Prince William's Milestone Birthday Year Also Marks Poignant Anniversary

Prince William celebrates his fortieth birthday in a year which marks an important emotional milestone for the future king, the 25th anniversary of the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.

William was just fifteen when his mother died in a tragic high speed car crash in Paris' Pont de l'Alma tunnel on August 31, 1997.

When news of the crash and subsequent death of the princess broke, William was staying with his father and brother as guests of the queen for a summer holiday on her Balmoral estate in Scotland.

After increasing pressure from the public and press, the queen agreed that the royal family would leave Scotland and travel to London to view floral tributes, conduct a television address and attend the formal funeral for Diana at Westminster Abbey.

Prince William Princess Diana Anniversary
Prince William's milestone fortieth birthday falls in the same year as the 25th anniversary of Princess Diana's tragic death in a Paris car crash. Photographed May 12, 2022. Diana (inset) photographed November 24, 1995. Jane Barlow/WPA Pool/Getty Images/Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

The prince has subsequently spoken of this year in his life as one of the hardest he has faced and during the two biggest anniversaries since her death, the tenth anniversary in 2007 and twentieth anniversary in 2017, has spoken freely about his mother and her legacy.

In an interview with GQ magazine in 2017, William opened up about the level of grief he experienced when his mother died and how the global nature of her death impacted him.

"I am in a better place about it than I have been for a long time, where I can talk about her more openly, talk about her more honestly, and I can remember her better, and publicly talk about her better," he said.

"I still find it difficult now because at the time it was so raw. And also it is not like most people's grief, because everyone else knows about it, everyone knows the story, everyone knows her."

In the same interview the prince also recalled the level of emotion he felt when walking along The Mall to Westminster Abbey behind his mother's coffin on the day of her funeral. The young royal had reportedly been hesitant to undertake such a public display but was convinced to do so alongside his grandfather, Prince Philip.

"It was one of the hardest things I have ever done," he said.

"But if I had been in floods of tears the entire way round how would that have looked?...There was a lot of noise, a lot of crying, a lot of wailing, people were throwing stuff, people were fainting...It was a very unusual experience. It was something I don't think anyone could have predicted. Looking back, the outpouring of grief and emotion was very touching but it was very odd to be in that situation."

Princess Diana Funeral Procession Prince William
Prince William, aged 15, walked behind his mother's coffin from St James's Palace to Westminster Abbey alongside his father, brother, grandfather and uncle. September 6, 1997. JEFF J. MITCHELL/AFP via Getty Images

In recent years the royal has been more open about the impact on his mental health that the death of his mother had at such a young age and in this he has been joined by brother, Harry.

As both princes have started their own families they have spoken about the ways they try to keep Diana's memory alive so that their children can get to know their grandmother through them.

In a 2017 documentary titled Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, William said how he wanted his children to "know who [Diana] was and that she existed," adding that he constantly talks about "granny Diana."

"It's hard because obviously Catherine didn't know her so she cannot really provide that level of detail, so I regularly put George and Charlotte to bed, talk about her and just try to remind them that there are two grandmothers, there were two grandmothers in their lives," he said.

"So it's important that they know who she was and that she existed."

To mark mother's day in 2021, William and Kate shared photos of cards that had been made by the Cambridge children for Diana with the note from Princess Charlotte reading: "Dear Granny Diana, I am thinking of you on mother's day. I love you very much. Papa is missing you. Lots of love, Charlotte."

In 2021 both William and Harry marked a long held ambition to open a permanent memorial to their mother in London.

In a 2016 interview with Hello!, Harry said "something needs to be put in stone or in place as a memory. Lots of people still talk about her. Every single day we still think about her."

Princes William and Harry unveil Diana Statue
Prince William and Prince Harry reunited for the unveiling of the statue honoring Princess Diana in the gardens of her former home, Kensington Palace. July 1, 2021. Dominic Lipinski/WPA Pool/Getty Images

On what would have been Diana's sixtieth birthday on July 1, 2021, the royal brothers reunited after a turbulent period which saw Harry step down from royal duties and move to America, to unveil a statue of their mother in the grounds of her former home at Kensington Palace.

In a joint statement the princes said:

"Today, on what would have been our mother's 60th birthday, we remember her love, strength and character – qualities that made her a force for good around the world, changing countless lives for the better.

"Every day, we wish she were still with us, and our hope is that this statue will be seen forever as a symbol of her life and her legacy."

While there are no formal public plans to mark the 25th anniversary of Diana's death, the princess is remembered as her eldest son celebrates his milestone fortieth birthday.

For more royal news and commentary check out Newsweek's The Royal Report podcast: