One of Princess Diana's lasting legacies was her work fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic. She saw a group of people who were being ignored and knew she had to help.
On April 19, 1987, Princess Diana visted London Middlesex Hospital, where the first ever treatment center for HIV/AIDS was opened in the UK. Then, Diana did something no one ever expected. She shook the hand of a patient with AIDS, without wearing any gloves.
To us now, this isn't necessarily a big deal. We all know that HIV/AIDS cannot be spread through a handshake. But in 1987, there was less information on how the disease spread. Because of this, more than 50% of people surveyed by the Los Angeles Times believed people with HIV/AIDS should be quarantined.
"If a royal was allowed to go in shake a patient's hands, somebody at the bus stop or the supermarket could do the same," a nurse who witnessed Diana's hospital visit once told the BBC. "That really educated people."
30 years after her historic handshake, Prince Harry spoke about his mother's desire to help.
The Virgin Holidays Attitude Awards were held in London this past month, and Princess Diana was honored with Attitude magazine's Legacy Award for her fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Prince Harry accepted the award on his late mother's behalf.
“In April of 1987, my mother was only 25-years-old,” he recalled. “She was still finding her way in public life, but already she felt a responsibility to shine her spotlight on the people and issues that were often ignored. She knew that AIDS was one of the things that many wanted to ignore and seemed like a hopeless challenge. She knew that the misunderstanding of this relatively new disease was creating a dangerous situation when mixed with homophobia.”
“So when that April she took the hand of a 32-year old man with HIV in front of the cameras, she knew exactly what she was doing,” he explained. “She was using her position as Princess of Wales, the most famous woman in the world, to challenge everyone to educate themselves, to find their compassion and reach out to those who need help instead of pushing them away.”
Princess Diana not only impacted the public, but also her family. In 2016, Prince Harry and Rihanna teamed up to launch their own HIV/AIDS Awareness Campaign. Both of them underwent live HIV tests to honor World AIDS Day.
“In the years that followed that famous handshake, her work continued both in private and public," concluded Harry. "She wanted the world to know the stories of those that were dying.”
You can watch the entire speech here.