The Princess (on HBO Max)

The grainy reaction video was everyone’s story that night.

My sister Cyd said she’d recently watched the Ed Perkins’ Princess Diana documentary, The Princess, and told me, “Cat, you won’t believe this, but Ken is in it!” Ken is a friend I’ve known since Michael Jackson’s Thriller days, so needless to say we go back a few years. Of course I ran to the TV and turned on the HBO Max documentary, released to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death this month. I fast-forwarded to the scene of a home video showing a group of guys playing Uno and watching the news. It was the night a car crash rocked the world. I watched my friends’ reactions about ten times because that’s what we do, right? When we know someone personally and they’re on TV, we cannot help but be enamored. As I watched the video, though, I noticed it was more than just an isolated occasion; it was a gathering that mirrored our own that night. And that’s probably what the Oscar-nominated director realized as well, and why Perkins included the amateur video in his latest documentary.

What an odd thing to pick up a video camera—when it wasn’t as easy as holding up your phone—and capture such a moment in time. Those of us today who recall the unfolding news can relate to the guys in the grainy video. We walk with them as partners in this tragedy. We remember that our initial reaction was interest, not alarm. But when the car was trucked out of the tunnel, our hearts skipped a beat. That was no fender bender. When they announced that she had died, many of us exclaimed our shock out loud, much like my friend Ken in the video. And also like Ken, who was comforted on the couch by a friend, we sought reassurance in those sorrowful days that followed. A star had blinked out. So young and so vibrant, a world figure bringing voices to the voiceless and comfort to those in distress. Princess Diana was the epitome of what we hoped to be.

My daughter Anna joined me on the couch and we marveled at the mountain of flowers outside of Buckingham Palace. She asked me, “Mom, help me understand this. Who is a celebrity that I would know today who would be like Princess Diana?” I thought for a moment and I had to reply, “Honey, there isn’t anyone like her.” I knew this to be true as we recalled Princess Diana’s accomplishments. She was an international ambassador who touched the world with her compassion and grace, and despite her own heartbreak and yes, demons, she made us want to be better people. This person cannot exist in our present world. Overly concerned with ‘celebrity’ and ‘politics’, famous people doing good deeds are mostly polarizing figures. They don’t bring us together or challenge our adherence to identities that divide and stir up strife. They don’t encourage us to be accepting and loving of others, especially those who are different or ostracized. Princess Diana did that.

Perkins’ The Princess causes us to pause and remember a woman with compassion and love for others, with flaws herself that probably helped her better understand the significance of her charity, whether in AIDS clinics, leper wards or mine fields. Remembering her life and her tragic death makes us desire a world where someone like Princess Diana can have an incredible amount of impact for the greater good, not for selfish ambition or mere money, but to create serious and positive changes in us all.

My daughter and I sat in silence at the end of the documentary. She leaned over and said quietly, “Mom, maybe we need another Princess Diana.”

Catherine Anne Lewis is an author currently living in North Carolina. She recently wrote and published her friend’s memoir, a story of hope and survival that reads like fiction: Bittersweet: Faith Lost and Found, and the DNA Test that Brought a Baby Back to Life, available from Amazon and other online booksellers. She can be reached at