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Prince Harry Wanted to "Vindicate" Diana With His Landmine Visit in Angola

He wanted to "remind critics how wrong they'd been," according to a royal source.

When Prince Harry retraced Princess Diana's steps by walking through a minefield in central Angola on the fifth day of his official tour of Africa, he had two very important goals in mind. The prince has long been determined to continue the work his late mother started 22 years ago, but his decision to literally follow in Diana's footsteps was also his attempt to "vindicate" his mother, according to one royal source.

A friend of the late princess told me that while Harry's commitment to eradicating landmines is "genuine," he was also determined to "remind the critics about how wrong they'd been when they tried to take down Diana for aligning herself with the issue."

The princess was roundly criticized by British officials and the country's media when she first took up the cause in 1997. In January of that year, just months before her death, Diana stepped out onto an active minefield in Angola in an effort to draw attention to the urgent need to clear away the deadly explosives.

"She knew the world's media would follow her wherever she went," the royal source said. "Diana told me, 'I am going to use them like they have used me and get them to focus on something other than my clothes.'"

Diana was right, of course, and an army of photographers lined up to capture the now iconic images of the princess walking through a landmine field in Huambo while wearing protective clothing, including a vest bearing The HALO Trust logo.

Considering the fact that Huambo is now a landmine-free community, Harry instead walked through a landmine field just outside Dirico, wearing similar body armor, vest, and a protective face mask, bringing the memories of Diana and those extraordinary images sharply back into focus. According to his spokesperson, Harry saw his time spent at a de-mining camp run by the same HALO Trust as "a particularly significant and poignant journey."

In 1997, Diana was seen as taking a political stance for her support of an international treaty banning landmines. Members of Britain's Conservative Party, which was in power at the time, accused the princess of siding with the Labour Party and going against the government's official policy.

The country's junior defense minister at the time, Earl Howe, called her a "loose cannon," and said she was uninformed about the issue of landmines. When a member of the traveling press corps following the princess in Angola asked her to respond to Howe's comment, a visibly upset Diana said, "I'm not a political figure, I'm a humanitarian figure. That's all." Cameras captured Diana retreating into a car and caught her telling the team of people she was traveling with that the question had brought her to tears.

In his eulogy at her funeral in September 1997, Diana's brother, Charles, Earl Spencer, referenced her anguish about the constant criticism she received in the British media, particularly after her divorce from Prince Charles. "I don't think she ever understood why her genuinely good intentions were sneered at by the media, why there appeared to be a permanent quest on their behalf to bring her down," he said.

It's something Harry has related to more since he and his wife, Meghan Markle, started their family, welcoming their son, Archie Mountbatten Windsor, in May.

"As Harry has gotten older and certainly now as someone with a family of his own, he appreciates all his mother did to encourage him to be a force for good in the world. He also now understands what it is to be personally attacked by the media in order to sell newspapers," my source said. "By coming back to Angola and reminding the world of what Diana did, he is, in effect, rewriting part of her history. This is a very important part of her legacy. No one remembers those critics, but no one will ever forget Diana." And for more on Diana's legacy, here are 23 Facts About Princess Diana Only Her Closest Friends Knew.

Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.

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