Exclusive: Diana The Legacy

No personality in history was ever the subject of more unremitting attention than Diana, princess of Wales. The fact that she met her death in a Paris underpass while seeking to escape a motorcycle pursuit by photographers carries its own cruel irony.

It was a traumatic event not just for the country but for almost the whole world and her funeral bore witness to the sorrow felt at such a sudden and untimely death. We knew her story so well that her pain became our pain, her sorrow our sorrow and her joy our joy. She touched the child in all of us. It reminded us of the frailty of life.

I last saw Diana a few weeks before her death on a sultry summer's day in her apartment in Kensington Palace. She looked pure Hollywood from the top of her coiffed, streaked hair to her perfectly manicured feet. But when she talked she was anything but.

She spoke wistfully about her life with Prince Charles, the man who had once been her husband, and said she had never stopped loving him. She explained how difficult it was to live happily within the constraints of the monarchy, surrounded at all times by courtiers and those that hung onto her husband's every word, never daring to disagree with him.

It was never for her. Diana knew the workings of the palace and she was astute enough to see its flaws and weaknesses. The system was not hers to change however. It belonged to the queen, who had tried to accommodate Diana within it — bending its rules, excusing her indiscretions, making allowances for her illness, overlooking her outbursts, taking note of her grievances, ignoring the way she tried to claim center stage and ordering her staff to treat the princess with courtesy at all times.

Diana had the greatest respect for the queen, but she found her emotionally cold and distant. But Diana had neither the queen's strength of character nor her ability to compartmentalize her life and put duty before all else.

"She was reserved. The first and only time I ever saw her cry was at the burial of the duchess of Windsor at Frogmore," Diana told me. "We were at the graveside, Charles and me and the queen, and when she started crying I said to myself, 'I can't believe this is really happening.' She had been incredibly kind to the duchess and paid all her bills in the last years of her life. She was also incredibly kind to me."

What the queen would not do, what she was incapable of doing, however, was to restructure the monarchy to suit her daughter-in-law. Had she become queen herself, Diana might have made the changes she wanted, just as the Queen Mother had when she was a queen. But that opportunity had slipped away before it ever arose.

Diana was outside the royal orbit and looking to her own future. It was tough for her — tougher than she could ever have imagined. But in fighting for her independence she became her own person and was at last able to accomplish many of the things she wanted to do in her professional life, if not her personal life.

She told me she wanted to get married again and have more children, but she was unsure of what kind of man would be able to take her on with so much "personal baggage." Although I didn't know it then, she was in love with heart surgeon Hasnat Kahn — it was a relationship she was desperate to keep quiet because of his fear of publicity. She was funny, self-depreciating and almost childlike with her little girl, breathy voice, but she was unsure. However much advice she asked for, in the end she was the one who had to make the decisions, and I could sense this responsibility scared her.

She saw her own legacy as the two children she had with Prince Charles and she was determined that William and Harry shouldn't have a life of total privilege. She showed them the other side of life by talking to them about what she did and whenever possible taking them with her to visit those less fortunate than they were. That exposure to the less fortunate often occurred in a pretty sanitized way, but it was a vital experience all the same.

For me, therefore, one of Diana's most tangible legacies is the impact she has had on the British royal family, in the way she brought up her children. The princes have proved they have her spark, and they have proved they understand the type of causes their mother was interested in, by carrying them on. For Prince Harry in particular they are the fulfillment of the promise he made in the days after his mother's death.

"It is important because she isn't always remembered the way I would have liked," Harry told reporters. "She has more guts than anybody else. The way she got close to people and went for the sort of charities and organizations that everybody else was scared to go near, such as land mines in the Third World. She got involved in things that nobody had done before, and I want to carry on the things she didn't quite finish."

As Diana made royalty approachable, the princes are making royalty approachable. They will not be pushed around and forced to do things they don't understand, and they will never become sucked into the obsequiousness of the court as their father has done.

What Diana achieved in her short life will never be forgotten. She transformed the perceptions of leprosy and AIDS by insisting on treating with compassion people whom society shunned. She raised the profile of her causes because she was emotionally attached to them. She was a true humanitarian in every sense of the word and she had only just begun.

She would have been shocked and horrified by the bitching and backbiting that has occurred in her name and the hurt it has caused her sons. The Burrell case and the former butler's subsequent publications; the Diana tapes; the mess over the Memorial Fund; the Diana fountain and the amount of money it cost; and of course the endless controversy surrounding her death fueled by accusations made by Mohamed Fayed.

Diana did not like being dictated to and she would not have cared for how the world turned against Fayed. She liked the man, enjoyed his generosity and robust sense of humor and took him for what he was — bluff, over the top and just a little dangerous. But she also told me that he had been very good to her after her beloved father had died, and that counted for a great deal with Diana.

Ten years after her death the controversy rumbles on. Like Diana herself — unique, complex, extraordinary and irreplaceable — it will never disappear.

Ingrid Sewars is editor in chief of Majesty magazine and biographer of "Diana, the Last Word" with Simone Simmons.