The 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death got plenty of attention this week.
New TV documentaries and biographies have honored the life and legacy of the free-spirited royal. The Associated Press released restored footage of Princess Diana’s 1981 marriage to Prince Charles, which produced two sons — Prince William, now 35, and Prince Harry, 32 — but ended in divorce in 1996, a year before her death in a car crash in Paris.
And there has been renewed interest in the paparazzi’s obsession with photographing Diana, and how much her life and death modernized the royal family. What has been overlooked, however, was the way Princess Diana was an economic powerhouse in her own right.
“Diana would sell thousands of copies of magazines, but it went beyond that,” said royal author and commentator Robert Jobson, who said her “combination of both superstar and royal” contributed to a sense that “Britain was bigger than it actually was.”
“She was miles ahead of everyone else in terms of how the UK was perceived,” Jobson said. “The royal family are still an economic soft power for the UK but they now don’t have the ‘Wow’ factor that Diana had.”
“There is no living equivalent of Diana,” said Imogen Lloyd Webber, PEOPLE Now’s Royal Correspondent. “She was unique.”
Here are three areas where the brand of Diana, Princess of Wales, benefited the bottom line.
Princess Diana, who supported over 100 charities, was an indispensable force to the nonprofit sector in the 1980s and 1990s.
Among the causes she enthusiastically embraced: removing the stigma associated with AIDS by openly embracing HIV sufferers at a time when this was frowned upon, supporting homeless charities by touring shelters in central London, and — toward the end of her life — campaigning to ban land mines.
“The Royal Family have always supported good causes, so on some level there was nothing new about what Diana did,” said Lloyd Webber. “But she had such empathy and used that ability to walk into a room and seek out and comfort people who needed the most help to unprecedented effect.”
Diana scaled down her charity connections after her divorce to Prince Charles in 1996. But when she died she was the patron for organizations ranging from the National Aids Trust to Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.
The effort Princess Diana expended undoubtedly fueled donations and fundraising for the charities she backed. Shortly after her death, a spokeswoman for Great Ormond Street Hospital told the BBC: “Her support was invaluable and incalculable.”
Diana represented a model current celebrities adapted to “use their celebrity in very positive ways,” said Lloyd Webber.
Princess of pop culture
Princess Diana was a celebrated culture junkie. Her music tastes ranged from 1980s pop — she liked Duran Duran, Wham and Dire Straits — to classical music and ballet.
Whether dancing at the White House with actor John Travolta or with ballet dancer Wayne Sleep at London’s Royal Opera House, Princess Diana ensured show business and royalty collided like they had never before.
But it was through her support of movies that she made the biggest economic impact in the pop cultural sphere.
Diana attended hundreds of royal gala movie premieres, usually in London, for charitable causes. They included the royal premieres for five James Bond movies as well as films ranging from “Jurassic Park” to “Dangerous Liaisions, “Short Circuit,” and “Top Gun” spoof “Hot Shots.”
“It’s difficult to quantify the effect Diana had on movies but she would generate publicity for films at a time when the media wasn’t as celebrity-hungry as it is now,” says Ralf Ludemann, a UK film industry analyst.
“Her appearance at a premiere guaranteed more media mentions and coverage for the movie in question and it enabled that film to acquire cachet. People would automatically start looking up to the film as a result. That literally happened by royal appointment.”
A veteran film marketing executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “For certain films we used to estimate the Diana effect could add up to 10% to a film’s box office revenue [in the U.K.]. I met her at several premieres and I don’t think she ever cared about whether a film she was seeing would be a flop or a hit. I think she just liked meeting creative people, seeing films and supporting good causes.”
“Even when it was negative press for Diana herself, it was good for the film. I remember after she got caught sneaking in Prince Harry to see “The Devil’s Own”, [Harry was 12 years old at the time and the Harrison Ford- Brad Pitt film was rated 15 years and over in the UK] everybody at Columbia-Tri Star [the film’s UK distributor] was delighted with the publicity that the controversy generated.”
He adds: “Royal premieres still happen now. But the London film event scene has never recovered from Diana not being around to attend as many royal premieres as she did.”
Following Princess Diana’s death, her close friend Sir Elton John rerecorded his song “Candle in the Wind” which subsequently became the biggest selling single of all time in the U.K.
The idea to rerecord “Candle in the Wind” was inadvertently set in motion by TV host Kate Thornton who, thinking she didn’t have any appropriate music to play on her show “Straight Up” which was broadcast the day of Diana’s death, went to her car and found an Elton John CD to play on her show.
“It got picked up the next day,” Thornton recalled, and the rest was music history.
ABC, NBC, PBS, the Smithsonian Channel and HBO have all aired documentaries on the life of Diana to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her death,
Prince William and Prince Harry candidly discussed their mother in two of the documentaries, including HBO’s “Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy” which was a co-production with the BBC.
A more controversial documentary “Diana: In Her Own Words,” which broadcast tell-all tapes of the princess, attracted 3.5 million viewers on the UK’s Channel 4, making it the most-watched show this year.
The recent coverage of Princess Diana is a throwback to the wall-to-wall attention paid to her by the media during her life. In return, Diana delivered great circulation to newspapers.
“She would dramatically increase newspaper sales,” said Robert Jobson, who covered Diana’s exploits as Royal Correspondent of the UK tabloid newspaper The Daily Express. “Rare photographs that showed her doing something different would sell for thousands of pounds because they generated thousands and thousands of pounds.”
Jobson has co-written two books about Diana with her former bodyguard Ken Wharfe, “Diana: A Closely Guarded Secret” and “Guarding Diana” in addition to biographies of other royals. “I know from having written books on William and Kate [Middleton] they don’t sell in the same way as books about Diana do,” he says.
“Closely Guarded Secret” sold 40,000 e-books on the Kindle platform, Jobson said. “It’s because she was an enigma, like a Grace Kelly or Marilyn Monroe, wrapped up in royal tinsel.”