We want to pay our own tribute to the Princess, on 31st August we will be holding a special afternoon at our hospital to share and remember the great joy that she brought into so many lives. We will remember her brave, compassionate and inspirational work and her desire to stand up for some of the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society. She did this with love, passion, energy, knowledge and clarity as well as great humour.
People who met Diana, Princess of Wales at Mildmay remember her beauty, her elegance, her kindness and relaxed manner, they also remember her dazzling smile and her laugh – an infectious giggle!
When the Princess first came to visit Mildmay Hospital it was at a time when there was a great deal of misinformation and lack of understanding about HIV. There was no cure and people were dying quickly and in great numbers. It was a time of immense fear, great loss, misunderstanding and growing stigma.
Many people who were diagnosed with HIV were disowned by friends and families, many were dealing with bereavement as well as facing with their own diagnosis. Mildmay’s decision to go into HIV care in 1988 was greeted by many with horror, and some supporters turned away. There were times when bricks were thrown through the hospital windows and local barbers would not cut the hair of patients or even staff. People would ask if it was safe to sit on the same chair as a patient, or to share cutlery. Staff in some hospitals would not enter the rooms of patients without being completely covered. For those people diagnosed with HIV having to deal with this response on top of being terribly sick and afraid, was devastating. Mildmay believed they should stand up against this ignorance, and stigma by building knowledge, providing practical nursing care, compassion and love.
Princess Diana first visited Mildmay Hospital on 24th February 1989 and shook the hand of a patient who had agreed to welcome her amidst the glare of publicity. That moment, captured on film and by the press went global.
Over and over again she met with and embraced people who were living with HIV, determined to address and dismiss the stigma surrounding the virus. She famously said “HIV does not make people dangerous to know. You can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it”. She was determined to raise HIV awareness and tackle the misinformation that was at that time rife.
The Princess visited Mildmay on many occasions, three times officially and many more times unofficially. She would arrive in the evenings to sit with patients, some who were dying. She had the knack of making people feel at ease and cared for. These visits were made away from the media spotlight, she was simply there for those who needed her and the compassion and understanding she was able to give. She would spend time with patients who wanted to see her, sitting by their sides, talking and just simply being with them.
She was also very well informed and had educated herself about HIV to an incredibly high standard. In fact we have heard she was more knowledgeable than some of the medical professionals she met!
Her impact on Mildmay was immense. She offered her support in such a powerful way at a time when it was so badly needed. She helped to raise awareness and combat and dispel so many of the myths surrounding HIV. Today her legacy lives on through the causes championed by her sons and we feel sure she would be inordinately proud.
Mildmay were privileged to welcome HRH Prince Harry when he came to open our new facility just before Christmas in 2015. For some of our staff who had met the Princess, meeting Prince Harry was a very special moment indeed. The Prince has made a huge contribution to the fight against HIV stigma and has done so much to encourage testing. Like his mother he is well informed and articulate and able to speak knowledgeably and passionately moving hearts and minds.
As one of the charities fortunate enough to benefit so deeply from the time, passion and love given by the Princess, Mildmay felt her loss keenly. As we pay tribute to her on 31st August, we will be celebrating her life, giving thanks for all she gave to Mildmay and reflecting on her legacy, her work to raise HIV awareness and break down stigma.
If you would like to join us please give us a call on 0207 0207 613 6321 so we can reserve your place and send you a ticket. Tickets are complimentary but if you would like to make a donation to our work it would be greatly appreciated.
If you have any of your own memories to share of Diana at Mildmay we’d love to hear from you.
The Event Tel: 0207 613 6321.
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