Diana’s love affair with Australia began when she first came here as a teenager in 1981 with her mother, Frances, and stepfather, Peter Shand Kydd, to visit their sheep station in Yass, NSW.
The country folk were charmed by the bashful 19-year-old. Little did they know she’d just secretly become engaged to the future King of England.
Two years later, Diana was back, now as Charles’ princess, for one of their first official overseas engagements together.
Baby Prince William came along, too, and was given the very Aussie nickname ‘Wombat’.
In March 1983, the young royals began a six-week tour of Australia and New Zealand, starting in the Northern Territory town of Alice Springs.
They were forced to ‘rough it’ at the modest Gap Motel – much to the delight of its owner – as a recent cyclone had made the town’s ritziest accommodation inaccessible.
Crowds jostled to greet the young family in the dusty outback, but Charles and Diana later reportedly found privacy by retreating through a fence where a hole had been snipped just for them.
They escaped from the sizzling heat at a local car dealer’s pool.
Several royal trips followed in the 1980s, with Diana just as delighted by the friendly nature of the locals, as they were with her.
After her divorce from Charles, her ties with Australia only grew stronger.
For years, she’d purchased herbs from Eileen Whittaker, who she’d met in London.
The two would write to each other regularly about Diana’s health, exchanging personal details as the friendship grew.
Then in the mid-1990s, Diana formed a close friendship with another Australian woman: charity fundraiser queen Marie Sutton.
Marie, a former nurse, was planning an event at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital.
She contacted Diana to see if she’d consider coming to Australia to be the guest of honour at a gala fundraising dinner, launching the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.
To Marie’s delight, Diana agreed to come along.
In the months leading up to the dinner, the two women wrote to and phoned each other regularly, becoming friends.
On October 31, 1996 – just 10 months before Diana’s death – throngs cheered as the princess arrived at the gala.
The following day, she won over more Aussie hearts, hugging children with AIDS at a lunch in her honour.
She also found time to slip into a local hospice one night, spending four hours with dying patients.
“She was one of those people who come along once in a lifetime,” Marie has said.
Eileen also enjoyed time with Diana during a trip to Australia.
Somehow, the princess managed to avoid paparazzi and make it from her hotel in Sydney’s Double Bay to Eileen’s clinic in the heart of the CBD, just to say a private hello.
Eileen was heartbroken when Diana died, and attended her Westminster Abbey funeral.
She sadly died of cancer four years after Diana.
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