Whenever she heard herself described as an icon, Diana was adamant that this was not how she perceived herself. "Don't call me that," she would say. "I'm just a mother trying to do my best."
Diana was never less than completely committed when it came to her children, and always firmly resolute when making decisions that involved them. This first became evident when William was just nine months old. Charles and Diana were due to travel to Australia for a 6 week state visit. As she was suffering from post-natal depression at the time, Diana might have been forgiven for looking upon the trip as a convenient break from the demanding pressures of caring for a baby. Instead, she insisted on taking William along, breaking with the long-standing tradition of heirs to the throne not travelling together.
This wouldn't be the last time that Diana, in putting her children first, defied royal tradition. Indeed, she was the first royal for whom duty always took a back seat to motherhood. In prioritising parenthood, she marked a departure from the time-honoured royal approach to childcare. In place of emotional distance and strict protocol, Diana brought open affection and a boundless sense of fun. She had taught her sons to show their emotions openly and honestly.
In the most important ways, Diana was indistinguishable from any other devoted mum. In their early years, William and Harry would join their mother in the kind of playful japes that will be familiar to any parent. Together they would roller skate down the long corridors in Kensington Palace. Diana would organise Jelly Baby-eating competitions for them. At Halloween, she would dress up her boys as ghosts using bed sheets.
Diana's busy calendar was rigorously protected for the sake of her children. For instance, she would never miss her sons' sports days. Whatever the demands upon her time, she would be there every time, her participation in the mothers' race a reminder to all parents that there are moments in their children's lives that demand to be shared. Diana strove at all times to give her sons as normal an upbringing as possible. She would take them to theme parks and to rugby matches. Occasionally, she would indulge their love of fast food and accompany them to hamburger bars. Also, she was conscientious of reminding her sons that harsher realities lay outside their privileged world regularly taking them to visit the poor, the homeless and the terminally ill.
In the midst of her marital woes, the princes were Diana's primary concern. She delayed the inevitable divorce, saying that she feared the consequences for the boys. She knew from personal experience how potentially damaging a broken home could be for children. After all, Diana was just 6 years old when her own mother, Frances, ran off with a wallpaper tycoon and all but disappeared from her life.
It was following the divorce in August 1996 that Diana truly came into her own as a mother. Scrupulously fair in negotiating joint custody, it was as if she decided that now, more than ever before, she would make the most of the time she had with her kids. In the last year of her life, she appeared to be at her most content, never more so than when William and Harry were in her company. That William and Harry have grown up to be the well-adjusted adults Diana must have longed them to be is surely one of her greatest legacies.
Diana: An Extraordinary Life, By Weidenfeld Nicolson Illustrated. Publication Date: 14 September 1998
Princess Diana With Her Boys At Highgrove, 1988