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Coronavirus Hits Home for the Royal Family. Princess Diana’s AIDS Activism Could Be Inspirational.

The Daily Beast logo The Daily Beast 3/22/2020 Tim Teeman, Tom Sykes
a group of people standing next to a man in a suit and tie: Vanderlei Almeida/Reuters © Provided by The Daily Beast Vanderlei Almeida/Reuters

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Diana set the royal example for pandemic response

The Sunday Times reports this weekend that the queen will, in response to increasing calls for her to do so, make an extraordinary national televised address in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the fourth such speech of her reign, at some stage over the next few weeks.

This is an important and sensible step by Her Majesty. However, one can’t help but wonder if the royal family needs to go further than fine words, and figure out what level of active engagement it wants to have in the fight against coronavirus.

Does the institution want to show relevance in a time of international crisis? Will they stay omniscient figureheads, or roll their sleeves up?

It this context it is perhaps instructive to ask: What would Princess Diana have done?

Meghan, we were told, is making “everyone on their team, the people who buy groceries and run errands, wear latex gloves” and “follow a strict hygiene protocol.”

Harry announced the cancellation of the Invictus Games.

Charles and Camilla have split to Scotland, and Kate and William are hunkering down in the country.

On Wednesday, Prince William delivered a dramatic speech in which he appealed for funds in a video released on behalf of the U.K.’s National Emergencies Trust, a new organization to help “raise and distribute money and support victims at the time of a domestic disaster.”

The queen did try to show leadership with a statement this week, saying: “Many of us will need to find new ways of staying in touch with each other and making sure that loved ones are safe. I am certain we are up to that challenge. You can be assured that my family and I stand ready to play our part.”

Some perceived the “Blitz spirit” that royal-watchers will always associate with the famous quote of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who—when Buckingham Palace was bombed in World War Two—famously said, “I am almost glad we have been bombed. Now I feel I can look the East End in the face.”

But while politicians have invoked coronavirus as a war, it is very different to one with bombs. The royal family has changed since those times too, at least in public bearing and accessibility.

And whether the current generation of royals can even come close to making the kind of social impact over coronavirus that Princess Diana made in the era of AIDS remains to be seen.

It may seem amazing to younger readers what level of stigma and demonization there was towards people of AIDS a few decades ago. But it existed, to the extent where there was paranoia about even touching someone with HIV and/or AIDS.

“HIV does not make people dangerous to know,” Diana once said. “You can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it. What’s more, you can share their homes, their workplaces, and their playgrounds and toys.”

In April 1987, with one photograph, Diana challenged the prejudice head-on. She was pictured holding the hand of someone with AIDS, while not wearing gloves, when she opened U.K.’s first unit dedicated to treating people with HIV and AIDS at London’s Middlesex Hospital.

Her AIDS activism continued throughout her life, breaking down barriers and shattering ignorance, with more hugs, touch, and public speeches in the subsequent years. Her fame ensured the right messages got through.

The general homophobia of the time was about to be enshrined in Margaret Thatcher’s notorious Section 28 which forbid the “promotion” of homosexuality. At the time, Diana’s activism was brave and absolutely radical when it came to being a royal.

In 2017, in a speech calling for an increase in regular HIV testing, Harry said of his mother, “She knew that AIDS was one of the things that many wanted to ignore and seemed like a hopeless challenge. She knew that the misunderstanding of this relatively new disease was creating a dangerous situation when mixed with homophobia.

“So when, that April, she took the hand of a 32-year-old man with HIV, in front of the cameras, she knew exactly what she was doing. She was using her position as Princess of Wales—the most famous woman in the world—to challenge everyone to educate themselves, to find their compassion, and to reach out to those who need help instead of pushing them away.

“In the year before my mother’s death, the first truly effective anti-retroviral treatments were developed for HIV and Aids. She did not live to see this treatment become widely available and save countless lives in the UK and around the world.”

Diana set the example for a new, active engagement when it came to pandemics and issues she cared about. No longer could royals seem remote, or simply smile polite, sympathetic smiles. No longer would it be alright just to make a crisp tour of a hospital, murmuring in low, appreciative tones to doctors and nurses.

Diana showed that fame could set a far more galvanizing example. Her words and actions led to not just a change in attitudes, but spearheaded a growth in volunteering, and helped push governments into doing more.

So, when it comes to the novel coronavirus, will her example help the royal family—particularly her children, William and Harry, who often speak of the inspiring example she set—to lead charitable endeavors, or actively campaign for research, funding, treatment, and care? Time will tell, but Diana showed the way for royals to do much more than release measured statements. Coronavirus could show us a template for a royal family of the future, or tried-and-tested past.

George’s gorgeous Mother’s Day card

For reasons lost in the mists of time, Britain and America celebrate Mother’s Day on different dates; it is held on the second Sunday of May in the United States and exactly three weeks before Easter Sunday in the United Kingdom. Today, therefore, is British Mother’s Day and Kate has shared on her Instagram page a few cute pics and the card her eldest son drew her this year.

Attentive readers may recall that there was a mini-controversy last year when Meghan appeared to celebrate American Mother’s Day not the British version.

Maybe this is one territory carve-up the warring couples can amicably agree on?

A small, family affair

Princess Beatrice could get married to her fiance, Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, in front of just two witnesses if she goes ahead with the May 29 date as currently planned. The reception has already been cancelled but the palace has remained opaque on whether or not the marriage itself will proceed, saying in a statement: “Beatrice and Mr Mapelli Mozzi are very much looking forward to getting married but are equally aware of the need to avoid undertaking any unnecessary risks in the current circumstances. In line with government advice for the UK and beyond, the couple are reviewing their arrangements. They are particularly conscious of government advice in relation to both the wellbeing of older family members and large gatherings of people.”

The Church of England has said that the number of people attending church weddings during the coronavirus outbreak should be limited to the legal minimum of five people—the priest, the bride and groom, and two witnesses.

Meghan urges mental health self-care

The immense challenges of the coronavirus pandemic have certainly served to put into perspective Harry and Meghan’s decision to leave the U.K. and step back from the royal family.

The Sussexes’ new position as royal outsiders has given them freedom to be less restrained: and Meghan and Harry have posted an interesting message on Instagram this weekend urging people to take care of their mental health. Needless to say, it has attracted its fair share of haters, but if it upsets people so much why don’t they just unfollow?

This week in royal history

Some other news for the daughters York: On Monday, Beatrice’s younger sister Eugenie will turn 30, and what would once have been a big celebration might find itself with a more era-appropriate guest list (or maybe she’ll celebrate online). Eugenie, 10th in line to the throne, was born at London’s private Portland Hospital on 23 March 1990. When her proud parents presented her to the waiting media outside, Prince Andrew wore a pinstripe charcoal grey suit and a pink tie. A few decades later, Meghan would choose to have Archie at the same hospital.

Unanswered questions

Will the queen and Prince Philip move to Sandringham in Norfolk, should their advisers—medical and otherwise—believe that Windsor Castle isn’t isolated enough for them right now?

RELATED VIDEO: Kate and William visit UK 111 call center staff amid coronavirus outbreak [Provided by Press Association]


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