Thursday 1st July marks what would have been the 60th birthday of Princess Diana, and will feature the unveiling of a statue to the tragic Princess. It could also be the chance for her sons, Princes William and Harry, to put aside their differences and bond in memory of their late mother.
The statue to honour Diana, who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997, will be revealed in the Sunken Garden of Kensington Palace in central London. But the event takes place in the shadow of a feud between Diana’s two sons William and Harry, who have had little contact with each other since Harry stepped down from Royal responsibilities and moved to California with his American showbusiness wife Meghan.
Royal commentator Penny Junor told Reuters: “I think it’s going be very awkward. They will put on a show because the cameras will be there, but neither of them is very good at hiding their emotions.”
Both brothers have spoken of the mental trauma caused by the loss of their mother when a limousine carrying her and her lover Dodi al-Fayed crashed in a tunnel in Paris as it fled from paparazzi. William was 15 and Harry was 12 at the time.
The new statue of Diana was commissioned in 2017, before the two fell out. Sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley’s image of Queen Elizabeth has been used on British and Commonwealth coins. Harry and William said at the time: “It has been 20 years since our mother’s death and the time is right to recognise her positive impact in the UK and around the world with a permanent statue.”
The statue will be unveiled at a small event attended by a select group of attendees, including the two princes and some of Diana’s close family. William, 39, now lives with his family at Kensington Palace, where Harry, 36 used to live until he moved to California. Big names including Elton John and David Furnish, who helped fund the statue, are said to be attending, and a larger ceremony for the statue will take place in September.
Relations in the Royal Family have been strained since the move, with Harry speaking about about perceived racist attitudes towards his wife, the former Suits actress Meghan Marckle. His interviews with US chat show host Oprah Whinfrey and others are said to have enraged his brother William, and reportedly they argued after their last meeting, at the funeral of their grandfather Prince Philip in April.
Public interest in Princess Diana seems hardly to have waned since her death in 1997. There have been numerous films, documentaries and books telling the story of her marriage to Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, in 1981, the subsequent affairs of both Charles and Diana, their subsequent divorce, Diana’s struggle to find a place for herself in the spotlight and her tragic death. The media’s part in the whole sorry affair has regularly been called into question, and many newspapers still seen to be obsessed with picking over every aspect of the relationship almost 25 years after her death.
In 2004, a memorial to Diana was unveiled in Hyde Park, but the 689-foot fountain caused controversy both over its design and its appropriateness as a memorial. Shown above is a Princess Diana Memorial statue in a public park of Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna.
The new statue will be accompanied by a redesign for the Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace, one of Diana’s favourite spots. The redesign adds some special touches in honour of the Princess of Wales, such as the inclusion of many of her favourite flowers.
The new layout was created by garden designer Pip Morrison, who will attend the unveiling. He added forget-me-nots to the garden, famously Diana’s favorite flower. Also new are a number of pastel-coloured blooms.
A spokesperson from Kensington Palace says the garden “retains the historic structures within a simplified layout of deeper flower borders and a more generous lawn around the pool to create a calmer and more reflective setting for the statue.”
A team began working on the new garden in 2019 and have since planted over 4,000 individual flowers including roses, forget-me-nots, tulips, lavender, dahlias, and sweet peas. Pip Morrison commented: “This has been a very special project to work on, as the Sunken Garden was a favourite place of Diana, Princess of Wales. We have worked carefully to ensure that the new layout and planting scheme compliments the statue, providing a calming place for people who visit Kensington Palace to remember The Princess.”
But the Sunken Garden also holds special significance to Prince Harry, as it is the location where he and Meghan, now Duchess of Sussex, first announced their engagement. The pair chose the Sunken Garden because of its meaning to Princess Diana, with Meghan noting at the time that it was important for her to feel that Diana “is a part of this with us.”
But Ian Rank-Broadley’s statue of Diana has caused controversy even before its unveiling, with historian Dr Tessa Dunlop tweeting her dismay at the choice of a male artist as the designer. She wrote on Twitter: “Why the hell has the Diana statue been designed by a MAN?
“Ian Rank-Broadley is great at coins, medals, the Queen and soldiers… everything DIANA was not.”
Dr Dunlop added that the failure to choose a female designer was a “missed opportunity” as Diana’s “exquisite self” may not be truly captured. She wrote: “There’s certainly no doubting Rank-Broadley’s talent, but the great irony at the heart of this statue story has apparently been overlooked.
“Diana, famously associated with the outsider and the marginalised, known for her evolving, often unconventional style and mental health struggles, is being depicted by one of Britain’s most establishment male artists.
“A generation of girls, myself included, grew up basking in the ‘Diana effect’; her style metamorphosis and personal struggles touched us all.
“Here was a woman’s woman and I for one wish a woman had been asked to capture the extraordinary depths of this mesmerising icon.
“As it is, with Rank-Broadley at the helm, an opportunity has been missed. Perhaps the reason there’s been so little focus on the statue itself is because we can already guess what it’ll look like – a classical representation of Diana’s exquisite self as perceived by a man.”