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William and Harry to unveil Diana statue for mom’s 60th: Why it’s complicated


People place flags on the gates of Kensington Palace on June 30. Diana, Princess of Wales, would have turned 60 on July 1. 


Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images

Sadly, Diana, Princess of Wales, never even made it to age 40, dying in a tragic 1997 car crash in Paris at just 36. To mark what would have been her 60th birthday, her sons William and Harry are unveiling a statue of her at her former home, London’s Kensington Palace, on Thursday, July 1. But thanks to all the headlines and buzz about the royal family of late, this won’t be just an ordinary statue dedication. Here’s why.

Diana’s statue

What will Diana’s sculpture look like? 

Diana’s two sons commissioned the statue in 2017, the year that marked the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death. There have been other statues of the late princess — some are creepy — but with her sons’ approval, this one stands above the rest. And with Diana one of the most photographed people on the planet, ever, the sculptor has a tough job. Every little flaw is likely to be scrutinized.

That high-pressure job fell to British sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley, whose image of Queen Elizabeth II has appeared on all UK and Commonwealth coins since 1998. No images of the work have leaked, so Thursday’s reveal will be the first time most people see the Diana statue.

At least one British historian, Tessa Dunlop, has criticized the choice of a male sculptor for the job, saying the failure to choose a female sculptor was a “missed opportunity.” She also noted that there’s “certainly no doubting Rank-Broadley’s talent.”

dianahat

Diana, pictured here in March 1990, would have been 60 this year. 


Jayne Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images

Where will it be?

The statue will be placed in the Sunken Garden of Kensington Palace, reportedly a special place to Diana. To mark the 20th anniversary of her death in 2017, the garden was replanted in white flowers, taking inspiration from Diana’s wardrobe. In preparation for this event, more than 4,000 individual flowers, including Diana’s favorite, forget-me-nots, have been planted.

Once the statue is unveiled, the public will be able to see it, as Kensington Palace and its gardens are open to visitors. The gardens are free to visit, while there is a charge for tours of the public areas of the palace itself.

Kensington Palace is the main residence of Prince William and his family. Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, also lived there for a time, and numerous other royals call it home. Diana and Prince Charles lived there after their wedding, raised their children there, and Diana lived there even after her divorce.

The unveiling: Can I watch?

The statue will be unveiled on July 1, marking what would’ve been Diana’s 60th birthday. William and Harry will both attend and speak about their mother. Neither of their wives will be there. Harry’s wife, Meghan Markle, gave birth to daughter Lilibet Diana on June 4 in California, and will be staying home with the new baby and son Archie. William’s wife, Kate, certainly could have attended — it’s literally happening in the garden of her home — but Harper’s Bazaar reports William will show the statue to her and to their three children privately before the event. It seems likely William and Harry want to minimize the splashiness of the event to keep the focus on their late mother.

There really won’t be many people in attendance at the unveiling. Diana’s siblings — two sisters and a brother — will attend. So will the sculptor and garden designer Pip Morrison. Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth will not.

The unveiling will not be televised live, though photos and press reports will certainly come out once it happens. A second event is planned for September to allow more people to attend, the BBC reports, though details depend on the coronavirus rules at the time.

William and Harry’s relationship

Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, is second in line to the British throne after his father, Prince Charles. William was born to Charles and Diana in 1982, and his brother, Harry, followed in 1984. Harry was third in line to the throne at his birth, but William’s three children have pushed him down to sixth in line.

The two brothers once seemed to be extremely close to both each other and to their mother. William was 15 when Diana died and Harry was just 12, and perhaps going through that bonded them. They seemed, publicly at least, to be the best of friends for years. But tabloids have questioned whether Harry’s 2018 marriage to American Meghan Markle and the couple’s subsequent move to California have driven a wedge between the brothers. As heir to the throne, William has to walk a carefully circumscribed path that’s laid out for him while, as the “spare,” Harry was more free to decide his own future.

It doesn’t help that back in March, Harry and Meghan gave an explosive televised interview to Oprah Winfrey. Among other headline-making revelations, Meghan said someone in the royal family was concerned about her unborn son’s skin color, and that palace representatives didn’t offer help when royal pressures drove her to thoughts of suicide. It surely didn’t help that Meghan said Kate made her cry during plans for her wedding — William is known to be a strong defender of his wife, and there’s no way he enjoyed having that made public. And William later had to actually deny that the royal family was racist when questioned at an event. 

While William and Harry will always be brothers, and the only two people to know what it was like to grow up as Charles and Diana’s marriage disintegrated, they seem to be on separate paths now. Vanity Fair reports that the two have been talking about plans for the statue unveiling, but that their relationship is still “very strained.”

What to watch for

The public won’t be able to watch the event unfold live, but there’s a lot of interest anyway. 

The statue itself has almost slipped from the headlines, replaced by a focus on William and Harry, but photos of the statue will be hotly awaited and shared everywhere. Any inaccuracies in Diana’s image will surely be noted, as will the clothing and pose selected by Ian Rank-Broadley.

William and Harry’s speeches will be intently dissected, of course. They’re expected to offer personal memories of their mother, her troubled short life and her deep love for her sons. And royal-watchers will be noting how the two brothers relate to each other and whether they make any reference to the family issues exposed by Harry and Meghan’s interview. 

Sadly, even grieving for a mother taken too soon isn’t straightforward when the royal family is involved.



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