So much anticipation had come before this moment, when Diana, Princess of Wales’ sons stepped forward to unveil the statue to mark what would have been her 60th birthday, had fate not taken its course. As a quiet piece of theatre, it proved dazzling. The dark green cloth was pulled from Ian Rank-Broadley’s sculpture in a moment that felt breath-catchingly akin to The Winter’s Tale. We watchers started, stared, then gathered ourselves again, damp-eyed.
We were told that this depiction was intended to conjure the “final period of her life as she gained confidence in her role as an ambassador for humanitarian causes”. What else it told us – the real story behind the statue – can be gleaned from the three images that appear to have inspired it.
Credit: Derry More
The first of these photographs is the portrait taken by Derry Moore around the time that Prime Minister John Major informed a shocked, although not entirely surprised, Parliament of the official separation of Prince Charles and the Princess of Wales. That same year, Andrew Morton had published Diana: Her True Story.
Now in the National Portrait Gallery, the picture shows Diana in the same vastly buckled belt, ribbed shirt and pencil skirt as in Rank-Broadley’s bronze. Our heroine appears in full patrician pomp with William and Harry, heir and spare, on either side, her gaze on the future king. Only here she is husbandless, independent, the world’s most glamorous single parent. Lest one miss the message, it became the image she chose for her first solo Christmas card of 1993.
Credit: Amel Eric
In the second photograph, by Amel Eric, Diana is captured on her visit to war-ravaged Bosnia on August 9, 1997, the month she died. She stands with the Soljankic family, who had been the victims of landmine injuries, some of whom have the lost and traumatised looks that testify to it.
Those too young to remember the Bosnian War between 1992 and 1995 will have no idea of the savagery involved, as the spectre of genocide once again stalked Europe so soon after the Second World War. Diana’s gesture – arms out-stretched to embrace a traumatised mother and children – became a characteristic one, and now seems to have been replicated in the new Kensington Palace monument.
Credit: John Stilwell/ PA Wire
In the final image, by John Stillwell and dating from January 1997, Diana sits beaming at 13-year-old Sandra Tigica at the orthopaedic workshop in Neves Mendinha, Angola. Sandra is about to receive a prosthetic leg, Diana the tireless humanitarian. She touches her charge in the way that monarchs before her touched to cure scrofula only here it is a loving caress.
It is this protective warmth towards the vulnerable children she met during her humanitarian missions which is recalled so tenderly in the Rank-Broadley bronze. The photograph which first captured such a moment became iconic even before Diana’s death only seven months after it was taken.