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Remembering Princess Diana 20 years on

TWENTY years ago today, Diana, the former Princess of Wales, died in a high-speed car crash in a Paris tunnel while being pursued by paparazzi.

The 20th anniversary of her death at just 36, and the recent screening of various TV documentaries have sparked many memories of her life, including her visit to Gisborne 34 years ago.

One woman vividly remembers the arrival of the much-loved “People’s Princess” and husband Prince Charles to Gisborne on Sunday, April 24, 1983.

Leonie Johnston was about eight and had been taken by her mother to the airport for the royal couple’s arrival.

“I can remember it very clearly. I snuck away from Mum and got into a position where I was right up to her.

“She shook my hand and I reached out and felt her dress (a kingfisher blue pure silk dress with matching jacket and hat). Then Charles came along and said they better get moving and back to (Prince) William.”

Although not what you would describe as a royalist, Leonie said it was a wonderful opportunity she would always treasure.

“I've got the clipping from the paper on my dresser.”

The image, captured by former Gisborne Herald photographer the late Alan Peake shows Leonie shaking Princess Di’s hand at the airport.

The royal couple’s visit attracted massive interest, and much of it surrounded Diana.

A 2000-strong greeting

After being greeted by 2000 people at Gisborne Airport, the prince and princess were driven to Te Poho o Rawiri marae for an official welcome attended by around 4000.

Streets were lined with people as the royals made their way to the marae.

People living in the area climbed on to their roofs to get a view of proceedings, which included 500 performers, speeches and presentations.

The front page of The Gisborne Herald on the Tuesday (Monday was Anzac Day) was headlined MAJESTIC.

The introduction to the story read: “In bright sunshine at Poho-o-Rawiri Marae on Sunday the Princess of Wales won about 4000 more hearts. There was little doubt that she was the star attraction of the national Maori welcome.”

One of the classic stories to come out of the visit underlined Princess Diana’s ability to connect with and endear herself to the public.

When stopping to speak with Takapuna Mackey, he asked her for a kiss.

“Not today,” she replied, laughing.

The princess asked Takapuna if he was married. He told her “you’ve come a week too late” and that his wedding had been the previous weekend.

He asked her if she got bored going to functions such as this, to which she replied: “Not with nice-looking young men like you”.

Other moments to treasure for those who were there that day included four-year-olds Amelia Gaddum and Phoebe Thomas giving her flowers, a hongi between Diana and Pani Pahina, Fiona Searancke and Lenadeen Simpson presenting gifts, and 25-year-old lawyer Barney Tupara performing the wero (challenge).





Gisborne woman Leonie Johnston holds a Gisborne Herald photo of her shaking hands with then Princess Diana when she and Prince Charles visited Gisborne in April, 1983. Leonie remembers the day clearly and says it is a moment she will always treasure. Today is the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana. She was killed in a car crash in a tunnel in Paris at the age of 36. Picture by Liam Clayton
THE PEOPLE’S PRINCESS: Princess Diana endeared herself to the public with her warm and empathetic personality. Here she greets children during the royal couple’s visit to Gisborne on April 24, 1983. There has been a stream of television documentaries on Princess Diana over the last couple of weeks in the lead up to the 20th anniversary of her death in a car crash in Paris in 1997. Gisborne Herald file picture
The people's princess.
Diana during the powhiri.
Diana at the powhiri in Gisborne.