Diana, Princess of Wales, dismissed criticism of her campaign for a worldwide ban on landmines as an “unnecessary distraction” during her famed trip to Angola where she walked through a minefield, newly released documents reveal.
She also spoke of plans for a world tour to other heavily mined countries, including Vietnam, Cambodia and Kuwait, but seven months later she had died in a car crash in Paris.
In his Foreign Office dispatch from Angola, released by the National Archives, the British ambassador Roger Hart said Angolans were “delighted” with her visit, in January 1997, in support of the British Red Cross and the mines NGO the Halo Trust.
But it had been plagued with controversy as her call for a worldwide landmine ban appeared to endorse Labour’s policy, while John Major’s Conservative government’s position was that Britain would not support a ban until all countries had signed.
Her call angered government ministers, with the then junior defence minister Earl Howe reportedly describing the princess to journalists as a “loose cannon” and “ill-informed on the issue of anti-personnel landmines”.
Hart wrote: “The furore in the British press over perceived differences between the Red Cross’s views on a landmine ban and the government’s had little local impact on the visit.
“The princess herself described it as an unnecessary ‘distraction’, and [Mike] Whitlam [the then director general of the Red Cross] as a ‘piece of mischief’.”
“I was doorstepped by the pushy BBC court correspondent Jenny [sic] Bond, and had no other option but to say a few off the cuff words.”
With huge international media coverage of the visit, the British Red Cross “were pleased, and so too was the Princess of Wales herself”, Hart continued.
“It was the first overseas trip that she has undertaken since agreeing to support the mine ban and was talking about following it up with visits to heavily mined countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Kuwait.”
Diana’s support for the ban was seen as a turning point. Just three months after her death, 122 governments signed up to the Ottawa treaty, which aimed to eliminate the production and use of mines.