1. She Didn't Say She'd 'Obey' Charles
Like her or love her (see, there are no other options), Princess Diana was a bit of trailblazer way before Prince Harry or Meghan Markle were ever born. When she got married to Prince Charles in 1981, she made one key change to her wedding vows: removing the word “obey.” She was the first royal bride to ever take the word out, and both Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle followed suit when they married Diana’s sons.
2. Her First Royal Tour
Princess Diana, Prince Charles, and a teeny-tiny baby William all took their first royal tour together in 1983 when they visited Australia and New Zealand. It was pretty revolutionary for Diana and Charles to bring William along with them, since historically Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip did not bring their children on royal appointments.
Also, this was the first time Diana began cementing the nickname that would follow her for the rest of her life: the People’s Princess. Diana displayed a charm and degree of empathy that had been unseen in the royal family before she came along.
3. When She Opened Up About Her Health Struggles
In 1995, Diana gave an interview where she publicly discussed her bouts of depression, bulimia, and self-harm. This was gigantic! I know that these days we are used to celebrities taking to Instagram and spilling their guts about any number of struggles, but at the time, this was just not something that people were speaking about, and especially not something members of the royal family were discussing at all.
4. Telling Everyone She Didn't Want To Be Queen
As the wife of Prince Charles, Diana was well on her way to being queen of the country, which is wild. But she, like her sons after her, was happy to talk about how she was uninterested in taking on the role. Instead, Diana said that she would prefer to be the “queen of people’s hearts.”
She didn’t stop there. She said that she didn’t think anyone, including the royal family itself, wanted her to take on the role: “I don’t think many people would want me to be queen, and when I say many people, I mean the establishment that I’m married into.”
5. When She Visited Patients Who Had AIDS
There’s no way I could write this without showcasing one of my favorite moments from Princess Diana’s life: when she happily defied social expectations and sat with and shook the hands of patients who were suffering from AIDS. While these days we know that you can’t catch AIDS from touching someone who has it, in the 1980s, patients were ostracized in a horrific way.
Diana did her part in moving the needle on our collective understanding in 1987, when she visited patients in London. She was photographed shaking hands with a patient at the hospital, and the moment was notable because she was not wearing gloves. Diana was always, always ahead of her time.
6. Continuing Her Work With AIDS Patients
In this same vein, Diana continued to pursue working with patients who had AIDS for years after that, even though the royal family was against the idea. She opened the Landmark AIDS Centre in 1987, and it remains open to this day.
The Queen reportedly commented that she wished Princess Diana would “do something more pleasant” than work with AIDS patients. It’s definitely not hard to see how the odds could have been stacked against someone like Meghan Markle from the beginning, especially considering how long Meghan has been doing philanthropic work herself.
7. Refusing To Give Birth at Home
I’m actually pretty into home births, because I think they have their own brand of magic attached, but I’m also pretty against doing anything just because you’re supposed to. These days, we’re used to images of Kate Middleton standing outside the hospital, smiling and clutching a newborn hours after giving birth, but that’s not actually how things have historically been done in the royal family.
Typically, the family has had their babies at home. But both Prince William and Prince Harry were born at St. Mary’s, and all of William’s children have been born there as well.
8. She Didn't Homeschool Her Kids
OK, obviously none of the royal family has ever “homeschooled” their children, but royal offspring have generally been taught by a governess at home instead of going to school with regular kids. Diana didn’t want this reality for her children, fearing that they would be isolated from the experiences that nonroyal kids have. So she packed William and Harry off to public school.
William and Kate have continued this tradition in their own way. Prince George and Princess Charlotte attend a private school.
9. That "Revenge Dress"
I can’t think of many fashion moments that were truly as iconic as the night Princess Diana stepped out in what has come to be known as her “revenge dress.”
In June 1994, on the same night that Prince Charles was about to confess his affair with Camilla, Diana stepped out in a very snug, strapless black dress that she had previously described as “too daring.” The message was clear: If we were playing in winners and losers, she definitely was the former.
10. She Refused To Back Down
After she and Charles separated, the royal family definitely launched their own media campaign against Diana. The trouble for them was that Diana understood the rapidly changing media landscape in a way that a lot of the royal family still struggles to, and she danced circles around them. Far from being willing to go quietly into the night, Diana refused to let the family sway public opinion around her.
She commented, “[I] won’t go quietly, that’s the problem. I’ll fight till the end. I’m a great believer that you should always confuse the enemy,” she said. “They were undermining me out of fear, because this is a strong woman doing her bit, and where is she getting her strength from to continue?”