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Princess Diana was quick to share her struggles in hopes it would help others.
During her lifetime, the Princess of Wales was known for the heartfelt letters and cards she wrote behind palace gates. One of them, which evoked his battle with bulimia, is now on display in Las Vegas.
Royal fans unable to cross the pond can now head to Sin City for a special exhibit dedicated to ‘The People’s Princess’. Coinciding with the 25th anniversary of her passing, a new attraction titled “Princess Diana: A Tribute Exhibit” now occupies 10,000 square feet of space. It presents more than 700 souvenir objects. The items, many of which have never been seen before by the public, include evening dresses, personal letters written by Diana, as well as gifts she gave to friends.
“[This] is the only letter we know of on record where she speaks publicly about her bulimia and writes to someone else about the struggle she had [with it]exhibition curator David Corelli told Fox News Digital. “It was in the late 80s, early 90s. No one was talking about mental health. And for her to come out publicly and start bringing up some of these issues, you start to see a surge of people … getting real treatment and asking for help.”
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“She single-handedly changed the world,” Corelli added.
In the letter, dated January 31, 1996, Diana contacted Richard L. Saunders.
“Dear Richard – Thank you very much for your letter – it is not easy for a gentleman to be open and honest about bulimia!” she wrote. “However, you are doing extremely well under the circumstances and having Sam by your side will give you both the support and encouragement you need at this point in your life. It was nice to hear from you and to remind you if I am able to conquer Bulimia, you too can!!”
Corelli said he wasn’t surprised the princess was so outspoken in her note.
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“That was Diana’s trademark, wasn’t it?” he said. “She took that extra step. There was a line that was considered acceptable for a member of the royal family. And she said, ‘I don’t play by those rules. I make my own rules of what I think is fair and just in the world. ‘ So the fact that she would cross those boundaries doesn’t surprise me. When you look back at her life and her legacy, she went beyond what was considered acceptable for a royal.
“Being open about bulimia, even dispelling myths around AIDS, a cause she supported, was considered taboo,” he continued. “But she wanted to show people that if we could also show a little compassion, the world would be a better place. I think that’s her legacy and her message to the world – take that extra step to show sympathy.”
It was not obvious that Diana would be a royal rebel when she married the future King Charles in 1981. A member of the aristocratic Spencer family, Diana was known for her calm nature. After spending time at a graduation school in the Swiss Alps, she worked as a nanny and pre-school teacher while living in London. Reporters and photographers quickly followed her wherever she went. While she hated intrusion, Diana realized that the media was also a tool she could use to bring attention to her causes and change public perceptions.
In 1995, Diana told the BBC’s Martin Bashir how her tumultuous marriage had impacted her mental health.
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“I didn’t like myself, I was ashamed because I couldn’t deal with the pressure,” she said. “I had bulimia for a number of years, and it’s like a secret disease… It’s a repeating pattern, which is very destructive to yourself.”
“It was a symptom of what was going on in my marriage,” Diana continued. “I was calling for help, but I was giving the wrong signals, and people were using my bulimia like a coat on a hanger: they decided that was the problem – Diana was unstable.”
In 2017, Diana’s eldest son, Prince William, appeared in a documentary for British broadcaster Channel 4 called “Wasting Away: The Truth About Anorexia”. In it, the prince said he was “absolutely” proud that his mother had spoken out about her struggles in the hope that it would encourage others to seek treatment.
But there was another side to Diana that the pals witnessed. Corelli said the princess was known for her sense of humor, a sense she was proud to showcase in her letters.
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“As we go through the vast collection, the stories started to crop up,” Corelli said. “The one I love is Diana’s humor. Everyone knows Diana loved to laugh. That’s what [Prince] Harry says he mostly remembers her having that infectious, childish laugh he clearly remembered in his head. We have this whole area where it’s all funny cards for Christmases, birthdays and anniversaries that she had given to her friends and family. She really indulged in her quirky sense of humor.”
“She would go to regular department stores and pharmacies and just find typical greeting cards that you could pull off the shelf,” he said. “One had her face on it…another had the Queen’s face on it…She had all these funny messages for her loved ones. When you see the messages she wrote to these people and the cards she she used, there’s a layer of her personality that you can never get to see in a documentary, and that’s what makes it unique to be there in person, to be able to see these things up close and personal.
And there are many stories that have seemingly been forgotten over time, which the public can discover at the exhibition. Corelli said Diana’s friendship with bridesmaid Sarah-Jane Gaselee comes to mind.
“Sarah-Jane was the daughter of Charles’ horse trainer and polo manager,” Corelli said. “As Charles spent a lot of time on the polo field, Diana began to form a little sister/big sister relationship with Sarah-Jane and asked her to be a bridesmaid. As a special gift to Sarah-Jane for to be a bridesmaid, she gave him a heart-shaped locket. Sarah-Jane cut out the signature “love, Diana” from the thank you letter. She folded it, put it inside of this medallion and [wore it] for 16 years. We were able to acquire it directly from Sarah-Jane recently.”
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Corelli said the exhibit is created in partnership with Pink Ribbons Crusade. The all-volunteer 501(c)(3) charity has shared its multimillion-dollar collection of Diana artifacts and royal family memorabilia to raise money to fight breast cancer. Many of the items, he said, come from royal brokers, as well as friends and former employees of the royal family.
He noted that fascination surrounding Diana’s brief life continues to grow, especially in the United States. The princess died in 1997 from injuries she sustained in a car accident in Paris. She was 36 years old.
“Diana was an icon for several reasons,” Corelli said. “Whether it was her love of family, her genuine concern for others, her humanitarian efforts, the way her style is still imitated today…there were so many ways she impacted the world.”
“I think people gravitate to this message that she left: the world can and will be a better place if someone is there to do the work. She was real. She lived that day in and day out.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.