Her smile lit up the whole Fylde coast
It was an image so typical of the Royal who had come to be known as the 'People's Princess'.
Diana, Princess of Wales, reaching out her hand to touch the cheek of a pensioner, who had collapsed in the heat as she stood outside the Winter Gardens, waiting to catch a glimpse of the royal.
Diana approached 72-year-old Madge Hargrave, touched her tenderly on the cheek and asked her: “Are you all right now?”
It was a gesture so typical of the compassion which was her hallmark.
When Diana died in an horrific car crash in a Paris tunnel on August 31, 1997, the Fylde coast was as shocked and crushed as the rest of the country.
The Gazette produced a special 16-page supplement full of tributes and memories of her visits to the area.
Among them was Trinity Hospice director Dr David Cooper, who said the hospice had lost a “true friend.”
She had first visited the hospice in July 1992, when she officially opened its day centre, named after 21-year-old patient Louise Woolcock.
Diana had met Poulton student Louise the previous year at Blackpool Town Hall, when she had spent 30 minutes talking to her.
She greeted Louise at the hospice with “hello old friend” and gripped her hands, kissed her cheek and chatted to her as if they had been lifelong buddies.
Louise said: “I was really touched when the Princess remembered me. I thought it was funny when I gave her a crystal bowl and she said ‘I’ll never get all my cornflakes in there, but thank you anyway’.
“I was tired the whole time, but it was worth it, I am on top of the world.”
In August 1992, only a week after the visit, Louise died. Diana – on holiday with Prince Charles on a yacht in the Greek islands – sent a short message of condolence to her parents.
She followed it up a few weeks later – with the storm of taped conversations of her speaking to a male friend erupting around her – and spent six hours at Trinity, speaking to patients in a private visit, as well as Mr and Mrs Woolcock and Trinity staff.
No one could guess it would prove her last visit to Blackpool – especially as she was due to visit Trinity’s Brian House unit later in the year she died.
Trnity director Dr Cooper said of the day she made her private visit: “It was absolutely magical. Everybody seems to say she has this magical affect on her patients which is exactly what happened here.
“Only when you met her, did you accept her genuine warmth and sincere sense of fun and her deep love of those more unfortunate than herself. She was an amazing person.”
Pensioner Madge Hargrave who Diana had shown such care for in Blackpool, described her as “a wonderful, caring person.”
Madge said: “When the Princess came out her car, she came across to me and stroked my face and told me she hoped I soon felt better. She was so kind, so lovely.”
At Trinity Hospice, patient Doris Tomlin, who was 65, of Cleveleys, and was being treated for lymphoedema, said meeting the princess made her year after recovering from cancer.
She said: “She was lovely and held my hand all the time. She said I looked nice, wished me all the best and told me to keep smiling.”
Young dad Ian Dale, 32, who had a brain tumour, said: “She was very nice. She looked at my photograph of my children and signed my brochure. She really made you relaxed and was lovely to talk to.”
And during the princess’s visit to the Winter Gardens, to attend the British Deaf Association Congress, one lucky local chap sealed her arrival with a kiss. Jobless chef Neil Grant planted a smacker on Diana’s right hand before she entered the building. She stretched out her hand into the waiting throng, to see it grasped by Neil who gave it a tender kiss.
Four-year-old Carly Todd, of St Annes, presented Diana with a bunch of sweet peas.
And Diana’s desire to meet the people nearly led to a right royal slip-up, when she arrived to officially open Tower World in Blackpool.
The VIP welcoming party – made up of First Leisure chairman Lord Delfont, deputy chairman Lord Rayne, chief executive John Conlan and Tower general manager Steve Brailley – were hidden from view behind the canopy pillar. Turning from the cheering crowd, the princess very nearly walked past the reception party.
But she checked herself – mouthed ‘oops’ – and was then introduced to First Leisure bosses, before joining in a party for deaf children and officially opening Tower World.
Kath Hayward, chairman of Blackpool Relate, met Diana when she visited its Blackpool headquarters. She said: “When I took her to look round it was like taking my own daughter. She was so easy to be with, she had such warmth.”