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Two of the most influential global figures in the nineties, Nelson Mandela and Princess Diana, had great respect for one another. Through their mutual dedication to helping Africa’s most needy, they developed an incredible bond and helped to bring together two very different countries. Here is the story of the friendship between Princess Diana and Mandela.

How Princess Diana met Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela (L) and Princess Diana (R)
Nelson Mandela (L) and Princess Diana (R) | ANNA ZIEMINSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Five months before her death, in 1997, Princess Diana went to Cape Town for a private visit to her brother, Earl Spencer, who lived in the town’s suburbs at the time. While she was there, she had the opportunity to meet the South African President Nelson Mandela.

The two inspiring figures had lots to talk about. Mandela praised her dedication to helping those infected with AIDS. “We saw her sitting on the beds of AIDS patients and shaking hands with them, and that changed perceptions dramatically with regards to AIDS,” Mandela said.

Princess Diana told the press that she was happy to help. “I came here to discuss the situation of AIDS in the country with the president and that’s what we’ve been discussing,” she said. “I said if I can help in any way, I’m available to do it.”

Mandela also expressed his appreciation for Princess Diana’s visit with the children in Angola, who had been crippled by landmines. This was another important cause for Princess Diana, The destruction of South Africa’s landmines was largely because of her attention to the subject, and Mandela acknowledged this.

When asked by a photographer to give Princess Diana a kiss, Mandela responded that it “would be treason.”

After the visit, Princess Diana expressed that she was “absolutely thrilled” to meet Mandela, and he responded by saying that he was “still trembling” from the encounter. “I didn’t know that I would meet a British princess,” Mandela told the press.

Princess Diana is remembered by Nelson Mandela

After her death, Princess Diana was missed by the world, and especially by Mandela. “I was devastated, because she would have turned the tables around,” he said, referring to her work in Africa around disease and poverty.

Mandela reminded the public how Princess Diana would sit on the bedside, and hold the hand of those afflicted with leprosy and AIDS. “She transformed public attitudes, and improved the life chances of such people,” he said.

Mandela called on the public to “learn from her example, and embrace her legacy.”

In 2002, Mandela visited to the United Kingdom, where he was given a chance to visit Diana’s grave and plant an oak tree in her honor.

Prince Harry honors Nelson Mandela

Just like his mother, Africa is a place that Princess Diana’s youngest son, Prince Harry, holds close to his heart. He’s been able to visit South Africa several times, and during those visits, a favorite stop for the prince is the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

When he visited in 2015, it was reported that Prince Harry was given a tour of Mandela’s former offices, where he was immediately drawn to a photo of his mother meeting the South African President in 1997.

Prince Harry also had the chance to meet Mandela’s widow, Graca Machele. He gifted her a photo of himself that he’d taken shortly after Mandela’s death.

What was the photo? When the news of Mandela’s death broke in 2013, Prince Harry was trekking in the South Pole, as part of the Walking with the Wounded South Pole Allied Challenge. When he heard the news, Prince Harry planted a South African flag on the pole in honor of Mandela. The photo he presented Machele was him planting the flag for Mandela.

Prince Harry also returned to the Nelson Mandela exhibit in 2018 with Meghan Markle, which the couple described as “thrilling.” Through their visit, they were able to continue the positive relationship between the two countries that began with Princess Diana and Mandela.