself couldn’t believe that Meghan was bi-racial. What I can say is that people shouldn’t be judged by their colour and race but by the content of their character

    Reply

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