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

Sadly, Diana, Princess of Wales, never even reached the age of 40, dying in a tragic car accident in Paris in 1997 at only 36 years old. To mark what would have been his 60th birthday, his sons Guillaume and Harry unveil a statue of her at her former home, Kensington Palace in London, on Thursday, July 1. But thanks to all headlines and buzz about the royal family lately, it won’t be just a statue dedication. Here’s why.

The statue of Diane

What will Diana’s sculpture look like?

Diana’s two sons ordered the statue in 2017, the year that marked the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death. There have been other statues of the late princess – some are scary – but with the approval of his sons, this one stands out from the rest. And with Diana, one of the most photographed people on the planet, the sculptor has a tough job. Every little flaw is susceptible to scrutiny.

This high pressure work fell to the 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 have been released, so Thursday’s reveal will be the first time most people will see the statue of Diana.

At least one British historian, Tessa Dunlop, criticized the choice of a male sculptor for the job, claiming that not choosing a female sculptor was a “missed opportunity”. She also noted that there is “certainly no doubt about Rank-Broadley’s talent.”

dianahat

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

Jayne Fincher / Princess Diana Archives / Getty Images

Where is it going to be?

The statue will be placed in the Sunken Garden of Kensington Palace, would have a special place for Diana. To mark the 20th anniversary of her death in 2017, the garden was replanted with white flowers, taking inspiration from Diana’s wardrobe. In preparation for this event, over 4000 individual flowers, including Diana’s favorite forget-me-nots, were planted.

Once the statue is unveiled, the public will be able to see it, as Kensington Palace and its gardens are open to visitors. The gardens are free, while tours of the public areas of the palace itself are chargeable.

Kensington Palace is the primary residence of Prince William and his family. Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have also lived there for some time, and many other royals have made their home there. Diana and Prince Charles lived there after their marriage, raised their children there, and Diana lived there even after her divorce.

The unveiling: can I watch?

The statue will be unveiled on July 1, marking what would have been Diana’s 60th birthday. William and Harry will both be in attendance and talk about their mother. None of their wives will be there. Harry’s wife Meghan Markle gave birth to daughter Lilibet Diana on June 4 in California, and will be staying at home with new baby and son Archie. William’s wife Kate certainly could have attended – it literally happens in the backyard of his house – but Reports from Harper’s Bazaar William will show her and their three children the statue in private before the event. It seems likely that William and Harry want to minimize the splash of the event to keep the focus on their late mother.

There really won’t be many people at the unveiling. Diana’s siblings – two sisters and a brother – will be in attendance. So will the sculptor and gardener Pip Morrison. Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth will not.

The unveiling will not be televised live, although photos and news articles will certainly come out once it does. A second event is planned for September to allow more people to attend, the bbc reports, although the details will depend on the coronavirus rules at the time.

William and Harry’s relationship

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, is second 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 to the throne when he was born, but William’s three children pushed him to sixth.

The two brothers once seemed extremely close to each other and their mother. William was 15 when Diana died and Harry was only 12, and maybe that tied them together. They seemed, at least publicly, to be best friends for years. But the tabloids have questioned whether Harry’s 2018 marriage to American Meghan Markle and the couple’s subsequent move to California had created a wedge between the brothers. As heir to the throne, William must follow a carefully marked path for him while, as a “spare” Harry was freer to decide his own future.

It doesn’t help that in March Harry and Meghan gave a explosive TV interview with Oprah Winfrey. Among other headline-grabbing revelations, Meghan said a member of the royal family was concerned about her unborn son’s skin color and that palace officials did not offer help when royal pressures had pushed her to think about suicide. Surely it didn’t help that Meghan said Kate made her cry during her wedding plans – William is known to be a strong supporter of his wife, and he absolutely didn’t like it being made public . And later, William had to deny that the Royal Family were racist when they were questioned at an event.

While William and Harry will always be brothers and the only two people who know what it was like growing up as Charles and Diana’s marriage fell apart, they seem to be on different paths now. Vanity Fair Reports that the two have spoken of plans for the unveiling of the statue, but that their relationship is still “very strained”.

What to watch

The public will not be able to follow the progress of the event live, but the interest is still important.

The statue itself has almost disappeared from the headlines, replaced with a focus on William and Harry, but photos of the statue will be eagerly awaited and shared everywhere. Any inaccuracies in Diana’s image will surely be noted, as will the clothing and pose selected by Ian Rank-Broadley.

William and Harry’s speeches will be carefully dissected, of course. They are expected to offer personal memories of their mother, her short, troubled life, and her deep love for her sons. And Royal Watchers will note how the two brothers relate and whether they are referring to the family issues exposed by Harry and Meghan’s interview.

Sadly, even grieving a mother caught too early isn’t straightforward when the royal family is involved.

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