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 Majesty, 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 envied and disliked Princess Diana. Surprisingly my Dad thought she was lovely and a credit to the Royal family. As he saw her as an outsider. Even on her wedding day, while we crammed around our colour tv, in dodgy 80s clothes, he absent mindedly and calmly remarked, puffing away on his pipe after having read his ritual namaz prayers, a comment that made my mouth hang open.
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. His comments shocked us. I was just a little girl aged 12, and my mind was more worried at the thought the police might raid us. I blinked and stared back, stupefied. The awkward silence was pierced by my mother’s screaming from the kitchen for us all to come and eat.
We giggled and thought “Silly Abba” He was well known for going against the norm. I was convinced he was the only one in the world who held that view, because I also know billions tuned in to watch the fairytale romance.
Diana was everything I wasn’t. And everything 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 brown skin. I was also skinny as a rake and lanky.
Princess Diana 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 wore dresses that showed off her shoulders (I was shocked and intrigued). And loved one of her first dresses she wore — pale blue, silver and all frilly. I often looked at her in that news clipping rushing out of class. And I immediately felt ugly in my bottle green uniform.
I hated myself. I thought if Princess Diana 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. As seeing her made me feel ugly. And I realise now, as I head towards turning 50 in 2002, this was internalised misogyny. Where as women we are also taught by society to ridicule and tear down another woman because we conform to society’s expectations of how a girl or a woman should behave. .
Of course. I was so wrong in thinking Princess Diana was posh and stuck up. She was just born posh. Not stuck up.
As the world now knows, she was someone who loved everyone. Who uses her privileges and station in life to give a hand up to those who struggled. Others who were excluded and shunned. From the most poorest and hardest up. And the untouched. And why later in life, I stopped judging people by the family and wealth they were born into. And instead I now only look at them by their deeds. And why I love her as she was a true noble woman.
I think Princess Diana started to grow on me once I hit my 20s. I was no longer lanky. I was slim, and now had better clothes. And had managed to try and look like a successful City career girl. By all intents and purposes I was. I had a BMW, worked in PR and started to go to nice restaurants and able to afford luxuries.
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.
Princess Diana’s tears were the first I saw of a white woman, rich, famous yet genuinely alone and 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 religious father had decided to host a (“Shinni”), a meal for impoverished people. It was hot. My shalwar kameez was stuck to my soaking skin. I was dressed modestly and in pink and silver. A sort of homage to her blue and silver dress that had impressed me so much. But of course, with shoulders covered.
I recall the makeshift gazebo tent under the canopy of bamboo trees, erected on the empty land back of the family house. A basic concrete two storey house, basic in decor and layout. At which many summers were spent escaping the British rain and because my Abba insisted we never forgot our heritage.
That day, rice and curries were doled out in bowls on a very hot day. The sky was calmest of blues and as brown skins glistened with sweat as hands waved in the air, asking for water. The smell of curry, hushed voices from women whispering secrets and men who topped up plates, crashed in chaos and loudly.
I was used to this and loved the confusion and cacophony of this culture. At odds with the very hushed office corporate life I had been used to back in London.
With my sticky skin and my feet in strappy sandals, I walked into the gazebo only to be greeted by many of my female relatives who upon seeing me, rushed towards me. With shrieks of “Ey, Ey, Ey” (their word for ‘’hey’) very worryingly and excitedly the delivered these five words like shrapnel to my skin:
“Your Princess Diana is dead’.
I recoiled. I felt a rush of blood to my head.
Why I burst out laughing, I do not know. But nervously. I shouted back“Don’t be ridiculous”.
They again laughed and joked and in unison said “it’s true, it’s true but come on, what is she to you?’
I stared. At them laughing. I was confused. I started shaking.
They were still pointing at me as I burst into tears and started hyperventilating.
My reaction startled my Bangladeshi relatives.
I screamed. And again screamed back at them in distress.
“Don’t, Don’t Don’t”
Or rather the words were “Khobor Dar”I shouted out in Sylheti.
“She is everything t— shut up shut up” and ran out.
When I am angry my broken Bengali of words never emerges well. Sticky skin and all, my mouth hot and sweaty I ran to my bedroom and wept my heart out. I later spent days sobbing over my chicken curry and rice. And funnily enough my parents did not say anything. They too were silent and every now and then I would catch my Abba, sighing over her. And strangely I knew he felt for her and her children. And somehow identified with her, because as an immigrant he had suffered much racism and also conflict with his own family.
When I finally flew back to London I went to Kensington Palace with my then ex boyfriend. A macho man, who was always often at the gym. Who told me he too had cried and dropped off flowers for her. And suggested I do the same.
I went and walked silently watching crowds mourn. Awaiting her funeral.
By the time of her funeral, aged 27, I had long changed from hating her, to slowly 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. I felt she would definitely have hugged me and told me to “hang in there”.
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 the fashion and design world. And now leading a wild and crazy mission in the name of Lovedesh, to use fashion to protect our planet.
Even when I was 13, I entered a competition. And I know it was the silver and blue dress that got me, the girl who grew up above the curry house to dream. Which I hope one day to see in real life.
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 on Twitter 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.