The Crown: Princess Diana hugs a child with AIDS

The Crown: What happened during Princess Diana’s trip to New York City?

Princess Diana’s visit to New York City is featured in The Crown’s season four finale

Chelsea Ritschel
New York
Monday 14 December 2020 18:32
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In February 1989, Princess Diana travelled to New York City, where she embarked on her first official solo tour.

The purpose of the trip, as portrayed in season four of Netflix’s The Crown, was to “promote British industries abroad,” according to Beneath The Crown’s Anita Rani, with the “focal point of the trip” meant to be a royal gala for the Welsh National Opera.

Prior to her arrival, the American media also speculated that her schedule would be full of shopping excursions, as the royal had come to be known as a fashion icon.

However, the three-day trip marked a point in the Princess of Wales’ life where she wanted to establish her independence from her husband Prince Charles, take “control of her own narrative,” and raise awareness of causes close to her heart, such as the AIDS crisis.

As shown by actress Emma Corrin, who plays the then-27-year-old princess in the show, Princess Diana’s trip was hugely successful, and cemented her later title of the “people’s princess”.

This is what happened during Princess Diana’s trip to New York City.

Upon her arrival in the city, Princess Diana attended a cocktail party hosted by Scottish cashmere company Dawson International.

But by the next morning, her focus had turned towards social causes, with the late royal beginning her day with a visit to the Henry Street Settlement in the Lower East Side, which provides social services, arts and healthcare to the community.

According to Rani, Princess Diana’s decision to visit “deprived areas of Manhattan usually ignored by the rich and famous” came as a surprise to the locals, who were “delighted”.

After a visit to toy store FAO Schwarz, Princess Diana attended the gala for the Welsh Opera at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, for which she wore a white and gold beaded gown.

According to former BAM president Karen Brooks Hopkins, the outfit caused an appreciative response from attendees, who were dressed mostly in black.

“Everyone’s in black, and she enters her royal box, which we had beautifully decorated with all these greens and so forth, and she’s wearing white. Kind of a gasp goes up from the crowd, because of her beauty and the fashion of it all,” Brooks Hopkins told Town & Country.

Princess Diana at a gala in New York City 

But, one of the most “defining moments” of Princess Diana’s trip, according to Rani, came when she visited Harlem Hospital, where she paid a private visit to the AIDS ward.

During the visit, the royal spoke with doctors and hugged a young patient with AIDS - an embrace that generated positive press coverage and positive responses from hospital workers.

“She did it spontaneously,” Margaret Heagarty, the hospital’s former director of the pediatric AIDS unit, told The New York Times of the gesture. “But she also did the human thing. He was five or six years old, and she just picked him up and hugged him.”

Emma Corrin plays Princess Diana on The Crown 

Overall, the reaction to the royal’s trip was overwhelmingly positive, with throngs of people greeting her everywhere she went and headlines declaring her success and praising her compassion.

Princess Diana was met with crowds of fans during visit to New York

“What emerged were headlines about Diana's public displays of compassion for those far less fortunate than the royal family," Rani said, adding that the visit also helped “to break down AIDS-related stigmas, and her actions led to a surge in adoption requests for HIV-positive children”.

While much of the trip is accurately portrayed in Netflix’s latest season of The Crown, there is one difference worth noting - the scenes were actually filmed in Manchester, rather than New York City.

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