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Princess Diana Death: 6 Taboos The Princess Of Wales Broke That Changed The Royal Family Forever

The People's Princess did things her way.

30/08/2017 17:38

Even before her tragic death aged just 36, Princess Diana was already one of the most unusual royals of recent years.

While the royal family was often seen as strict and rather old-fashioned, Diana was one to do things her own way, from spending time with those normally left on the fringes to talking about issues others found uncomfortable.

On the 20th anniversary of her death, here are 6 taboos that Princess Diana broke...

Shaking hands with Aids patients

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Princess Diana shakes hands with a patient as she opens a new Aids ward at the Middlesex Hospital in London in 1987

Princes Diana opened the UK’s first purpose built HIV/Aids clinic at the London Middlesex Hospital in 1987.

While doing so she shook hands with people suffering with the condition -  something which doesn’t seem revolutionary today but at the time was a powerful gesture.

There was a common misconception that HIV and Aids could be passed simply by skin-to-skin contact, so by shaking hands with patients, the Princess of Wales was helping to dispel that myth.

It was also a powerful display of solidarity and compassion towards a community which faced prejudice and ostracisation.

As part of ITV’s Diana Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy documentary, Sir Elton John recalled: “[Aids] was considered to be a gay disease and for someone who was within the royal family, and who was a woman, and who was straight — to have someone care from the other side was an incredible gift.” 

Talking about mental health issues

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Princes William and Harry have carried on their mother's work around mental health

Princess Diana was perhaps one of the most high-profile sufferers of bulimia.

Her struggle with the condition was first revealed in the 1992 book “Diana: Her True Story” by Andrew Morton, in which he said she first experienced the illness in 1981 and continue to battle with it before seeking treatment in the late 1980s.

She went on to talk about her experiences of the illness in subsequent interviews and speeches, one of the first high-profile people to do so.

By openly talking about her struggles, Diana shone a light on an issue which was often kept hidden and showed this was not something to be ashamed of.

Her sons William and Harry have continued her work around mental health, helping with initiatives such as the Heads Together campaign, while the Duchess of Cambridge also guest-edited HuffPost UK’s Young Minds Matter series to focus on young people’s mental health.

Going out to meet rough sleepers

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The Princess of Wales talks with an elderly man during her visit to a west London day centre for homeless people

Diana often made private visits to homeless shelters to meet with those using the facilities.

But she also met people forced to sleep rough on the streets of London, not afraid to mix with those otherwise forgotten by society.

During the recent ITV documentary, Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy one man who was homeless at the time recalled: “She woke me up, I loved that.”

Another recalled her joking with him because he was dressed only in shorts, saying: “She said ‘I see you dressed especially for me’ and I cracked a joke, saying ‘my suit’s in Savile Row at the moment’.”

Embracing leprosy sufferers

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Princess Diana speaks with a leprosy sufferer at the Anandaban Hospital in Nepal

Princess Diana became well known for her work with leprosy sufferers, visiting clinics in the likes of Indonesia India, Nepal, Zimbabwe and Nigeria, and went on to become the patron of the Leprosy Mission, dedicated to providing support and treatment to sufferers.

Leprosy has historically had a huge amount of stigma attached and so by getting involved, Diana helped to dispel some of this.

Speaking in 1996, she explained why she went advice to not physically touch people with leprosy, saying: It’s always been my concern to touch people with leprosy, trying to show in a simple action that they are not reviled nor are we repulsed.”

Peter Waddup, national director of The Leprosy Mission England and Wales, said: “Princess Diana made huge strides in tackling the prejudice surrounding leprosy but tragically, since her death, leprosy has returned to being the ‘forgotten disease’.

“The fact that the most photographed woman in the world was touching leprosy patients against the advice of her officials was truly shocking.

“It really drew the world’s attention to this ancient disease and, in one fell swoop, dispelled many of the myths surrounding the disease like it can be passed on by touch.”

Her divorce and subsequent reinvention

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Diana dances with John Travolta at the White House, watched by President Ronald Reagan

Divorce was something of a taboo in the royal family, particularly at such a high level.

But once her marriage with Prince Charles was over, Diana went on to speak about the experience in public, including the now-well-known Martin Bashir interview in 1995, during which she was asked if Camilla Parker-Bowles was a factor in the breakdown of her marriage.

Diana responded: “Well there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

But once free of the confines of royal life, Diana was able to show off her own sense of style and fun.

Which leads us on to...

That time she dressed as a man to go to a gay bar with Freddie Mercury

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Princess Diana was allegedly smuggled into the Royal Vauxhall Tavern while dressed as a man by Freddy Mercury

Diana was close friends with many high-profile gay men, including George Michael and designer Gianni Versace, but her night out with Freddie Mercury will go down in history.

Comedian Cleo Rocos, who was also friends with the Queen frontman, claimed that in the late 1980s, the Princess was smuggled into the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in disguise.

In her book The Power Of Positive Drinking, Rocos said: “When we walked in... we felt she was obviously Princess Diana and would be discovered at any minute. But people just seemed to blank her. She sort of disappeared. But she loved it.”

“She did look like a beautiful young man.”

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