Did Diana actually hug AIDS patients in a New York hospital? The true story explained

She changed the way people viewed HIV and AIDS

Princess Diana has long been a favourite of the British and worldwide public and her portrayal in The Crown has reminded us even more of this. Most especially in episode 10, when Diana visits Harlem Hospital in New York as the last stop on her solo tour and is photographed hugging a little boy with AIDS.

This was much to the discomfort of the Royal Family as later portrayed in the episode when Charles hits out saying: “The calculated vulgarity of the antics knowing full well the headlines they would get. Grandstanding like that… you think we couldn’t do that too? Theatrically hug the wretched and the dispossessed and cover ourselves in glory on the front pages?”

The reality of Diana’s impact on the HIV/AIDs community is far greater than that portrayed in the show.

Is the storyline of Diana hugging the little boy true?

The Crown has been known to fabricate and exaggerate some events in history and this particular one is in fact true, albeit a little misplaced. Diana did visit Harlem Hospital and attracted a lot of attention for hugging children in the HIV and AIDS ward.

During this visit she picked up a child and held them for a few minutes, let a baby hold her finger, stroked the dress of a young girl and countless other acts that made the world of difference to those children.

From Netflix

In the episode, this is seen to happen in 1990 against Margaret Thatcher’s loss of power but it in fact happened slightly earlier during 1989.

Given her work within the HIV/AIDS community, Diana wasn’t ignorant during this visit despite being portrayed as such in the show. This is more for the viewers’ benefit than anything.

In 1991, Diana spoke at an AIDS conference and said: “AIDS does not make people dangerous to know, so you can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it. What’s more, you can share their homes, their workplaces, their playgrounds and toys. We all need to be alert to the special needs of those to whom AIDS is the last straw in an already heavy burden of discrimination and misfortune.”

When did Diana first get involved in HIV/AIDS work?

In The Crown, this moment in the hospital in 1990 is shown to be the first mention of her work but in real life, Diana started her work much earlier. She is well-known for opening the UK’s first dedicated HIV and AIDS unit in London on April 19th 1987.

In front of worldwide media, she famously shook the hand of a man suffering with AIDS without wearing gloves during a time in which people wrongly thought that the illness could spread through touch. Through this simple action, Diana challenged these beliefs and began to win people round to the idea that their perception of HIV and AIDS was misinformed.

Were the Royal Family actually upset by her work?

It was reported by one of Diana’s former bodyguards that the Queen had spoken to her regarding her work and said: “Why don’t you get involved with something more pleasant?”

Diana was understandably frustrated at this because the Royal Family couldn’t seem to move past the misconceptions of the illness that so many people had at the time. She felt that a member of the Royal Family should be involved in the campaign to find a cure since the crisis was so prominent and affected so many.

From Netflix

Her legacy was continued by Will and Harry

In 2017, Harry reflected on her work saying: “She felt a responsibility to shine her spotlight on the people and issues that were often ignored. She knew that AIDS was one of the things that many wanted to ignore and seemed like a hopeless challenge. She knew that the misunderstanding of this relatively new disease was creating a dangerous situation when mixed with homophobia.”

He continued: “So when [in 1987], she shook the hand of a 32-year-old man with HIV, in front of the cameras, she knew exactly what she was doing. She was using her position as Princess of Wales – the most famous woman in the world – to challenge everyone to educate themselves; to find their compassion and to reach out to those who need help instead of pushing them away.”

He pledged to carry on his mother’s work in her memory, completing many visits to HIV and AIDS units, taking part in documentaries and in 2016 Harry made headlines by broadcasting himself getting tested for HIV in order to break the stigma and show how easy it is to do.

Will also made headlines in 2015 for being the first royal to speak out against homophobia during a visit to Hammersmith Academy where he participated in a session about homophobia and bullying. Prior to this, the Royal Family had never publicly taken a stance on LGBTQ+ rights nor had they been involved in charities supporting them.

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