Was there anyone more beloved in the late twentieth century than Princess Diana? The late Princess of Wales had been one of the most famous personalities on this planet before her passing. She had a way of endearing herself to the public, whether it was through her expressive fashion choices, her savvy, intelligent manner of speaking, or her relentless commitment towards her charity endeavors.
She was the People’s Princess through and through, one of those rare individuals who seem like they’ve transcended the ordinariness of human life but at the same time, remain as relatable and humble as ever. It’s a testament to Princess Diana’s immense legacy that she still dominates discussions about the royal family to this date, and that she serves as a role model for so many young girls across the world.
But it’s not only her dress sense or charm that should be an inspiration to others. Her determination to fight for herself and her loved ones was one of her most under-appreciated traits. Cue this iconic photo of Princess Diana sitting by herself on a bench by the Taj Mahal. It’s a photo that’s been published and republished countless times in the last twenty-eight years.
Yet the history behind the photo isn’t as well-known. That’s why it’s worth taking a step back, looking into the circumstances, and examining why it’s so significant.
Prince Charles promised to take Diana to the Taj Mahal
Prince Charles had first met Diana Spencer when she was only sixteen. At the time, the prince had been dating her older sister but over the years, he began considering Diana as a suitable bride for him. Following a brief courtship, the two were married on July 29, 1981. By all accounts, the first five years of their marriage were fulfilling and stable, if not all that passionate or romantic. They’d welcome Prince William and Harry in that time, and Diana grew to be one of the most endearing royal members in the scene, oftentimes surpassing Charles’ own fame.
Before his wedding to Diana, Princes Charles had taken a trip to Agra, India, and had gone to see the Taj Mahal. The seventeenth-century monument was commissioned by an Indian Mughal emperor who wanted to build something in honor of his late wife— it now stands as one of the most spectacular emblems of love in the world. Therefore Charles made a promise to himself and his friends and family that he would bring his future wife to behold the breathtaking structure.
However, when the time came for Prince Charles to return to India, the situation was much different. He and Diana were stuck in a loveless marriage that was exacerbated by their extramarital affairs and their vast thirteen-year age difference. Yet they had to put up a front to the entire world and go on as if they were the most powerful couple in the world.
When he failed, Princess Diana took it upon herself to visit
In 1992, during the tail-end of their marriage, Charles and Diana went on a tour of India. Instead of taking her to the Taj Mahal, as he promised he would, Charles left to attend a business meeting in the southern city of Bangalore. Thus Diana was left alone to visit the monument by herself. Her solo trip resulted in the iconic photo in question; it immediately grabbed the headlines and led to tons of rumors and narratives among the press and the public.
The photo caused many to speculate that Diana was pulling this stunt as a publicity move, that she was trying to harbor sympathies from the public, that she was trying to show up Charles for whatever reason. Many have tried to read and examine her body language, even though Diana herself takes up a very small part of the photo. They deduced that she looks unhappy, lonely, and disappointed and that this was her method of showcasing the dismal state of her marriage to the entire world.
The theories are baseless. At the end of the day, we don’t know the details of what Diana was feeling during that exact moment in time. What we can say with certainty is that she chose to see the sight despite her husband abandoning her and breaking his promise. Their marriage may have been on the rocks for a while but this was possibly the last straw.
But instead of staying away from the cameras and pouting indoors by herself, Diana chose to grab the opportunity by the horns and assert her agency in the only way she knew how. She wasn’t about to miss out on such a unique moment. When asked about visiting the site on her own, Diana said:
It was a very healing experience.
When asked to elaborate on her answer, Diana said, “Work that out for yourself.” The royal family is guided by appearances, and Diana wasn’t about to let tradition keep her from exploring the world to the best of her ability. She remained as dignified, thoughtful, and independent as ever.
The two officially announced their separation later that year, making their India tour one of their last ones as a couple. The photo shouldn’t be perceived as a time when Diana was lonely; it should be seen as a display of strength and self-love in the face of scrutiny and resentment.
You don’t need to depend on anyone else for your dreams
Whether Diana was making a statement or just taking in the glory of a historical monument, her photo spoke volumes. At the end of the day, we don’t always get what we want. The people we root for may end up disappointing and hurting us, as Charles had done to Diana. But your dreams don’t need to depend on anyone. You’re just as capable of fulfilling it yourself. Sometimes it’s a little lonelier, sometimes it stings a little too much, but you’ve at least found a way to appreciate something without relying on someone’s whims.
Diana had in many ways grown up in the royal family, seeing how she became a Princess at the mere age of twenty. But through the heartbreaks, the tension, the judgment, she realized what was important in life and decided to embrace self-love. By the end of the marriage, she was not a girl but a woman who knew where the priorities lied. As she did on that day by the Taj Mahal, sometimes you need to make yourself the priority, and that’ll be enough.
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