In his mum’s footsteps: RICHARD KAY on William and Kate’s visit to Pakistan

The image of the Princess cuddling a gravely ill seven-year-old boy Mohammed Ashrif in 1996 was among Diana's favourites and she kept a copy of it always

The image of the Princess cuddling a gravely ill seven-year-old boy Mohammed Ashrif in 1996 was among Diana's favourites and she kept a copy of it always

The image of the Princess cuddling a gravely ill seven-year-old boy Mohammed Ashrif in 1996 was among Diana’s favourites and she kept a copy of it always

Of all the countless photographs of Princess Diana, it’s far from the most memorable.

It has neither the significance of her seated alone at the Taj Mahal, nor the symbolism of that walk through an Angolan minefield. 

It most certainly has none of the indelible glamour of her dancing with John Travolta at the White House.

But the image of the Princess cuddling a gravely ill seven-year-old boy was among Diana’s favourites and she kept a copy of it always.

It was taken amid the chaos of a Pakistan cancer hospital in 1996 and was a reflex action on her part. 

Never once did the little boy look directly at the woman holding him close because he could not. He was blind and had weeks to live.

To Diana, the picture represented everything about how she wished to be seen: compassionate and ready to break down the barriers of protocol. 

Since her death, that baton of royal informality and spontaneity has been picked up by her sons, most notably by Prince Harry in Africa last month.

Inevitably, William's progress this week will be monitored especially to see if it is he, rather than his brother, who has the stronger claim to Diana's legacy. William is pictured above with Kate last week

Inevitably, William's progress this week will be monitored especially to see if it is he, rather than his brother, who has the stronger claim to Diana's legacy. William is pictured above with Kate last week

Inevitably, William’s progress this week will be monitored especially to see if it is he, rather than his brother, who has the stronger claim to Diana’s legacy. William is pictured above with Kate last week

Now it is William’s turn as he and Kate arrive in Pakistan today, the country that in the last year of her life Diana was more closely identified with than any other.

It will be the first time a member of the Royal Family has set foot there for 13 years because violence and terrorism had made it dangerous and unstable.

Inevitably, their five-day visit will bring back memories of the visits made by the Prince’s mother.

In all, Diana visited three times, once when still married to Prince Charles and twice more after her separation when she was deeply in love with the Pakistan-born heart surgeon Hasnat Khan.

At the time, she was considering marriage to him and even moving to his homeland.

During her trips, she managed to slip away privately to meet his family. There will be no such cloak-and-dagger antics for Prince William, of course. 

It is far more likely that he and Kate will follow the template of Diana’s 1991 tour, her first solo visit representing the Queen to a Commonwealth country.

It was widely expected to be a failure. Indeed, there were some in her then- husband’s camp who were actively hoping it would be.

As one of her key aides from the tour recalls: ‘I knew that many of them expected/wanted us to f*** it up and we didn’t. The opening line of the High Commissioner’s post-trip telegram was, ‘The Princess of Wales took Pakistan by storm.’ And she did.’

Among the first people he will meet is Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan, the former heart-throb cricketer turned politician. It was Khan, then the husband of Diana's friend Jemima Goldsmith, who hosted Diana's visits to Pakistan in 1996 and 1997

Among the first people he will meet is Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan, the former heart-throb cricketer turned politician. It was Khan, then the husband of Diana's friend Jemima Goldsmith, who hosted Diana's visits to Pakistan in 1996 and 1997

Among the first people he will meet is Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, the former heart-throb cricketer turned politician. It was Khan, then the husband of Diana’s friend Jemima Goldsmith, who hosted Diana’s visits to Pakistan in 1996 and 1997

A chance meeting in the royal box at Wimbledon between the Princess and Pakistan’s then prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 1989 led to the invitation. 

But a military coup the following year, in which Bhutto was overthrown, delayed the trip for two years. 

Diana was determined to go. ‘I’d had five vaccinations for typhoid, polio, tetanus, cholera and hepatitis A — I couldn’t not go!’ she said.

Aides crafted a programme to reinforce her mainstream royal credentials, although speculation about the state of her marriage was growing, culminating in a blizzard of headlines when it was revealed that Diana would spend her 30th birthday apart from Prince Charles.

So the tour was built around traditional royal elements — laying a wreath at Commonwealth war graves and formal cultural and ceremonial events.

Diana’s visit to the country’s holiest shrine, the Mughal mosque of Badshawi in Lahore, for example, where she was photographed barefoot, is almost certainly to be on William and Kate’s itinerary.

But amid the formality aides included engagements aligned to her charitable interests. 

She went to a drug detoxification unit and flew to Peshawar to visit a centre for disabled Afghan refugees established by the veteran ITN newsreader Sandy Gall where, for the first time, she learned about the indiscriminate horror of landmines.

