When Princess Diana died, I felt a part of me died. As did the world. I cried and cried. But I felt it was different for some of us. Because we were of Muslim Bangladeshi heritage. And loving her went against the grain of all that I had been taught.
My family were not even Royalists. It did not fit. My Abba (Dad) as we called him, had always told me never to bend my knee if I ever meet the HM Queen. I adore her, and if I ever do meet her, decided I will respect both — (wave a salaam to my dad and do a little bob).
When I was a little girl, I really hated Princess Diana. Surprisingly my Dad thought she was lovely and a credit to the Royal family. Even on her wedding day he remarked, puffing away on his pipe after having read his namaz “pah — watch that marriage fail! A girl like her cannot cope with a worldly man like him — she is a sweet girl of a child.”
We kids all rolled our eyeballs secretly. Giggled and thought “Silly Abba” He was well known for going against the norm and was the only one in the world I am sure who held that view, while billions tuned in to watch the fairytale romance.
Diana was everything I wasn’t. And everythingm that was opposite to the mantra of the British Bangladeshi Muslim community of girls I belonged to. I had frizzy hair, braces to sort spaced buck teeth, dark brownskin and I was lanky. She on the other hand radiated beauty from every black and white clipping my South West London teachers put up of her on our class notice board. She showed off her shoulders (I was shocked and intrugued). And loved one of her first dresses she wore — pale blue and all frilly. I looked at her and felt ugly in my bottle green uniform. I hated myself. I thought if she ever met me she would never want to say hello to me. I also never understood fan mania and was disturbed to find how crazy some were to chase her and be near her. And I decided to pooh pooh her whenever she came on tv or plastered across magazines.
Of course. I was wrong about thinking she was posh and stuck up. She was just born posh. Not stuck up. As the world now knows, she was someone who loved everyone. The most poorest and hardest up. And untouched. And why later in life, I stopped judging people by the family and wealth they were born into. And instead by their deeds. She was a true noble woman.
Princess Diana grew on me once I hit my 20s. I was no longer lanky. I was slim, had managed to try and look City career girl yet inside, I still felt so alone. Ugly. I realised even with my education, and city career I was still being controlled and dehumanised as a woman within my community. I had no freedom and was not allowed to date. And if I did, I kept it secret.
Her tears were the first I saw of a white woman, rich, famous and genuinely alone yet suffering trauma. It broke my heart. As I realised then how even rich, famous women suffered. And that she was a beautiful spirit who died searching for happiness and living to her true values.
So here I am writing about Princess Diana, in my first ever article for Medium. As I wanted to save it to celebrate a iconic woman who inspired me and many other Muslim girls. We, who watched her from afar, knowing we would never lead her life. But relating to her because she was white and because we realised wealth and royalty had its own time capsule of horrors that had to be endured.
In 1997, I was in Bangladesh. My religous father had decided to host a (shinni), a meal for impoversihed people. It was hot. My shawar kameez was stuck to my soaking skin. I was dressed modestly and in pink.
I recall the makeshift tent in the back of the garden of the family house, in which many summers were spent escaping the British rain. Rice and curries in bowls on a hot day, sky was blue and brown skins glistened with sweat as hands waved in the air, asking for water.
With my sticky skin and my feet in strappy sandals, I walked into the tent to be greeted by many of my female relatives who upon seeing me, rushed towards me worryingly and excitedly “Your Princess Diana is dead’.
I recoiled. I burst out laughing, nervously. I said to them ‘Don’t be ridiculous’. They again laughed and joked and said ‘it’s true but come on, what is she to you?’ I stared. At them laughing. And pointing at me as I burst into tears and started hyperventilating. Princess Diana, Prince and Michael Jackson are the only famous people I have ever shed a tear over.
My reaction startled my Bangladeshi relatives. I screamed. And again screamed at them in fact “How dare you. She is everything — shut up shut up” and ran out. When I am angry my broken Bengali of words never works. Sticky skin and all and wept my heart out. And spent days sobbing over my chicken curry and rice.
When I finally flew back to London I went to Kensington Palace with my ex boyfriend. A macho man, who told me he had cried and dropped flowers. I went and walked silently watching crowds mourn. Awaiting her funeral.
By then, aged 27, I had long changed from hating her, to understanding the trauma and hell she had gone through. While she was an aristocratic, and I had grown up in a curry house as a toddler in London, suffered bullying, she was the first white posh woman I had ever felt close to. Even though I’d never met her.
Since her death, I have often felt sorrowful I will never get to tell her of the how her love of fashion and passion for philanthropy is one of the many root cases that saw me enter design world.
She also died in her prime. Just 36. I spent many hours staring at her Mario Testino shots. So stunning. She had no idea of how she left behind billions of women (and men) who I think, kept her in our deepest part of the heart. We flourished, went on to laugh and love yet she had departed us forever. A modern day Mother Theresa. Who handled being trolled and accused and fought to have her voice ring out loud. So she was nobody’s rag roll.
And this is why I am so proud to share, that when she died, I felt a part of me died too — the weak scared part of me and that I was slightly reborn. As I vowed never to waste my life. And to follow her lead. To kick back whenever I felt I was not in control of my own life. And to shape and change my own narrative. And seize my life. And make it mine and mine alone. Nobody else’s.
Within three years of Princess Diana’s death, I had left my City career, had a mixed race baby and chosen to be with a non-Muslim. And began to train as a professional actress. By 34 I was a single mother too. Against all the odds.
Something I, the lanky 14 year old never would have thought would have happened to me — had it not been for the death of this noble, kind hearted strong warrior Princess. Who got the cogs in my brain working since I was 12. (Well her and Madonna too).
They say that when you die, it is what people say about you after a decade — is what truly counts. As that is the truest obituary. And today seeing her name trending made me happy. Am glad her legacy lives on. As well as her stunning sons who are a credit to her.
So I say will always say: thank you Princess Diana — for being there for me and for being all of us women.