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British RoyalsThe Cambridges

William at 40: Diana, her loss and legacy

Russ Quinlan, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The Duke of Cambridge was only a teenager when he lost his mother, but in the decades since her death, he’s done his best to keep her memory alive and carry on her legacy. As we prepare to celebrate William’s 40th birthday, let’s take a look at how Diana, Princess of Wales, has always been an influence on her eldest son.

Perhaps the most famous example of Diana’s legacy continuing is through William’s own family. When he proposed to then-girlfriend Kate Middleton in 2010, he presented her with his mother’s famous and diamond engagement ring.

In their November 2010 engagement interview, William said, “Obviously she’s not around to share the fun and excitement of it all so this is my way of keeping her close to it all.”

In a 2017 documentary marking the 20th anniversary of her death, William said that he and his brother felt compelled to talk about Diana because they “feel we at least owe her 20 years on to stand up for her name and remind everybody of the character and person that she was. Do our duties as sons in protecting her.”

But Diana’s legacy is also woven into the charitable work William carries out, particularly with his focus on helping the homeless community. In 2019, he became patron of The Passage, a homelessness charity once favoured by Diana—in fact, she used to take him to visit the charity when he was younger.

He said in a speech at the time, “The visits I made as a child to this place left a deep and lasting impression upon me—about how important it is to ensure that everyone in our society, especially the poorest, are treated with respect, dignity and kindness, and are given the opportunities to fulfill their potential in life.”

One aspect of his upbringing that he has praised was Diana’s ability to understand that “there was a real life outside palace walls and she wanted us to see it for a very young age.”

William has also spoken about the personal impact of losing his mother so young, and how that grief is still with him all these years later.

In a 2017 documentary, ‘Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy’, William revealed that there aren’t many days that go by where he doesn’t think of his mother, either sadly or positively. “I have a smile every now and again when someone says something and I think, ‘That’s exactly what she would have said,’ or, ‘She would have enjoyed that comment.’ They always live with you, people you lose. My mother lives with me every day.’”

And in an interview with GQ magazine in May 2017, William revealed that he was in a better place to talk about Diana, “where I can talk about her more openly, talk about her more honestly, and I can remember her better, and publicly talk about her better.

“It has taken me almost 20 years to get to that stage. I still find it difficult now, because at the time it was so raw. And also it is not like most people’s grief, because everyone else knows about it, everyone knows the story, everyone knows her.”

William has also made sure that his three children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, know about their grandmother. “We’ve got more photos up around the house of her, and we talk about her a bit.”

He revealed that at bedtime, he talks to his children, to “just try to remind them that there are two grandmothers—there were two grandmothers in their lives. And it’s important they know who she was and that she existed.”

In March 2021, to mark Mother’s Day, cards from the Cambridge children for their grandmother were released onto the Kensington Palace social media accounts. The post was captioned: “Each year on Mother’s Day, George, Charlotte and Louis make cards remembering their Granny, Diana, for William. Whatever your circumstances, we are thinking of you this Mother’s Day.”

Prince George’s read: “Dear granny Diana, Happy happy Mother’s Day. I love you very much and think of you always, sending lots of love from George xxxxx.”

Princess Charlotte’s read: “Dear Granny Diana, I am thinking of you on Mother’s Day. I love you very much. Papa is missing you. Lots of love Charlotte xxxxxxxxx.”

Prince Louis’s was a painted heart with animal stickers on it, and featured his name.

Speculating over what type of grandmother she’d have been, in the 2017 documentary, William theorised that she’d probably be an “absolute nightmare. She’d love the children to bits, but she’d be an absolute nightmare.

“She’d come and go and she’d come in probably at bath time, cause an amazing amount of scene, bubbles everywhere, bathwater all over the place and—and then leave.”

Most recently, William and his brother unveiled a statue of Diana in the gardens at Kensington Palace, on what would have been her 60th birthday—1 July 2021. In a joint statement, the brothers wrote: “Today, on what would have been our Mother’s 60th birthday, we remember her love, strength and character—qualities that made her a force for good around the world, changing countless lives for the better. Every day, we wish she were still with us, and our hope is that this statue will be seen forever as a symbol of her life and her legacy.”

About author

Jess is the Senior Royal Reporter and Editorial Assistant at Royal Central. Her interest in royalty started in her teenage years, coinciding with The Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002 and grew from there. She specializes in the British Royal Family (with emphasis on the Cambridges) and the Danish Royal Family, and has provided royal commentary for media outlets in Canada, the United States, the UK and Australia.