What made Princess Diana so special?

If you were not at least slightly intrigued by the public persona of Britain’s Princess Diana, you might want to click on elsewhere here at HotAir.com .

We were.


Today is the 20th anniversary of her death in a car crash in a Paris tunnel at the age of only 36.

Never met her. Never even saw her in person. But somehow with that fresh face and shy smile looking down while looking up, she connected with millions of people around the world. They watched her royal wedding to what’s-his-name in 1981. They celebrated the birth of her two boys, William and Harry. They were taken aback by the divorce after 15 years. But good riddance, many said.

And like me, 7,305 days ago they saw the bold headline “Princess Di Dead” and didn’t, couldn’t believe the words. Something so full of life could not be gone in a flash. Even when Elton John sang at her funeral, the fatal reality didn’t seem, well,  real.

An invisible chemistry exists between some people in the public eye and the public watching. That mysterious connection has long intrigued me. How do some public figures — entertainment, political, royalty, whatever — connect so intimately and viscerally with so many individuals?

Even before television, cellphones and social media, Winston Churchill knew how to inspire Britons during the worst days of World War II. He’d emerge from his underground command bunker to walk through London rubble, tip his bowler to folks, chew his cigar. Yes, he said, times would be tough, probably tougher yet. But we will prevail. And unlike his predecessor, people believed him.


But why?

John F. Kennedy had that connection, which made his violent death all the harder to accept and endure. Ronald Reagan too. George H.W. Bush and his son not so much.

Muhammad Ali, who was Cassius Clay when I first heard of him, had that connection too. In public he was brash, swaggering, controversial. He even wrote homemade poetry to predict when he’d knock out his next opponent. And then he made it true!

I met him years later. He was naked at the time. In private, very quiet, thoughtful and sly, even in pain. But walk out of that locker room into the spotlight and he was on. No, he was ON! The crowds loved it — and him. All he had to do was wave or smile or scowl. And they adored him even more, which, of course, he knew.

Remember the crowd eruption (maybe even your own) when Ali emerged, shaking from Parkinson’s, as the surprise Olympic torch-lighter in Atlanta in 1996?

But why?

Diana had that connection too. She was the opposite of brash and swaggering. Shy but confident in her own style, she filled the role of princess like we thought a princess should, someone special who didn’t act that way. And she connected across countless cultures.

Remember her hugging the leper boy? Or casually scooping up that little Indian girl to sit on her royal lap? As any Mom might.

When a little girl presented Diana with a welcome bouquet one day, the princess pulled out one flower and presented it back. I suspect that blossom still resides somewhere, preciously pressed in a book.


Forget the tabloids, many of us knew all along what Diana was made of. A Gallup Poll at the time found 50% of Britons and 27% of Americans felt they’d lost someone they know.

And when the black funeral hearse moved slowly through London streets, individuals by the thousands spontaneously ran from the curb to place a colorful flower on the hood. So many so high that at one point the driver couldn’t see. He stopped to place armload after armload gently on the roadside.

They come into our lives, these public figures. They live theirs. We live ours. We watch. And wonder why we’re drawn to this one. And that one. Why we dismiss others. Why another even repels us.

Not sure I’ll ever figure out the precise composition of that invisible chemistry. But we all know it’s there, don’t we? Like faint images in our peripheral vision. They’re there for sure. But they disappear if you look too hard.

Perhaps that’s just part of the experience of living not meant to be deciphered — the mystery and the magic of life, one of which so sadly departed this Earth 20 years ago today.

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Jazz Shaw 8:31 AM on December 09, 2023