Meningitis Now staff member Andy Hopkinson

Remembering Meningitis Now's first Royal Patron: Diana, Princess of Wales

Andy Hopkinson | 30th June 2021

How many of you remember (or even knew) that Diana, Princess of Wales was our charity’s first Royal Patron?

Remembering Meningitis Now Royal Patron Diana Princess of Wales

To coincide with what would have been her 60th birthday on Thursday (1 July) we’ve had several media requests to speak to those who met her through the charity – then the Meningitis Trust – and to share their recollections of how she touched their lives in some special way.

It’s certainly stirred some reminiscences among those who have been connected with Meningitis Now over a number of years.

Jane Wells, our Patron/Ambassador, is one of the founding members of the meningitis movement in the UK and has been with us from the start, after her son contracted meningitis in an outbreak in the early 1980s.

So excited!

She told us: “I met this incredible lady a few times! The very first time was when she came to Fern House (our Stroud Head Office) in the late 80s on her first official visit as Royal Patron. We were all so excited! 

“I have a photo of myself presenting her with Meningitis Trust t-shirts for Princes William and Harry, who were coincidentally born within a few days of my two eldest children, Daniel and Rachael. 

“The next time I met her was in Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire, where we celebrated our 5th Anniversary. My son Daniel was invited but he refused to come! Princess Diana asked after him and wondered why he wasn’t present. I explained that he said he wanted to go to school! She smiled and replied “Sensible boy”. 

“I remember she held Jenny Mortimer’s newborn baby, which gained front page coverage on all the major newspapers as they speculated she was getting broody! It was great awareness for our charity as you can imagine.” 

Inspired to keep fighting

Our former Community Ambassador Sophia was just 16 when meningitis changed her life forever. But meeting our iconic Royal Patron inspired her to keep fighting.

Writing about the experience Sophia, who was a wheelchair user at the time, said: “She did the most amazing thing. To anyone else, what Diana did probably doesn’t mean that much but when you’re as vulnerable and scared as I was, when you’ve lost absolutely everything, this lady knew what would help. 

“She crouched down to her knees, to my level and gently held my hand and spoke to me directly in the eyes. "Hello Sophia, did meningitis do this to you?" Diana knew about the illness, she knew statistics and symptoms, most importantly she knew how important awareness would be to saving people’s lives. She was genuinely interested in us. 

“That was probably the day my life started again and a day I will never ever forget.”

You can read the full story of when Sophia met Diana here.

Sophia has also written movingly about representing the charity at the funeral of Princess Diana in September 1997.

“Twenty three years ago I was asked to represent the Meningitis Trust at the funeral of Diana Princess of Wales, the lady who without meaning to or knowing gave me the drive to get up and live after losing my legs. 

“Princess Diana was an amazing, beautiful woman who touched people’s hearts in life and in death. I will never forget the day she married Prince Charles, the day I met her and she held my hand and the day I sat with her family to say goodbye to her. I will never forget her.

“Meningitis took so much from me, but I truly believe it has given me so much, so many opportunities have opened up to me because of my illness, so many people have come into my life. To me, I feel blessed to have survived and so fortunate to have had so many amazing experiences because of it.”

Read the full story on Sophia’s website here.

Do you have a recollection of meeting Princess Diana through the charity? We’d love to hear about it if so; please email Andy Hopkinson.

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