, London, United Kingdom, Aug 30 – Friends and fans of Diana, princess of Wales mourned the 20th anniversary of her death on Thursday, with Elton John saying the world “lost an angel” when she was killed in a tragic car crash.
She was just 36 at the time, with her death in Paris triggering an unprecedented outpouring of grief across Britain.
Two decades on, the aura of the self-styled “queen of hearts” remains strong.
“20 years ago today, the world lost an angel,” pop star John, a friend of Diana’s who worked with her on AIDS awareness, said on Instagram next to a picture of the two of them. He memorably sang “Candle In The Wind” at her funeral.
Her close friend Rosa Monckton said: “She broke down the walls. She busted the myth of being a fairytale princess.
“She was a truly extraordinary woman,” Monckton told The Times newspaper.
“Very damaged, very flawed, as we all are, but underneath it all this incredible resilience.”
Diana was remembered at the Mildmay Mission AIDS hospital in London, which she regularly visited when it was a hospice caring for HIV patients.
The princess shaking hands with sufferers was tranformative in breaking down stigmas around the disease.
Well wishers laid flowers and candles outside Kensington Palace, her London residence where her sons Princes William and Harry now live.
A couple in Union Jack clothing were among the first to arrive on Thursday at the palace gates and hundreds filed past during the day.
“I don’t think there’s anyone else like her now, she was a one off… She was electric, she was just dynamite,” said Ian, a receptionist from Hertfordshire, north of London.
Diana died along with Dodi Fayed, her wealthy Egyptian boyfriend of two months, and his driver Henri Paul, who was trying to shake off paparazzi photographers.
Overnight, a handful of people had braved the rain in Paris to visit the Pont de l’Alma tunnel where her car smashed into a pillar at 12:23am on August 31, 1997, ending the life of the world’s most famous woman.
Diana was “revolutionary,” said Sian Croston, a 17-year-old student from London who was visiting the gold-leaf Flame of Liberty monument that stands above the underpass and has become something of a shrine to the princess.
“She changed the royal family forever.
“She will always be the people’s princess,” she said, using an epithet coined at the time by then prime minister Tony Blair.
– ‘All of us lost somebody’ –
In London, William and Harry, who were 15 and 12 respectively when she died, were spending the day privately after greeting well-wishers outside the palace on Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, they had walked through the White Garden, a space within the palace grounds created this year to evoke memories of Diana’s image and style.
They also met with representatives of the charities she supported, including those helping AIDS sufferers and children in need.
Speaking to one group, Harry said his mother’s death had affected everyone.
“All of us lost somebody,” the 32-year-old said.
The flowers piled up in front of the palace alongside heartfelt handwritten messages and photos remembering Diana, with the two brothers placing bouquets handed to them by several members of the public.
– Global icon –
Her untimely death shocked the world.
The complex life of Diana — a shy, teenage aristocrat who suddenly became a global icon — and her tragic end, still captivates millions across the globe.
Diana married Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, in 1981, but their marriage collapsed under the strains of public duty and their incompatibility.
She was cast out of the royal family after their 1996 divorce which she had not wanted but made inevitable with an explosive tell-all television interview in which she admitted adultery.
But among the public, her star remained undimmed, with her reputation sealed as a fashion icon, charity campaigner, humanitarian and a self-styled “queen of hearts”.
Virgin founder Richard Branson, a friend, said Diana was an “incredible woman” whose “unique way with people” made a huge difference to the causes she championed.
“She inspired so many others with her compassion and humanity,” he said.
Former royal press secretary Dickie Arbiter said her influence lived on through her sons.
“They’re well-rounded, well capable of doing what is required of them, and they are her legacy, they’re carrying on her work,” he said.