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Diana’s visits to Pakistan

Pakistan held a special place in Diana, Princess of Wales’s heart, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will follow in her footsteps when they travel to the country this autumn. Ahead of the Cambridges’ tour in October, we’re taking a look at the visits made by Diana to Pakistan through the 1990s.

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This visit marked an important milestone for the Princess of Wales as it was her first official solo tour, and she was determined to prove her worth in the family. Author Andrew Morton said in a recent issue of Hello! that Diana had a lot riding on that particular tour, making her first trip to Pakistan a much different one than the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge can expect.

“While Prince William and Kate can rely on one another during the tour, Diana went solo at the time when her marriage to the Prince of Wales was truly on the skids,” Morton said. “Before she left I remember her saying how nervous she was, knowing that some courtiers inside the Palace were keen to see her fall flat on her face.”

But Diana proved them wrong, shining as she took on a range of engagements during the busy tour, ranging from a girls school and family welfare centre in Islamabad and the Badshahi Mosque and the Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore, to the Khyber Rifles and the Chitral Scouts on a visit to the Northwest Frontier.

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Her bodyguard at the time, Ken Wharfe, released a book about his experiences working for the Princess, including the Pakistan tour. In it, he described the visit and the resulting media coverage as hugely positive.

“The headlines screamed that Diana had taken Pakistan by storm, that her visit had been a resounding success. The tabloids predictably hailed her vociferously as the jewel in the royal family’s crown, one of them claiming, employing a typically lame pun, that she was ‘All the Raj’. The Princess could barely contain her elation. As far as she was concerned, she had arrived as a public figure on the world stage.”


Five years later, the now-single Diana made a private two-day visit to Lahore to see her friend Imran Khan, a famous cricketer turned politician, and his then-wife, Jemima. The Cambridges will meet Khan, who is now Prime Minister of Pakistan, on their tour this year and will surely share fond memories of Diana.

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Diana visited Lahore to help raise money to create the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, which was being built by Imran Khan and spent her trip visiting sick children and attending fundraising events.

But the Princess also had a personal reason for the trip. At the time, she was dating heart surgeon Dr Hasnat Khan, who was from Pakistan and a distant cousin of Imran’s. During her 1996 trip, Diana had tea with Dr Khan’s parents and Jemima later admitted that “Diana was madly in love with Hasnat Khan and wanted to marry him, even if that meant living in Pakistan.” 

His mother shared the sentiment in an interview with Pakistan’s Daily Times. “Everyone knew she wanted to marry him,” Dr Khan’s mother, Nahid, said, “but he felt that a marriage would be impossible.”

Dr Khan hated the media circus that surrounded the Princess and wanted to live a low-key life but to do so would have required the couple to move to Pakistan permanently. Taking her two sons – one of them an heir to the throne – to live in another country would never have worked, not to mention the doctor’s parents found it hard to accept a divorced non-Muslim as their son’s future wife. However, their two-year relationship continued on into the summer of 1997, shortly before Diana’s tragic accident in Paris.


In May 1997, Diana made what would be her final visit to Pakistan, officially opening the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital with the Khans. The Princess visited with patients in the hospital and attended a dinner at the Lahore Fort during her visit. But again, she also made secret visits to Hasnat Kahn’s family, and this time it was to convince them she would be a suitable wife.

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“She came to visit me twice in Pakistan to help fund-raise for Imran’s hospital, but both times she also went to meet his family secretly to discuss the possibility of marriage to Hasnat,” Jemima told Vanity Fair. “She wanted to know how hard it had been for me to adapt to life in Pakistan and she wanted advice on how to deal with Pakistani men and their cultural baggage.”

In the documentary “Diana: Her Last Love,” Imran Khan shared he had private conversations with the Princess during her May visit indicating the couple were making plans to marry. She had asked him to serve as a go-between to help ease Dr Khan’s mind about the cultural differences, as Imran had married a Western woman as well.

“I had it in my mind that I was going to talk to him. At least to find out what was the reason because maybe there was some reason that she wasn’t aware of,” Khan said. “Maybe I could speak to him because having married someone from outside my culture, if there was something that could be cleared or some advice that could be given, then maybe I would be able to help.”

Sadly, the couple broke off their relationship that July. And before Imran Khan could travel to London to speak to the heart surgeon “that tragic incident took place,” he said.

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Diana, Princess of Wales died just three months after her return from Pakistan. But her legacy lives on through Dr Khan, who opened a cardiac unit in Pakistan for impoverished children, fulfilling a dream the couple had talked about carrying out together.

About author

Kristin was Chief Reporter for Royal Central until 2022 and has been following the British royal family for more than 30 years. Kristin has appeared in UK and U.S. media outlets discussing the British royals including BBC Breakfast, BBC World News, Sky News, the Associated Press, TIME, The Washington Post, and many others.