Princess Diana's Middle East legacy, from fashion to inspiring the next generation

How the trailblazing British royal's visits to the region helped shape attitudes of today

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From her engagement to Prince Charles as a shy teenager to her roles as doting mother, humanitarian and global celebrity, Princess Diana made an impact around the world with her different brand of royal service.

Crowds of thousands would gather to catch a glimpse of her, both at home and abroad, and she often eclipsed the presence of her husband, who she later split from after an 11-year marriage in 1992.

She undertook two tours to the Gulf in her time as a British royal, and visited various other Middle East nations. With each trip, her fashion choices, warm manner with the public and promotion of important causes drew comment.

As the world mourns the 25th anniversary of Princess Diana's death in a tragic car accident on August 31, 1997, here are some ways in which the 'people's princess' affected the Middle East.

Queen of the desert

Princess Diana and Prince Charles embarked on a nine-day tour of the Gulf in November 1986, taking in Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

British newspaper the Evening Post certainly considered the trip was a success, reporting that the princess "emerged ... as the queen of the desert".

But the desert may not have been so well suited to the royal couple. Royal aides told the Daily Record at the time: "It's much hotter than we had been led to believe."

The royal tour took in a rapidly changing Oman after Sultan Qaboos had deposed his father, with a trip to the new Sultan Qaboos University, meeting Omani women.

Ridding the Middle East of mines

HUAMBO, ANGOLA - JANUARY 15:  Diana, Princess Of Wales, Visits A Minefield Being Cleared By The Charity Halo In Huambo, Angola, Wearing Protective Body Armour And A Visor.  (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

Perhaps the most famous photograph of Princess Diana was taken in Angola. Only months before her tragic death in 1997 she walked, donning a flak jacket and face shield, through an active minefield.

The photos beamed around the world with other images of her meeting the child victims of landmines raised awareness, funds and support for demining operations and work to ensure fewer munitions were used in future.

"Where her impact has been most felt on the global scale is of course through the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty, which was signed the same year as her death," Louise Vaughan, global media manager at demining charity the Halo Trust, told The National.

'There had been a global grass roots movement against landmines for an entire decade and many parliamentarians had worked tirelessly to secure the treaty. But there is no doubt that the now iconic photographs of Diana in Halo body armour in that Angolan minefield forced all governments, including the UK's, to prioritise the treaty and push it over the line."

Although Diana did not work directly on demining in the Middle East, the attention her famous mine walk drew to the cause helped raise the profile of the Halo Trust, for which her son Prince Harry is now a patron.

“I am not a political figure," the princess said in June 1997. "As I said at the time, and I'd like to reiterate now, my interests are humanitarian. That is why I felt drawn to this human tragedy.

"How can countries which manufacture and trade in these weapons square their conscience with such human devastation?"

Halo has worked across the Middle East, including in Yemen, Libya, Syria, the West Bank and Iraq.

"The whole humanitarian mine action movement has benefited from around half a billion dollars per annum for well over a decade now and that money wouldn't have been made available without the publicity and pressure her visit generated," Ms Vaughan said.

Tourism

View from Diana's Point, Sayq Plateau, Oman, Middle East

Diana visited a number of tourist sites in the region, leaving her mark — and even changing the name of one place she visited.

On her trip to Oman in 1986, Diana visited Jebel Akhdar, or the Green Mountain, stopping at a viewing point to take in the spectacular views across the Saiq Plateau and other Hajjar mountains.

The spot has since been named Diana's Point.

EGYPT - MAY 12:  Diana, Princess of Wales visits the Pyramids in Giza during an official tour of Egypt  (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)

In May 1992, Diana visited Giza and the Pyramids in Egypt, as well as the Karnak temple in Luxor. She sparked disappointment among the press for wearing a beige outfit, which blended in with the sand and stone of the area, making her difficult to photograph, the snapper Norbert Schiller said.

Thirty years later and a company called Egypt Magic Tours offers tourists a chance to walk in Diana's footsteps with a nine-day tour of all the spots she visited.

Fashion pioneer

The princess wearing a pink and red coatdress by Catherine Walker on a visit to the museum in Kuwait City in March 1989. Photo: Jayne Fincher / Hulton Royals Collection / Getty

As part of her 1989 tour of the region, the princess wore an innovative outfit that would become a fashion staple for many women thereafter. In Kuwait, she donned the 'coatdress' designed by her friend Catherine Walker. Diana's daughter-in-law Princess Kate has also become a fan of the look.

Even items she did not end up wearing caused a stir. In 2018, documents revealed she had packed a full-length white burqa for her 1986 visit to Saudi Arabia but it was not worn.

It was created in caution for Diana to dress modestly during the trip. Her lady-in-waiting, Anne Beckwith-Smith, wrote to the designer of Diana's wedding dress on June 2, 1986, requesting some sketches for fashion possibilities to be worn on the trip.

"Their royal highnesses will be visiting Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. In all cases modesty is the order of the day,” Ms Beckwith-Smith's note to Elizabeth Emanuel read.

Youth empowerment

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, March 19, 2015. Arushi Madan, TUNZA Eco Generation Regional Ambassador to Middle East, with her Diana Award for her contribution to the community. Photo: Reem Mohammed / The National   *** Local Caption ***  RM_20150319_ARUSHI_003.JPG

Princess Diana was lauded for her work to draw attention to global issues and for patronage of various charities. Her legacy in this area lives on with the Diana Award. Established in 1999 in memory of the Princess of Wales, it shines a light on those who have gone above and beyond to help their communities.

Each year the award produces a roll of honour of about 300 young people and youngsters from the Middle East have featured prominently.

In 2021, 22 people from the UAE received the award, being told by Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, that they represented "a new generation of humanitarianism".

Updated: August 27, 2022, 4:43 AM
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