What millennials will never understand about the phenomenon of Princess Di.

We have celebrities nowadays. We have princesses. But there’s no Princess Diana.

It’s hard to put into words how big she was and what she meant to people.

I remember, as a kid, that first famous photo of her. She had just started going out with Prince Charles, and the press tracked her down at the kindergarten where she was working. The sun was behind her, and the way the photographer got her to stand, her skirt became see-through.

We all felt her embarrassment. I think a lot of people fell in love with her at that point. She was so shy that she barely seemed to be able to look into the camera. Looking back now, it’s no wonder. She was only 19.

Diana looked so young when they were first going out. (Image via Getty.)

Back then, the Royal Family were so stiff and stuffy. Lady Di came along and changed all that. Suddenly, royalty didn’t just mean a gloved hand waving graciously through the window of a Rolls Royce, it meant a real-life ordinary girl marrying a prince. If someone like her could do it, anyone could. (Okay, so she was technically a “lady”, but she felt like one of us.)

She became an obsession. She was on magazine covers. Girls at school tried to flick their hair to look like hers.

Then came the wedding. Yes, there have been royal weddings since, but this was different. Nowadays, there’s so much cynicism. Back then – or so it seemed to me as a kid – there was just excitement. It was a real-life fairytale.

Everyone watched the wedding. It was on TV in the evening here, and I went to my usual gymnastics class, to find only four out of 40 girls had turned up. The four of us found a black-and-white TV and watched the wedding anyway.

Lady Di wore a dress with a train that went on forever. She fluffed her lines – she got Prince Charles’s name wrong – and people loved her even more.

She came to Australia and people lost their freaking minds.

Diana grew up, in front of our eyes. She stopped looking so awkward and ducking her head. She discovered her own style, and it was stunning. She grew into the role of a royal, and she did it better than the whole family who were born to it.

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She found her way. She took the media spotlight that was on her, and shone it on important things. She hugged children who’d lost limbs to land mines. She sat with a leprosy sufferer. She held the hand of an AIDS patient without wearing gloves.

She didn’t need to do this. She was the most glamorous woman in the world, and she was seeking out the downtrodden and despised and forgotten. And she was touching them.

With Diana, it never seemed like a photo opportunity. She radiated an incredible warmth. It seemed like she cared about everyone she met, and because she cared, other people did too.

Nowadays, almost all celebrities have their causes, but back then, what she did was ground-breaking. She had an almost saintlike quality about her.

When her marriage started to fall apart, of course we wanted to hear all the juicy details. But we were always on her side.

Her death sparked real, genuine grief. I can remember a stranger turning to me at the train station and saying, “It’s just so sad, isn’t it?” It was like somebody we knew had died. And maybe we all felt a little bit of guilt, because we had bought the magazines with the paparazzi photos and the paparazzi had killed her. Paparazzi photos never held quite the same appeal again.

There won’t be another Princess Diana. There can’t be.

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What are your fondest memories of Lady Di?