Princess Diana was photographed in April 1987 shaking hands, sans gloves, with an AIDS patient, demonstrating that the disease could not be transmitted via casual contact. (Getty Images/ Source)
Next month will mark 20 years since Princess Diana’s sudden and tragic death in a Paris car crash. There have been numerous articles, magazine spreads and documentaries being released to mark the anniversary. This post, however, will go back 30 years, to Princess Diana’s visit with AIDS patients, and her decision to touch them. This was huge; the story and the accompanying photographs would be published around the world. At that time, many people so feared the disease, they refused even casual contact with those infected. People with HIV and AIDS were viewed by many as dirty, degenerate, even cursed by God. Many of the earliest patients were gay men and/or IV drug users, and a shameful amount of people pondered if they deserved public sympathy… or even to be treated medically.
This was the backdrop for Diana’s visit. Supposedly, some in the House of Windsor were none too happy that the Princess chose such unhaqppy charity works. But, as would become clear in the following decade, Diana did what Diana wanted. Here’s the UPI story from April 9th, 1987:
LONDON — Princess Diana opened Britain’s first AIDS hospital ward Thursday and shook hands with nine homosexual patients to ‘explode’ the myth that the disease can be passed through casual contact.
Officials at Middlesex Hospital invited Diana to open the ward and shake hands with the patients without surgical gloves.
‘She did this to explode the myth’ that AIDS — spread through sexual contact and blood products — can be caught from ordinary activities like shaking hands, a spokesman at Buckingham Palace said.
Sources close to the Princess told the British media she felt no apprehension at the visit.
Britain has 731 confirmed AIDS cases and there have been 377 deaths. More than 600 of the cases involved homosexuals, with the rest involving intravenous drug users, hemophiliacs, blood transfusion receivers and people who caught it through heterosexual contact. One case is unexplained and does not fall into any category, health officials say.
During her 40-minute visit to the AIDS ward, Diana also shook hands with a state-enrolled male nurse, Shane Snape, 28, who works on the ward and has carried the virus for two years, although it has not developed into AIDS.
‘The Princess shook my hand without wearing gloves and that meant more to me than anything,’ Snape said. ‘For want of better words it gives AIDS a royal approval and helps to break down this stigma to what’s attached to it.’
Diana spent time sitting at the bedside of the patients — described by hospital officials as all homosexual men ranging in age from their 30s to 67 and discussed opera with the oldest sufferer.
The visit was conducted privately and the patients refused to pose for news photographers because they did not wish to reveal their identities. One agreed to posing for a photograph in which he shook the hand of a smiling Princess Diana, his back to the camera.
Some hospital staff expressed diappointment that the patients shied away from the media but nurse Jacqui Elliott said she understood their hesitancy.
‘People who have been brave enough to be on camera have suffered some very unpleasant consequences with their homes being ransacked because unfortunately there is still a lot of prejudice among the general public,’ she said.
Polls have shown the British public is very concerned with the disease and manufacturers of condoms have reported rising sales.