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Princess Diana: Style and Substance

Getty Images / Georges De Keerle

Nearly 20 years after her death, we continue to be fascinated by Princess Diana.

Nearly 20 years after her death, we continue to be fascinated by Princess Diana. A new Dateline NBC special to air May 5, 2017, looks back at the life and death of "the people's princess."

Our world has always been fascinated with royalty, all the way back to the days when the king had a slightly nicer loincloth than everybody else and lived in a bigger hut. But that fascination has risen to a fever pitch over the course of the past 100 years or so, with every new form of media making it that much easier to watch every move a princess makes… in particular, a princess like Diana, Princess of Wales, whom we simply could not get enough of.

When Diana was killed in a car crash Aug. 31. 1997, the world reeled at the news. She was just 36 years old when she died, a young woman who gave us so many of the things we look for in an international celebrity: beauty and style, love and scandal, great heights and occasional lows. But as we have watched her sons become men (and go through love and scandal of their own), the things we remember best about Diana are the positives. She was committed to helping others, with an impressive group of charities she supported. She was a devoted mother, one who was determined to raise her sons herself. And, if we're being honest about the things we loved about her, she was a style icon, a woman who, like her daughter-in-law Kate today, delighted us with her sensibly fabulous fashion.

It's easy to see those three facets of Diana in the wealth of photographs that were taken of her in the 16 years between her marriage and her death. We're flipping through a few of our favorites as we remember her today.

In 1981, Diana's wedding dress, with its giant sleeves and acres of ruffles and lace, was aspirational fashion for brides-to-be the world over.

Diana wasn't coy about announcing her first pregnancy – she talked frankly with the press about it, and she clearly looked forward to being a mother. Unlike many royals, she chose her sons' first names herself.

While it's typical and expected for a princess to have little time to raise her children, Diana insisted on being an important part of her sons' lives. She arranged her public appearances around William and Harry's schedules in order to have as much time with them as she could. And their easygoing relationship was evident in photos.

A Princess of Wales is expected to devote time to charity, and initially Diana seemed to do it out of obligation, but as time went on, she grew into her humanitarian work, taking on atypical causes like AIDS awareness.

Cancer research, breast cancer research in particular, was another of the many causes she supported. Her deep devotion to helping others was part of what earned her the moniker "The People's Princess."

Diana didn't just help from afar, donating money and attending benefits. She was truly involved with the charities she supported.

Near the end of her life, Diana made headlines with her campaign to raise awareness of land mines in Angola. Many photos were released showing her at work there, but the most poignant are the ones where we see her making a connection with children injured by mines.

We loved seeing Diana in the field doing hands-on work for good causes… but we must admit we also loved seeing her dressed to dazzle at a fundraising event.

Diana's spirit lives on through her good works, through her sons and grandchildren – and in the memories of the many around the world who loved her.

Originally published August 2012