All about the Princess Diana statue William and Harry just unveiled

"We remember her love." On what would have been their late mother's 60th birthday, the princes reunite to pay tribute to her.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
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Gael Cooper
6 min read

Princes William and Harry unveil a new statue of their mother, Princess Diana, on what would have been her 60th birthday.

Dominic Lipinski/Pool/ AFP for Getty Images

To mark what would have been Princess Diana's 60th birthday, her sons unveiled a statue of her at her former home, London's Kensington Palace, during a private ceremony on Thursday. The statue depicts a towering Diana, flanked by children who represent her global charity work. 

"Today, on what would have been our mother's 60th birthday, we remember her love, strength and character -- qualities that made her a force for good around the world, changing countless lives for the better," William and Harry said in a joint statement. 

Thanks to all the headlines and buzz about the royal family of late, this wasn't just any ordinary statue dedication. Here's more on what happened.

Diana statue

Who made the sculpture? 

Princes William and Harry commissioned the statue in 2017, the year that marked the 20th anniversary of Diana's tragic death in a 1997 car crash in Paris. There have been other statues of the late princess -- some are creepy -- but with her sons' approval, this one stands above the rest. And with Diana one of the most photographed people on the planet, the sculptor faced a tough task. 

That high-pressure job fell to British sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley, whose image of Queen Elizabeth II has appeared on all UK and Commonwealth coins since 1998. No images of the work leaked, so Thursday's reveal was the first time most people have seen the Diana statue.

At least one British historian, Tessa Dunlop, has criticized the choice of a male sculptor for the job, saying the failure to choose a female sculptor was a "missed opportunity." She also noted that there's "certainly no doubting Rank-Broadley's talent."

Statue details

The statue is built larger than life, as you can see when William and Harry stand in front of it. There are three children depicted, though one is hidden behind another, making it look at first glance as if there are only two. And they are not based on three specific children, but are meant to be universal. 

"The figure of Diana, Princess of Wales, is surrounded by three children who represent the universality and generational impact of the princess' work," according to a statement from Kensington Palace.

Diana isn't wearing one of her iconic ballgowns, but a simple, classic, belted dress that appears to show her in an outfit she wore on for the picture on a 1993 Christmas card. 

"The portrait and style of dress was based on the final period of her life as she gained confidence in her role as an ambassador for humanitarian causes and aims to convey her character and compassion," the statement reads.

Diana's name, and the date of the unveiling, are engraved on a stone below the statue. Another stone features words from the poem The Measure of a Man, which was listed in the program for a 2007 memorial service for Diana. (The author of the poem is unknown, and words were altered from "man" and "he" to "woman" and "she" for Diana.)

The quote reads, "These are the units to measure the worth/Of this woman as a woman regardless of birth/Not what was her station?/But had she a heart?/How did she play her God-given part?"

Flags remembering Diana at Kensington Palace

People place flags on the gates of Kensington Palace on June 30. Diana, Princess of Wales, would have turned 60 on July 1. 

Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images

The 60th birthday unveiling

Diana's two sons pulled a green cloth off the statue to reveal it, and the press snapped and shared many photos, but only a small group was there to see the unveiling in person. Diana's two sisters, Sarah McCorquodale and Jane Fellowes, and her brother, Charles Spencer, were present, but senior royals such as Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and even the wives and children of the princes were not there. 

William reportedly brought his wife, Kate, and their three children to see the statue earlier in a private visit. Harry's wife, Meghan, recently gave birth to their second child -- named Lilibet Diana in his grandmother and mother's honor -- and is home in California with the new baby and son Archie, 2.

The princes didn't give speeches at the unveiling, instead issuing a rare joint statement remembering their late mother. But the BBC reports that the two "were seen laughing and talking animatedly with guests," and that the guests applauded as the statue was unveiled.

While the crowd inside the garden was kept small, members of the public gathered near the palace with signs and balloons marking Diana's birthday. They were unable to see the ceremony, but the garden will reopen to the public on Friday. 

One prominent display left outside the palace spelled out "PRINCESS DIANA 60" in white and pink flowers, placed below a large banner celebrating Diana.

Amid the forget-me-nots

The statue stands in the Sunken Garden of Kensington Palace, reportedly a special place to Diana. To mark the 20th anniversary of her death in 2017, the garden was replanted in white flowers, taking inspiration from Diana's wardrobe. In preparation for the sculpture, more than 4,000 individual flowers, including Diana's favorite, forget-me-nots, have been planted.

"Every day, we wish she were still with us, and our hope is that this statue will be seen forever as a symbol of her life and her legacy," the brothers said Thursday. 

Now that the statue has been unveiled, the public will be able to see it, as Kensington Palace and its gardens are open to visitors. The gardens are free to visit, though there is a charge for tours of the public areas of the palace itself.

Kensington Palace is the main residence of Prince William and his family. Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, also lived there for a time, and numerous other royals have called it home. Diana and Prince Charles lived there after their wedding, raised their children there, and Diana lived there even after her divorce.

William and Harry's complicated relationship

Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, is second in line to the British throne after his father, Prince Charles. William was born to Charles and Diana in 1982, and his brother, Harry, followed in 1984. Harry was third in line to the throne at his birth, but William's three children have pushed him down to sixth in line.


Diana, pictured here in March 1990, would have been 60 this year. 

Jayne Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images

The two brothers once seemed to be extremely close to both each other and to their mother. William was 15 when Diana died, and Harry was 12. They seemed, publicly at least, to be the best of friends for years. But tabloids have questioned whether Harry's 2018 marriage to Markle and the couple's subsequent move to California have driven a wedge between the brothers. As heir to the throne, William has to walk a carefully circumscribed path that's laid out for him, while, as the "spare," Harry is more free to decide his own future.

It doesn't help that back in March, Harry and Meghan gave an explosive televised interview to Oprah Winfrey. Among other headline-making revelations, Meghan said someone in the royal family was concerned about her unborn son's skin color, and that palace representatives didn't offer help when royal pressures drove her to thoughts of suicide. It surely didn't help that Meghan said Kate made her cry during plans for her wedding -- William is known to be a strong defender of his wife, and there's no way he enjoyed having that made public. William later had to specifically deny that the royal family was racist when questioned at an event. 

The two brothers seem to be on separate paths now. Vanity Fair reports that the two have been talking about plans for the statue unveiling, but that their relationship is still "very strained."

On Thursday, the brothers presented a united front.