In 1984, Princess of Wales became President of Barnardo's, a British charity which helps the most vulnerable children and young people transform their lives and fulfill their potential. She attended over 110 events, visiting projects, meeting volunteers, going to conferences, fundraising events and delighting hundreds of young people who were fortunate to meet her and be touched by her compassion.
In April 1987, the Princess of Wales was the first high profile celebrity to be photographed touching a person infected with the HIV virus. When the Princess spoke out with simple but practical words about HIV, she helped reduce stigma and the world took notice. "HIV does not make people dangerous to know, so you can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it", she said. Margaret Jay, former Head of the National AIDS Trust, remembers the Princess's ability to put people at ease. "She used to come to Scotland; where there was an enormous problem with AIDS and HIV related to drugs misuse, and she was very good at talking, particularly to young women. I have a mental picture of her kind of sitting on the floor, drinking Nescafe out of mugs and chatting to them about the sort of concerns that they had in their lives. They didn't feel in any sense, that this was some figure from a completely different planet who was talking to them, or patronising them in any way".
Her contribution to changing the public opinion of Aids sufferers was summarized in December 2001 by Bill Clinton, former US President, at the 'Diana, Princess of Wales Lecture on Aids', when he said: "In 1987, when so many still believed that Aids could be contracted through casual contact, Princess Diana sat on the sickbed of a man with Aids and held his hand. She showed the world that people with Aids deserve not isolation, but compassion. It helped change world opinion, helped give hope to people with Aids, and helped save lives of people at risk".
In February 1992, Diana visited Mother Teresa's Hospice for the Sick and Dying and met every one of the 50 patients who were close to death. Diana had a natural empathy with people who were close to death or those who had lost a loved one, something which was clear through her visits to hospitals and hospices in the UK and around the world. "I make the trips at least three times a week, and spend up to four hours at a time with patients holding their hands and talking to them. Some of them will live and some will die, but they all need to be loved while they are here. I try to be there for them", Princess Diana said describing her work with the Royal Brompton Hospital in London. "I feel close to people whoever they are- that’s why I disturb certain circles. I am much closer to people at the bottom than at the top. I have a real relationship with the most humble people. I’ve always thought that people need to feel good about themselves and I see my role as offering support to them, to provide some light along the way", she added.
Following her divorce, the Princess resigned most of her charities and other patronages, and relinquished all her Service appointments with military units. She decided to concentrate her efforts on six organizations and remained as patron, or president of Centrepoint, a charity for homeless, Leprosy Mission, National Aids Trust, the Hospital for Sick Children; Great Ormond Street, The Royal Marsden Hospital; which specializes in the treatment of cancer, and The English National Ballet; as ballet dance was one of her greatest passions.
Perhaps her most widely publicized charity appearance was her visit to Angola in January 1997, when she joined the British Red Cross's new campaign against land mines as an International Red Cross VIP Member, and the group took in $1.6 million. She visited landmine survivors in hospitals, toured demining projects run by the HALO Trust, and attended mine awareness education classes about the dangers of mines surrounding homes and villages. The pictures of the Princess touring a minefield, in a ballistic helmet and flak jacket, were seen worldwide. Mine clearance experts had already cleared the preplanned walk that Diana took wearing the protective equipment. "The world is too little aware of the waste of life, limb and land which antipersonnel landmines are causing among some of the poorest people on earth. Indeed, until my journey to Angola early this year, I was largely unaware of it too", Princess Diana said.
The Princess spoke at the landmines conference at the Royal Geographical Society in London, and that was followed after a 2 days visit to Washington DC, in the United States, to promote the American Red Cross landmines campaign. In August that year, she also visited Bosnia with the Landmine Survivors Network. Her interest in landmines was focused on the injuries they create, often to children, long after the conflict has finished. She visited landmine projects in Travnic, Sarajevo and Zenezica.
It was in recognition of her charity works that representatives of the charities with which she worked during her life were invited to walk behind her coffin with her family from St. James's Palace to Westminster Abbey on the day of her funeral.
Diana: An Extraordinary Life, By Weidenfeld Nicolson Illustrated. Publication Date: 14 September 1998
Comforting An AIDS Patient At Mother Teresa's Hospice For The Sick And Dying In Calcutta, 1992