Celebrating the life and legacy of Diana, Princess of Wales
“HIV does not make people dangerous to know. You can shake their hands and give them hug heaven knows they need it” Diana Princess of Wales.
On 31st August 2017 we marked 20 years since the untimely death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The Princess has a special place in the heart and history of Mildmay and we wanted to mark this important anniversary in the best way we possibly could. A simple thanks giving service, followed by afternoon tea in the garden of our hospital seemed the perfect tribute. We also decided to honour her legacy by presenting four ‘Diana Awards’ to staff, celebrating and reflecting many of the qualities she championed and embodied.
The day dawned bright, blue skies banishing the rain of the preceding few days. In the afternoon around 200 supporters and friends gathered together to share memories, pay their respects and celebrate her all too short life. It was also an opportunity to hold in thought and prayer her family, especially her sons HRH Prince William and HRH Prince Harry.
The Princess touched the hearts of so many people and her impact on Mildmay was immeasurable She offered her support in such a powerful way at a time when it was so badly needed, shining a light on our work and on HIV at a time when the cloud of judgement and stigma darkened so many lives. Today her legacy lives on through the causes she championed and through her sons who have used their own influence to bring change.
Canon Roger Royle hosted the event with his usual perfect balance of humour and compassion. We were also joined by Wayne Sleep who so memorably danced with Diana, Princess of Wales in a private performance at the Royal Ballet in 1985.
“The audience gasped when Diana appeared, as if they’d all taken one enormous breath.”
Moving tributes were also given by the past chair of Mildmay, Helen Taylor-Thompson OBE, and photographer Chris Wood, who joined the Princess when she visited patients at Mildmay. Actor Nigel Osner, gave a reading and Soprano Sally Harrison, performed Fauré – Pie Jesu, an opportunity for quiet reflection as her voice soared bringing stillness and beauty .
The Mildmay Patient Choir sang “Goodbye English Rose ” written by Sir Elton John especially for Diana, Princess of Wales, performed by him for the first time at her funeral.
Linda Robson ( Birds Of A Feather, Loose Women) then presented the Diana Awards to members of staff
It was a moving and uplifting day, as Ross White Chief Executive of Mildmay said
“ As well as looking back on an extraordinary life, today we also honour the strength and courage that the Princess inspired. Like so many, Mildmay still benefits from her legacy. She helped to give courage during tough times and hi-lighted and brought strength to our work. Most recently her son, Prince Harry came to open our new hospital breathing fresh life into the challenge to raise HIV awareness and combat stigma. We believe the Princess would be proud to see our work today as we reach out to so many in great need, providing treatment, care and rehabilitation for people with complex and severe HIV associated health conditions, including brain impairment. Our work in the UK means that 85% of our UK patients return to independent living within the community on discharge from Mildmay. In East Africa we reach over 106,000 people living with and affected by HIV.”
Diana, Princess of Wales championed causes that represented some of the most vulnerable members of our society, inspired change and broke down barriers and stigma. The compassion, love and joy she brought into the lives of so many will live on – this is surely the greatest tribute of all.
This event was also covered by ITN London, Channel 5 and Sky News.
A little bit of history
Diana, Princess of Wales first came to visit Mildmay Hospital, on 24th February 1989, she shook the hand of a patient, Martin who had agreed to welcome her amidst the glare of publicity. That moment, captured on film and by the press went global. It is hard to impress just how enormous this gesture made by a person in her position was at this time, it helped to turn the tide of public opinion and made the patients she met feel valued.
When Mildmay opened as a dedicated HIV hospice in 1988, the anti-retroviral drugs that save lives today were not available. People were dying quickly and in great numbers. At this time there was was considerable misunderstanding about HIV, which led to public hysteria and a growing a climate of fear and stigma. Many people who were diagnosed with HIV were judged and disowned by friends and families. Many were dealing with bereavement as well as facing their own diagnosis. At Mildmay there were times when stones were thrown at our hospital windows. People would ask if it was safe to sit on the same chair as a patient, or to share cutlery. Staff in some hospitals would not enter the rooms of patients without being completely covered. Mildmay believed they should provide a caring non judgmental environment, and stand up against the ignorance and stigma by building knowledge and providing practical nursing care blended with compassion and love.
Over and over again she met with and embraced people who were living with HIV, determined to address and dismiss the stigma surrounding the virus. She famously said “HIV does not make people dangerous to know. You can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it”. She was determined to raise HIV awareness and challenge the public perceptions that made people so afraid and alienated people who were diagnosed.
The Princess visited Mildmay on many occasions, three times officially and many more times unofficially. People who remember her visits to the hospital talk about her sympathy and kindness, the relaxed manner that put everyone she met at ease, her grace and beauty. They also remember her laugh – an infectious giggle!
The Princess would sometimes arrive at Mildmay in the evenings to sit with patients, some who were dying. She had the knack of making people feel at ease and cared for, showing real warmth and a genuine interest in each patient she met. These visits were made away from the media spotlight, she was simply there for those who needed her and the compassion and understanding she was able to give.
She was also very well informed and had educated herself about HIV to an incredibly high standard.
Today Mildmay has moved from end of life care to providing rehabilitation, treatment and care for people living with complex HIV related health conditions, including HIV associated brain impairment. Our new purpose built UK hospital was officially opened by HRH Prince Harry before Christmas in 2015. The Prince has made a huge contribution to the fight against stigma and has done so much to encourage testing. Like his mother he is also so well informed and articulate, able to speak knowledgeably and passionately about HIV moving hearts and minds.
Mildmay Hospital was recently awarded Outstanding by The Care Quality Commission