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Diana Remembered

Release Date: 31 Aug 2017

Twenty years ago, our former President, Diana, Princess of Wales, died tragically in a car accident. It’s one of those moments where, regardless of your thoughts on the monarchy, you remember where you were and the sadness that engulfed the world.

As a tribute we are sharing material from the archive about Diana’s time as our president and the impact of her work on Barnardo’s, our staff, volunteers and most importantly the children we supported.

These documents include the letter we wrote to HRH The Queen, our Patron, in February 1984 requesting her permission and support for Diana to become our President and the extensive coverage in Barnardo’s publications on many of her subsequent visits.

Diana letter collage

Perhaps the most striking records are those kept in our photographic archive, where we have thousands of images of the Princess. With so many images, one of the easiest ways to identify them was by the fantastic outfits that she wore.

The letters between Barnardo’s and Diana’s staff at the palaces tell a fascinating behind the scenes story. They document the steps we took in inviting The Princess to be our President, in keeping with a long standing tradition of Royal patronage and presidency that we have enjoyed since 1902. Although the official announcement of her Presidency was not made until the AGM in October 1984, a small number of staff had known since March. It’s amusing to read letters between staff urging each other not to “blow the gaff” in their excitement.

Illustrative of her nature were the instructions from Diana and her staff on how she would like to conduct her work. She asked that visits focus on our most pioneering and innovative work and that she speak to workers and children with their families rather than a line-up of VIPs.

She particularly requested that the visits be informal and from the beginning indicated she would be making low key, informal visits alongside official engagements.

Diana visit

Diana ensured she was well informed about our work, requesting a full list of projects and information about them so she could fit in surprise visits when she was in a particular area. She even asked for copies of our newsletter that she could read while sitting underneath her hairdryer. Needless to say, Diana featured regularly in those newsletters.

The archives demonstrate the dynamic role played by Diana in changing the public’s perception of Barnardo’s. With her help, we changed from being known for providing orphanages to being seen as a progressive organisation that worked with children and their families, fostering and adoption and responding to contemporary issues such as supporting those with disabilities, the young and homeless and young offenders.

Diana Falkirk visit

Her visits raised awareness of areas that needed support, generated surges of inquiries and more generally furthered the education of the public on issues affecting children and young people.

In 1989, accompanied by two young people from our services, she signed ‘If You Let Me’, our new campaign charter to highlight the needs of young people with “mental handicaps” at Kensington Palace. Such publicity led to a doubling of our turnover by 1987 from the figure three years earlier when she became President. Attending a film premiere in 1984 generated £30,000 to support our work alone.

Her commitment to, and attendance at, volunteer celebrations helped to increase the voluntary support we could provide in areas where it was desperately needed.

However, her greatest contribution was to those we supported. Diana made more than 110 visits to Barnardo’s services. Most were planned in advance, but she also sprung surprise visits on foster families, pensioners and projects when she could.

The many articles about such events are accompanied by images showing the hundreds of smiling people, carrying bouquets of flowers, who turned up to see her.  

Diana news collage

Our archives show how Diana boosted morale and encouraged everyone involved in our work, and it was her caring down-to-earth approach that won her our hearts. This is evident from newspaper headlines such as ‘Princess Charming’, ‘Princess Sunshine’ and the even more overt ‘Princess makes everybody happy’.

During visits she would often dart off to greet groups of children and families who had been waiting patiently to meet her - throwing out her schedule for the day.

Diana Hull visit

She ensured that weeks, and sometimes months, of planning for her visits were worth it by making everyone feel special by listening to their stories and making time for volunteers and staff alike.        

During our research, we felt an enormous sense of pride discovering the impact Diana had on our charity. She raised the profile of our projects, increased donations and volunteers and broke down stigmas through her obvious care for the children and families we support.

Just like Thomas Barnardo, Diana’s compassion knew no bounds and it’s safe to say that both left world a better place.  

Diana remembered leaflet

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