Thanks to The Crown on Netflix, Princess Diana mania is back, but we rarely hear about why she was so beloved by Black British women too.
The Crown, if you have been living under a rock, is back. The forth series of the Netflix smash documents the lives, loves and dramas of The Royal Family and this time much of the series focusses on a young, doe-eyed Princess Diana, an icon whose legacy in the hearts and minds of the British public has never faded.
The British monarchy isn’t exactly a diverse institution; the only Black representation in the royal family was Meghan Markle, and we all know how that turned out (or if you don’t then in brief: racist trolling, bullying and Megan and Harry parting ways with the royals to escape). But most people with a Black mum or auntie know that the love for Princess Di is almost unquestioned. A commemorative Diana plate isn’t particularly out of place on a Black mother’s mantlepiece. I’ve never known this community to hold any other wealthy white woman in such high esteem; so what is it about the People’s Princess that Black mums and aunties love so much?
I think it’s fair to say that historically the Royals weren’t always hugely relatable (think stiff-upper lip vibes) and in some ways that’s the whole point. But Princess Diana was cut from a slightly different cloth in that respect. Her lasting legacy is in many ways, her choice to completely shatter royal protocol of being inhuman and distant.
43-year-old mum Ndah, who lives in Northampton, feels there was something deep and soulful about the way in which she connected with people. “She was able to really reach deep into people without knowing them. There was a real level of affection in the way she communicated that you can’t mimic or fake. Whoever she was speaking to had her empathy and full attention.”
She reminisces about one of the most iconic Diana moments for her, of Diana embracing a child infected with AIDS. I ask Ndah if this behaviour made her standout, compared to other royal members who Black mums and aunties are, by and large, indifferent toward. “ Yes, she seemed like she could relate more to the common man, whereas the rest of the royals seemed more unreachable.”
All the women I speak to refer to Diana incredibly affectionately, as though she were an old friend or family member. “Even the best of marriages take work, so to watch her suffer through a bad marriage and be heartbroken was very sad, she went through a lot of pain,” says Ndah.
53-year-old mum Lois from Bromley in Kent tells me she really felt her marital pains. “I’m divorced due to infidelity and find her marriage issues relatable as well. She was treated like a plan B, useful to Prince Charles only to give him children and that’s it. It’s heartbreaking that she married him while he was in love with someone else”. The scorn older Black women still have for Prince Charles is still palpable decades later.
Another thing that’s apparent, is that for Black women in Britain you are used to a feeling of “otherness”, being in an environment that is often unwelcoming if not downright hostile. This is particularly true of the older generation, who suffered unimaginable hurdles. Diana’s situation, though different, felt oddly relatable. Ndah tells me, “ I work in a male dominated environment, as a Black woman I’m always trying to fit into spaces that don’t look like me. Her struggle to be understood within the royal family felt very relatable.”
Importantly, Diana didn’t let her environment crush her spirit. She fought to be who she wanted to be and do things her way. The unapologetic style of being who she was is a familiar mindset to Black women.
Melissa, a 32-year-old mum from London, says: “Diana inspired me to not be a conformist, to stand up for yourself and have the courage to be you. She did that in light of being in the Royal family, like a real life superhero.”
Diana inspired her so much, that as part of a published book collection she wrote for children, she focused on Princess Diana as a role model of empathy and not being afraid to be yourself. “I want children to be able to think outside the box and not just do things how they’ve always been done. I want my daughter who is disabled, to be able to think about how they can transform the society they live in.” Diana breaking the shackles of a loveless marriage, against the huge pressures of a powerful institution like the monarchy is certainly liberating.
Sadly, Diana is remembered as much for the events surrounding her tragic, untimely death, as the many things she achieved in life. Lois says she remembers in the aftermath of Diana’s death, worrying about the young Prince William and Prince Harry, and whether Diana’s parenting style, such as having a more normalised upbringing would be continued.“I remember being really shocked and not wanting to believe that [her death was] true. And being a mother myself of two children as well at the time it was an awful thought.”
It’s not lost on me that Diana was far from perfect, but for these Black women that’s almost her “superpower”, as Melissa calls it. Her imperfections, and the honesty with which she wore them, made her human.
Ndah explains that “Diana carried a pain in her eyes that made her seem vulnerable and she had clearly experienced a lot of personal pain. The vulnerability causes relatability”.
The pressure of achieving ‘Black excellence’ within Black spaces can sometimes leave little room for error, but Diana’s humanity revealed by and large, that she needed love and affection, something that she’d too often missed out on in life. Seeing someone so stifled by her environment be able to be open and honest, is something Black mums and aunties can certainly appreciate.
Perhaps the reasons why she’s so universally loved by Black mums and aunties won’t ever be crystal clear. But regardless, it’s a phenomenon that is so intriguing that I have no choice but to stan.
Images: The Crown stills courtesy of Netflix. Main Image: Diana, Princess of Wales, in Canada during a state visit to Edmonton, Alberta (Getty/Bettmann)