Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a 1997 car crash in Paris at just 36. To mark what would have been her 60th birthday, her sons William and Harry unveiled a statue of her at her former home, London’s Kensington Palace, during a private ceremony on Thursday.
“Today, on what would have been our mother’s 60th birthday, we remember her love, strength and character — qualities that made her a force for good around the world, changing countless lives for the better,” William and Harry said in a joint statement. The statue depicts a towering Diana, flanked by children who represent her global charity work.
Thanks to all the headlines and buzz about the royal family of late, this wasn’t just an ordinary statue dedication. Here’s why.
Who made the sculpture?
Diana’s two sons commissioned the statue in 2017, the year that marked the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death. There have been other statues of the late princess — some are creepy — but with her sons’ approval, this one stands above the rest. And with Diana one of the most photographed people on the planet, the sculptor had a tough task.
That high-pressure job fell to British sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley, whose image of Queen Elizabeth II has appeared on all UK and Commonwealth coins since 1998. No images of the work leaked, so Thursday’s reveal was the first time most people have seen the Diana statue.
At least one British historian, Tessa Dunlop, has criticized the choice of a male sculptor for the job, saying the failure to choose a female sculptor was a “missed opportunity.” She also noted that there’s “certainly no doubting Rank-Broadley’s talent.”
Where will it be?
The statue stands in the Sunken Garden of Kensington Palace, reportedly a special place to Diana. To mark the 20th anniversary of her death in 2017, the garden was replanted in white flowers, taking inspiration from Diana’s wardrobe. In preparation for the sculpture, more than 4,000 individual flowers, including Diana’s favorite, forget-me-nots, have been planted.
“Every day, we wish she were still with us, and our hope is that this statue will be seen forever as a symbol of her life and her legacy,” the brothers said Thursday.
Now that the statue has been unveiled, the public will be able to see it, as Kensington Palace and its gardens are open to visitors. The gardens are free to visit, though there is a charge for tours of the public areas of the palace itself.
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Kensington Palace is the main residence of Prince William and his family. Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, also lived there for a time, and numerous other royals have called it home. Diana and Prince Charles lived there after their wedding, raised their children there, and Diana lived there even after her divorce.
William and Harry’s relationship
Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, is second in line to the British throne after his father, Prince Charles. William was born to Charles and Diana in 1982, and his brother, Harry, followed in 1984. Harry was third in line to the throne at his birth, but William’s three children have pushed him down to sixth in line.
The two brothers once seemed to be extremely close to both each other and to their mother. William was 15 when Diana died and Harry was 12. They seemed, publicly at least, to be the best of friends for years. But tabloids have questioned whether Harry’s 2018 marriage to Markle and the couple’s subsequent move to California have driven a wedge between the brothers. As heir to the throne, William has to walk a carefully circumscribed path that’s laid out for him while, as the “spare,” Harry is more free to decide his own future.
It doesn’t help that back in March, Harry and Meghan gave an explosive televised interview to Oprah Winfrey. Among other headline-making revelations, Meghan said someone in the royal family was concerned about her unborn son’s skin color, and that palace representatives didn’t offer help when royal pressures drove her to thoughts of suicide. It surely didn’t help that Meghan said Kate made her cry during plans for her wedding — William is known to be a strong defender of his wife, and there’s no way he enjoyed having that made public. William later had to specifically deny that the royal family was racist when questioned at an event.
The two brothers seem to be on separate paths now. Vanity Fair reports that the two have been talking about plans for the statue unveiling, but that their relationship is still “very strained.”
On Thursday, the brothers presented a united front.