Since her death, that baton of royal informality and spontaneity has been picked up by her sons, most notably by Prince Harry in Africa last month. Now it is William's turn as he and Kate arrive in Pakistan today

Since her death, that baton of royal informality and spontaneity has been picked up by her sons, most notably by Prince Harry in Africa last month. Now it is William's turn as he and Kate arrive in Pakistan today

Since her death, that baton of royal informality and spontaneity has been picked up by her sons, most notably by Prince Harry in Africa last month. Now it is William’s turn as he and Kate arrive in Pakistan today

Nor did she hold back from using her position to gently admonish Pakistan’s notoriously male-dominated hierarchy. 

In a speech on health, education, drugs and population control, she teased: ‘These might be areas in which women can make a special contribution.’

She had already broken with some traditions by shaking hands with male officials on her arrival. 

It was reported that they had been dazzled by her outfit, a calf-length silk dress in green and white, Pakistan’s national colours.

Planners ensured that her programme contained nothing indulgent, nothing frivolous, nothing experimental and no animal charities. 

(As she once told her private secretary Patrick Jephson: ‘We’ll do animal charities when we run out of people charities.’)

Everywhere she went, she was mobbed by well-wishers.

Inevitably, William’s progress this week will be monitored especially to see if it is he, rather than his brother, who has the stronger claim to Diana’s legacy. 

Ever since his gap-year trip to Lesotho in 2004 where he established his charity, Sentebale, Harry has staked out his mother’s territory as his own.

His trip with Meghan to South Africa last month was, at first, an impressive example of royal ‘soft diplomacy’ (at least until he detonated his attack on the Press).

William, too, has been adopting issues close to Diana’s memory.

He has spoken out on LGBT rights, a new development for the royals just as Aids was for Diana in the Eighties, and like her he is also a regular visitor to the Royal Marsden, the cancer hospital, in London. 

He, too, mixes hugs for nursing staff with bedside chats for patients. For William, the echoes of his mother will be all around.

Among the first people he will meet is Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, the former heart-throb cricketer turned politician. 

It was Khan, then the husband of Diana’s friend Jemima Goldsmith, who hosted Diana’s visits to Pakistan in 1996 and 1997, by which time she was divorced and had been shorn of her HRH title.

And it was at the cancer hospital that Imran built in his late mother’s name that Diana had nursed that blind little boy.

Diana's visit to the country's holiest shrine, the Mughal mosque of Badshawi in Lahore, for example, where she was photographed barefoot, is almost certainly to be on William and Kate's itinerary

Diana's visit to the country's holiest shrine, the Mughal mosque of Badshawi in Lahore, for example, where she was photographed barefoot, is almost certainly to be on William and Kate's itinerary

Diana’s visit to the country’s holiest shrine, the Mughal mosque of Badshawi in Lahore, for example, where she was photographed barefoot, is almost certainly to be on William and Kate’s itinerary

There is another intriguing link: Prime Minister Khan is a cousin — albeit a distant one — of Dr Hasnat Khan and he offered to be a go-between with the doctor for Diana.

Diana was fascinated by Jemima’s life and how she had adapted to Pakistani culture. 

Could she, too, adjust? She travelled to Pakistan with hope that she would win the approval of her beau’s family.

When Dr Khan became close to Diana, it is easy to understand the excitement this social triumph generated among the Khan family back home.

Family members spoke of the two enjoying an ‘Eastern love affair, not a Western one’. It was pure and chaste, they said.

(Years later, in a statement to police investigating her death, Hasnat Khan said that he and Diana had a normal sexual relationship.)

In February 1996, she flew to Pakistan with Lady Annabel Goldsmith, Jemima’s mother, in a private jet. This time her welcome was not quite so warm.

It was not long after her explosive BBC TV Panorama interview and one commentator was scathing.

‘She is seen as a person in a troubled marriage on the verge of divorce who openly admits to adultery on television. It might be acceptable in Britain but she is not a good role model in Pakistan,’ he said.

It was after her third visit to the country, in May 1997, that she decided life in Pakistan was too volatile, too unpredictable.

Her relationship with the heart surgeon ended abruptly and, six weeks later, Diana was dead.

Hasnat Khan, one of the few people drawn into the whirlwind of Diana’s life to emerge with any credit, continues to devote himself to his work both in Britain and in Pakistan where, like Imran Khan, he has established his own hospital.

For William and Kate, meanwhile, this week will be a chance to write a new chapter in royal relations with Pakistan.

‘It’s not about laying ghosts,’ says a friend. ‘[William] is proud of what his mother achieved and he is proud to be following in her footsteps.’

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