LONDON — Britain's Prince William and Prince Harry were reunited on Thursday for the unveiling of a larger-than-life-size statue of their late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, on what would have been her 60th birthday.
“Every day, we wish she were still with us, and our hope is that this statue will be seen forever as a symbol of her life and her legacy.”
During the short ceremony at Kensington Palace, William and Harry together pulled away a green cloth covering the monument, while a small group of guests looked on. Diana’s siblings — her brother, Earl Charles Spencer, and her two sisters, Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes — were among the attendees.
The bronze figure of Diana is surrounded by those of three children — although the third one, hidden behind Diana, is not easy to spot in many photos.
Kensington Palace said in a statement that the statue aims to reflect Diana’s “warmth, elegance and energy” and that the children “represent the universality and generational impact of The Princess’ work.”
“The portrait and style of dress was based on the final period of her life as she gained confidence in her role as an ambassador for humanitarian causes and aims to convey her character and compassion,” the palace added.
Reviews of the statue were mixed. While Diana fans gushed online, many art critics shuddered.
The Times of London gave it two out of five stars, saying that it was “little better than much of the Diana tat,” a Britishism for a cheap souvenir. The Telegraph said that it was “pure kitsch” with a “slightly Soviet vibe” but added that die-hard fans who “simply wanted a good old-fashioned statue of their heroine” got their wish. The Guardian’s art critic said that the statue “stands in an awkward, stiff, lifeless pose and has a face that’s more manly than I remember.”
On social media, others praised the statue. “It’s absolutely beautiful. Sums her up perfectly,” wrote one user.
Dickie Arbiter, Queen Elizabeth II’s former press secretary, tweeted that the sculptor had depicted Diana as he remembered her.
“Her face, her physicality, her clothes and her humanitarianism,” he wrote. “Bravo.”
London is not lacking in memorials to Diana, still revered as “the people’s princess.” There’s a playground at Kensington Palace, a fountain in nearby Hyde Park and a walkway at St. James’s Palace. The National Portrait Gallery’s collection includes more than 50 images of the photogenic royal.
This latest tribute was commissioned from sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley, whose portrait of the queen appears on all British coins.
The statue has been installed in the newly redesigned Sunken Garden, one of Diana’s favorite places at her former home. The palace said the garden still features some of Diana’s best-loved flowers, including forget-me-nots. It’s also where Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, held their official engagement photo call.
From Friday on, the garden will be open to the public during the palace’s opening hours.
There has been much debate in Britain about what sort of statue would pay appropriate homage to Diana. Some art critics have objected to the idea of a work that is lifelike and traditional, arguing that it would betray Diana’s modern image. Feminist critics have said the commission should have gone to a female artist.
But many royal watchers were more curious about what the unveiling would reveal about the state of the royal family.
Prince Charles, Diana’s former husband, is in Scotland and wasn’t among the small group of family and friends in attendance. The spouses of William and Harry sat this one out.
So all eyes were on the two brothers, who were last seen in public together at the April funeral of their grandfather, Prince Philip. After the service, they were seen walking side-by-side, deep in conversation.
At this ceremony, they wore dark suits and seemed relaxed as they talked and laughed with guests, and each other.
William was 15 and Harry 12 when their mother died in a car accident in Paris in 1997. She was 36 years old, the same age Harry is now. William is 39.
When the brothers commissioned the statue, in 2017, their relationship was in a radically different place. They were neighbors: Harry lived in a cottage on the grounds of Kensington Palace, and William and his family lived in the palace itself. Together, they promoted charities and in particular drew attention to the stigma surrounding mental health — something they continue to do, but on different platforms and in different countries, with Harry having given up royal responsibilities, and perks, and living in California.
In a March interview with Oprah Winfrey, Harry said, “I love William to bits,” but added that their relationship now is one of “space.”
In that interview, Harry made a string of claims about the royal family, including allegations of racism. He also said that his family cut him off financially and that his father and brother were “trapped” within their royal lives.
Even apart from the tensions with his family, Harry has spoken about how returning to Britain has often been difficult for him.
“For most of my life, I always felt worried, concerned, a little bit tense and uptight whenever I fly back into the U.K., whenever I fly back into London,” he said. “For me, London is a trigger because of what happened to my mom.”
During his time in the United Kingdom, he attended a charity event for sick children in west London and also delivered a speech for the Diana Award, a charity set up in memory of his mother that focuses on young people and social change.
“Our mom believed that young people have the power to change the world,” he said in a video message.