She entered the public consciousness as a reserved, 20-year-old, aristocratic wife of the future King of England, but Princess Diana made her mark as one of the most beloved public figures in the world, even after her untimely death in 1997 at age 36.
Her 1981 wedding to Charles, Prince of Wales, was dubbed "the wedding of the century," but their tumultuous marriage was not what endeared people to Lady Di. She lived up to her name as Princess of the People, rallying support around unpopular causes and crises that she believed warranted attention. She put her fame to use changing public perception of epidemics from AIDS to leprosy. And despite personal turmoil, she always managed to put on a good face -- and an even better outfit -- for the paparazzi who hounded her day and night.
We can only speculate about how the royal family's life would have been different had she not died in a car accident with companion Dodi Al-Fayed in Paris Aug.31, 1997. But in recognition of the 15th anniversary of her death, here are six things we miss most about the late Princess of Wales, who would have been 51 now.
|Her Handling of the Media|
When she joined the royal family, Diana had to grow accustomed quickly to the ever-present media trying to peer into her new life as a princess. Despite intense scrutiny, she learned to play the media game at the behest of many a photographer -- even staging her own photos -- and landed on the front pages of newspapers, tabloids and fashion magazines the world over.
In 2004, The Guardian's Ross Coward called Diana "an ace manipulator of the media," citing the interviews she gave and the books written about her as "prime instances of how she used the media for a personal war." But even 15 years after her death, her face's appearance on the cover of a magazine turns heads, and sells issues.
|Her Fashion Sense|
Imagine what last year's royal wedding would have been like if Diana had been alive. Better yet, imagine what she would have worn. While she was known as "Dynasty Di" in the 1980s for her penchant for dresses with exaggerated shoulders and sequins, Diana turned heads when she stepped out in a tight, black off-the-shoulder dress by Christina Stambolian after Prince Charles' televised disclosure of his infidelity in 1994 and never looked back.
After the separation, Diana began to take more risks with her wardrobe. "Her new evening dresses were minimalist and sexy, a look that had been taboo when she was an in-house royal," according to Tina Brown in Vanity Fair.
Once outside the restrictions of the prescribed palace wardrobe, she looked just as polished in jeans and loafers as she did wearing a beaded floor-length gown.
|How She Changed Perceptions|
When the Princess of Wales visited a Harlem hospital in 1989 and hugged a 7-year-old boy with AIDS, she helped to "dispel the myth about the spread of the virus" by showing that it was not spread through casual contact, John J. Goldman reported in the Los Angeles Times.
The princess used her position to start a dialogue about the disease, and opened a center for patients affected by the virus in southeast London later that year. The BBC called her activism "the first attempt to de-stigmatize the condition by a high-profile member of the Royal Family."
|Her Celebrity Inner Circle|
While the British royal family is notoriously guarded, Diana's warmth and willingness to transgress protocol endeared her to famous figures. Singer Elton John, designer Gianni Versace and socialite Jemima Khan, then wife of Pakistani cricket player and politician Imran Khan, counted themselves as members of Diana's inner circle.
Even though she famously feuded with her former sister-in-law, Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, told Harper's Bazaar how much she missed her friend. "Diana was one of the quickest wits I knew; nobody made me laugh like her," she said.
|The Causes She Championed|
Diana was well aware she could use her celebrity to great effect. When she was photographed walking through an Angolan minefield in a helmet and flak jacket in 1997, she knew that her presence would draw global attention to the injuries that they caused.
A year later, Britain, along with more than 120 countries, signed the Ottawa Treaty, which aimed to eliminate landmines targeting humans, according to the BBC.
The causes to which she was dedicated continue to receive attention and backing after her death. The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund focuses on ensuring palliative care, ending cluster munitions use in war and advocating for refugees and asylum seekers in the U.K.
|Her Hands-On Parenting|
In raising Prince William and Prince Harry, Diana applied a style of parenting that differed drastically from the detachment the royals were believed to embrace.
She saw herself as not only a wife and a princess, but as a mother. Diana took Prince William on a tour of Australia and New Zealand with her a year after his birth. Similar trips with Harry followed suit. She even took the boys to Disneyland, and was credited with giving her children as normal an upbringing as she could.
"Her beaming smile greeted us from school," Prince William said at a memorial service in 2007. "She kissed us last thing at night. She was, quite simply, the best mother in the world. We miss her."