Charity PR: Charities mourn loss of People’s Princess - The sudden death of Diana, Princess of Wales has not only robbed the press of one of its star attractions but her favoured charities now find themselves bereft of a media friendly patron

The plans for the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, this week underline the central role she played for a wide variety of charities.

The plans for the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, this week

underline the central role she played for a wide variety of

charities.



But once the formalities are over, some of her most prominent mourners

at Westminster Abbey, will be faced with the task of filling the gap

left by one of most high profile patrons and fundraisers ever.



Officially Diana, Princess of Wales surrendered much of her public role

as president or patron of 104 charities the day after her decree nisi

was granted in July 1996, retaining public links with only Centrepoint,

the Leprosy Mission, the Great Ormond Street Hospital, the Royal Marsden

Hospital, the National Aids Trust and the English National Ballet.



According to Jane Atkinson, the Princess of Wales’ former press

secretary, one of the main reasons she scaled down her work was because

she wanted to retain an indepth knowledge of those she charities she

worked with.



’She had a great deal of interest in the background of what she talked

about. She wanted to understand why it was important. She couldn’t

continued doing what she wanted with her life and spread her self so

thinly, she says.



But despite the public paring down, she continued to work on a large

number of projects privately. Her high profile and controversial trip to

Angola earlier this year to campaign for a ban on anti-personnel land

mines was undertaken on behalf of the International Red Cross, a charity

from which she publicly parted company at the time of the divorce.



British Red Cross director of marketing and communications John Gray

claims the Princess’ involvement not only helped to influence

governments around the world, but also focused public awareness on the

treatment of land mine victims, raising funds for clinics and healthcare

programmes.



’She got it (the land mines issue) on the world agenda. Within weeks

Labour changed policy and I suspect it is because of what she said to

Robin Cook and others.’



Gray says that Diana had planned to make a further announcement on 1

October at an event on board the QE2. The exact details of the

announcement are not known, but Gray confirms that she was interested in

visiting parts of Asia to highlight the plight of landmine victims.



On a long term basis, the Red Cross is having to completely re-evaluate

many of its plans internationally. Earlier this week, Urs Boegli, head

of the communication department of the International Committee of the

Red Cross and Ian Piper, communications director of the International

Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, met in Geneva to

discuss the way forward following the loss of their high profile

informal representative.



Gray says that rather than trying to replace Diana, the Red Cross needs

to look at a new structure, possibly involving a number of

spokespeople.



There are contradictory reports about what the Princess’ plans were for

the future in terms of her charity work. On the one hand she apparently

wanted to scale down her public work after November but at the same time

was rumoured to be planning to increase her work with children’s

charities.



According to David Longman senior consultant at Hammond Communications,

the Princess of Wales had agreed to host and present an international

pop concert next spring in aid of heart charity CORDA, which she was

introduced to by renowned heart surgeon Professor Magdi Yacoub.



The concert, which was to be held in the Royal Albert Hall aimed to

raise more than pounds 20 million for the charity. Pending clearance

from her office, Longman still plans to run the event using Diana’s

planned involvement as the main PR focus, but he admits that the chance

of raising the required funds has probably ’dropped by half.’



’We could not replace her - it would be unwise and insensitive. There

are precious few people in the world that had the potential to do as

much good as she did.



’To my mind Diana is, and was, a passport to do anything. If she said

yes, sponsors and artists just come out of the woodwork. The sadness is

that without her some charities are really going to founder.’



Diana undoubtedly was able to make a unique contribution to the

charities she worked with. Her presence at fund-raising events ensured a

turnout of people and pockets, and her relationship with the media,

however fraught, paid dividends for the causes she espoused.



’She would have liked more peace but at the same time she welcomed the

fact that she had so high a profile when she wanted to use it for

charity work,’ says Atkinson.



But what has emerged most clearly over the last few days was her ability

to touch ordinary people at a human level.



’Her ability as an ambassador for Aids awareness around the world was

incalculable. No one else had that ability to say that people with HIV

were human beings deserving of compassion,’ says Gavin Hart, press and

communications officer at the National Aids Trust.



Alistair Whitington, director of marketing and contracting at the Royal

Marsden Hospital, of which Diana was president, agrees: ’She had a

genuine concern for the plight of others and an ability to talk to

anybody and make them feel special and the only person that

mattered.’



In the direct aftermath of Diana’s death, organisations such as these

have found themselves the recipients of donations as part of the general

outpouring of grief, but in the longer term, they may find Diana’s

patronage and PR skills almost impossible to replace.



’There is no silver lining in this whole event. No one else at any level

can fill the vacuum,’ says Hart.



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