Back to Magazine

Diana, Princess of Wales
A personal tribute to the Red Cross’s
best-known volunteer

I first met Diana, Princess of Wales in the 1980s when I was Chief Executive of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and she was Patron of the Commonwealth Society for the Deaf. We had both decided to learn sign language. She was keen to show deaf people that she cared about them and felt that she could do so by communicating with them in their own language. Communication was important to her — she had the ability to communicate with almost anyone, whether President of a country or a landmine victim.

When I joined the Red Cross in January 1991— just before the Gulf War — I was delighted to discover that the Princess of Wales was one of our Patrons. At the time, however, she was Patron of the Red Cross Youth and, although very committed to them, she wanted to do more. She expressed interest in working with our international and domestic

Her first overseas visit for the British Red Cross was to Hungary on the Croatian border. There she talked to Croat refugees and I recall the effect she had on Pietre, a young boy who had been separated from his parents. Her caring and supportive manner left
him with some hope for the future. When I met him again on a second visit he still remembered the effect she had had on him.

I was fortunate to travel with Diana to many destinations after that. Overseas, we travelled to Nepal via Delhi, to Zimbabwe, Angola, Washington and Geneva. The visits were always a combination of fun and hard work. She was a real professional.

The highlight of all these tours for her and for me must be the visit to Angola. The Princess had received quite a lot of information about these weapons from the Red Cross and other organizations and was convinced that here she could make a real contribution. The Angola trip was the first time, I think, that Diana travelled in a private capacity as a worker. Here she was able to combine her natural caring skills with her ability to use the media to highlight a cause about which she really cared. I’m told that over 90 million people have seen the BBC documentary “Diary of a Princess”, the film of her trip. In the UK it has been shown three times.

Our last visit together was to Washington, where we launched the American Red Cross’s campaign to ban anti-personnel landmines and raised $650,000 in one day. Who else could do that?

Had she lived, she would have continued to help make the world a better place. Her love of people and her wish to focus on those causes which she thought were important drove her to do more. I can’t really believe that she is gone and that she will not pick up the phone and chat about her latest idea.

The world and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement owe her an enormous debt and will miss her greatly. And so will I.

Mike Whitlam
Director General, British Red Cross

Top | Contact Us | Credits | Webmaster

2003 | Copyright