Pop goes the politics
Princess Diana started it all
Leah Scheitel / copy editor
When Princess Diana visited the Middlesex Hospital in London in April of 1987, she was doing a chore on behalf of her mother in-law, the Queen of England. As her usual cavalry of photographers and journalists surrounded her – they all had one question on their minds: would the Princess of Wales dare touch an aids patient without the use of gloves?
At this time, the AIDS epidemic was at an apex, with the World Health Organization estimating five to 10 million people worldwide had the disease. There was ample fear mongering and misinformation spread about the disease, including that merely touching a carrier could infect a person. Princess Diana, potentially unbeknownst to her, had the power to dispel these rumours by shaking hands with an AIDS patient.
When she did, it was documented and she instantly became a spokesperson for the cause. She helped focus the conversation surrounding AIDS, and instead of adding hysteria, she infused compassion into the discourse.
This was the kind of mystifying power Princess Diana exuded from the beginning of her life in the public eye. Using the media to her advantage, she was able to take an already huge platform – the Monarchy’s – and build it up to be the biggest one the world has ever experienced. This is why many consider her to be the first celebrity crusader. She used her platform to blend her celebrity prowess with the political causes she believed in – from HIV to landmines to leprosy. If she believed in a cause, she had the ability to broadcast the message around the world and the charm to make people believe in it.
While celebrities had used their platforms before Diana, none had thought as globally as they do now until after her. Bono, Angelia Jolie and Oprah all use tactics first used by Lady Di, such as touring areas devastated by landmines or using the media attention to advocate for a message. It was Diana that made it fashionable to care.
People have moved on from her tragic death two decades ago, which her brother blamed, arguably correctly, on the hunger of the media. While we, as a culture, have always looked to movie stars and famous, beautiful people, to inform us of what trends to wear or how to style our hair, times are different in 2018. We now look to our favourite celebrities to see what causes to support. This new factor plays a major role in both what we think of the cause and what we think of the celebrity. Celebrities never used to have this much power over our thoughts on social causes and politics. That is until, of course, Diana made it possible to do both. She made it cool to care. And that is why we continue to look to her work – to her media savvy, to her natural charisma and to her empathy.
Diana was the first superstar celebrity to realize and harness her powers. Her legacy is multi-faceted, as she secured the future of the British monarchy while changing the face of it. But it was her humanitarian efforts that won her into the hearts of billions worldwide and made her the “People’s Princess.” And it was her compassion that inspired other celebrities to take on bigger causes, further blurring the lines between celebrity and politics. She could make a style in trend by wearing it once, make John Travolta relevant by dancing with him once and she could make a cause matter by shaking one hand without a glove. It was the power of Princess Di.