Twice a year on the anniversary of Princess Diana’s death and on her birthday royal fans gather outside the gates to Kensington Palace.
Many are clad in Union Jack outfits and brandishing banners and flags, and they convene to honor the woman whose story continues to captivate the world.
“Superfans,” as they are often dubbed, were in their usual position outside the royal residence, but with an extra sense of anticipation because just meters away a definitive tribute to Diana was about to be unveiled.
Princes William and Harry put on a united front to tug at a piece of green cloth and show the world their shared vision of how they want their mother to be remembered.
The “small event,” as Kensington Palace described it, was held in the Sunken Garden and attended only by the brothers, Diana’s siblings, sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley, garden designer Pip Morrison, and those involved in the creation of the statue.
In line with the brothers’ wishes, the unveiling was not broadcast live but instead captured by just a handful of media with images and footage released only after everything was finished.
One person who witnessed the event described it as “emotional” and also recalled how there was an informality to the proceedings.
Far from being any kind of ceremony, this was simply an intimate family gathering to unveil what is ultimately a very personal tribute from two sons.
Yet despite the fact that nothing of the moment could be seen from the rest of Kensington Gardens, there was plenty of evidence that this was not an ordinary day.
For many who had come down to Diana’s former home either by accident or design, there was a strong sense of being part of something, of being present for a moment in history even if they could not see it.
“I do remember Diana being very iconic…and I think it’s great for the kids to have a sense of history and feel part of it,” Keira Marshall, who was on holiday with her husband and three children, said.
“We made it a special day to come here,” Roja Solim, who was visiting the gardens with her sister Vivi, said. “It’s something they wanted to do which is lovely,” she added about the brothers and the statue.
Despite the larger-than-usual numbers of people standing on the path overlooking Kensington Palace, there remained an air of calmness and reflection.
The row of British and international broadcasters lined up behind metal barriers went about their work as members of the public stood quietly.
The weather, which for so many days in London has been unseasonably cold and rainy, was mild, and the air was still.
Nothing was seen or heard of the event publicly until well after it finished at 2:30 p.m. local time. Once the statue was unveiled, those outside the gardens were in the same position as everyone else, looking up the image on their phones to see how Diana’s sons had chosen for her to be portrayed.
For the journalists amongst those gathered, a statement from Kensington Palace arrived just before 3 p.m. outlining how the bronze statue aimed to reflect the “warmth, elegance and energy” of Diana. Slightly larger than life (1.25 times life-size), it shows her as she is perhaps best remembered—surrounded by children with her arms outstretched.
The statue’s position in the Sunken Garden—a favorite place of Diana’s when she lived at the Kensington Palace—means it is just a stone’s throw from the statue of Queen Victoria. Britain’s Queen for almost 64 years, Victoria was born at the palace, yet for so many people, this west London home will always be synonymous with Diana. The former Princess of Wales has been the subject of numerous temporary exhibitions at Kensington Palace, but this statue cements the venue as her permanent home.
Almost 25 years after her death, Diana’s legacy remains powerful and potent and lives on through her sons. Now, this statue provides a permanent memento that millions of people across the world can see for centuries to come. Diana fan John Loughrey is convinced that the Princess’s star will never fade: “In 1,000 years time they’ll still be talking about Diana, she left a legacy behind for us all.”