Ahead of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s tour of South Africa later this month, Royal Central looks back at the work Diana, Princess of Wales did with the Halo Trust in Angola.
It was the 15th of January 1997, and Diana, Princess of Wales was nervous. She’d swapped her usual glamorous dresses and tailored suits for a pair of chinos and body armour.
Ten years earlier, she’d seen how powerful she could be. Visiting a hospital in London, she’d dispelled worldwide myths surrounding AIDS when she took her ungloved hand and touched those suffering with the disease.
Now, she had a new cause. She wanted to eradicate the world of landmines.
Thirty years of civil war had left the Angolan countryside littered with millions of them.
It was the perfect place for Diana to begin her campaign. As she told the press, which surrounded her at the airport, “There couldn’t be a more appropriate place to begin this campaign than Angola because this nation has the highest number of amputees per population than anywhere in the world.”
Diana was thinking of the people she could save from death and maiming. She had no idea that her new cause would erupt into a political storm back home, resulting in her being called “a loose cannon” by a government minister.
With the attention of the world’s press firmly focused on her, she knew now was the time to make a splash.Embed from Getty Images
Pulling down her ballistic helmet, Diana took a deep breath and walked through an active minefield and detonated a mine in front of the press with the help of Paul Heslop, a mine removal expert with HALO Trust.
HALO Trust was a non-political organisation that removes debris—particularly landmines—left behind by war. “One down, 17 million to go,” Diana said, as she pushed the button to detonate.
Heslop recalled the impact of the trip to the BBC. “This was going to be an amazing opportunity to showcase the work we did, and how we did it, to the most famous woman in the world,” Heslop said, “and there was obviously going to be a huge amount of media interest.”Embed from Getty Images
While there, she was pictured sitting with a 13-year-old girl, Sandra Thijika. Out to get groceries with her mother, Sandra was injured by a landmine, losing her leg from her hip. She’d been waiting for three years for a prosthesis.
Diana went onto deliver a speech on landmines at a conference held at the Royal Geographical Society in June, before travelling to Washington, D.C. to help promote the American Red Cross landmines campaign.
Diana’s campaign to eradicate the world of landmines would be her final legacy. She was killed in a car accident in Paris just months later, but her work was credited with contributing to the Ottawa Mine Treaty, also called the Mine Ban Treaty, which was signed by 122 countries, who agreed to bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of antipersonnel mines.
Today, the fight to eradicate landmines is continuing. “The battle is being won against mines, but it’s not over,” said Heslop.Embed from Getty Images
Carrying on his mother’s work, Prince Harry has become a patron of HALO Trust, throwing his support behind a 2025 deadline to eradicate the world of landmines.
On becoming a patron he said, “The attention my mother brought to this issue wasn’t universally popular; some believed she had stepped over the line into the arena of political campaigning—but for her, this wasn’t about politics; it was about people.
“There is no question that a huge amount has been achieved in the last 20 years…But in marking how far we have come, we must also acknowledge that there is much more which needs to be done to fulfil the commitments of the Ottawa treaty.”
Harry will continue to shine a spotlight on this issue when he visits Angola later this month.