'She felt like a family member'
Princess Diana first came to Blackpool in July 1991.
Blazing mid-summer sun greeted her arrival at Blackpool Airport on Queen’s Flight BAe 146, but it was a deceiving start to her trip.
Torrential rain and a thunderstorm were soon to fill the skies above the Fylde, as the crowds waited for Diana to fulfil each of the three phases of that historic trip.
First was a tour of the then Symbol Biscuits factory, on Devonshire Road, Blackpool, where she delighted waiting onlookers by making an unscheduled walkabout, before entering the premises to talk to staff.
Then it was on to CJs, the young people’s advice centre on Blackpool’s Talbot Square.
Here, she went outside her schedule, as she enjoyed a good 30 minutes in her element – chatting informally with young people in the centre, many of them homeless.
When she emerged from CJs, the storm was at its height. The sodden crowds in Talbot Square who had waited patiently, chanting “we want Di!” cheered – and the princess reacted instinctively.
She was scheduled for a private lunch at Blackpool Town Hall, but she could not resist walking over to the adoring crowds, shaking hands and offering sympathy at the drenching being stoically suffered by the throng.
The third stop on her four-hour trip was the Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Society For The Blind’s Clifton Road headquarters in Marton.
The rain was still pouring. The crowds were still waiting – at least 10 deep – along Clifton Road. Diana could not resist.
Again casting aside her itinerary, she stepped gingerly through a soggy grass verge to meet the people. And after a 30-minute tour of the centre, was she was gone.
But Diana was back in Blackpool in 1992.
As patron of the British Deaf Association, her first duty of what proved to be an exhausting day-long visit was to attend the organisation’s annual congress at the Winter Gardens.
Then she was off to Trinity Hospice, the highlight of her trip.
She rounded off her tour with a visit to Blackpool Tower, where she officially opened First Leisure’s £13m Tower World attraction in the company of Lord Delfont and hundreds of children.
Then it was on to the Blackpool HQ of relationship counselling charity Relate, of which she was also a patron.
A few weeks later, she was back, making a private visit to Trinity and spending the day with staff and patients.
She had been to the Fylde coast earlier, of course.
Many Fylde folk saw the Princess of Wales when she flew into Warton, in 1989.
She met local VIPs on the windswept tarmac at the British Aerospace base then drove off to Preston again.
But before she boarded the aircraft, Diana charmed the crowds of plane-makers who braved the rain to catch a glimpse of her.
She went on a walkabout to talk to them and flashed that brilliant smile to bring a ray of sunshine into a wet and windy day.
And Blackpool clairvoyant Angerlena Petulengro met Princess Diana after she flew into the Fylde, on her way to open Royal Preston Hospital, in 1983. At the time, Prince William was one year old.
Diana once said: “I think the British people need someone in public life to give affection, to make them feel important, to support them, to give them light in their tunnels.”
After her untimely death, hundreds of floral tributes were left in Blackpool town centre and letters written in to The Gazette paying tribute to the “people’s Princess.”
The Gazette provided extensive coverage of Diana’s funeral, which took place at Westminster Abbey and saw celebrities sit alongside charity workers to pay their respects. Among the mourners were Luciano Pavaroti, George Michael, Jemima Khan, David Frost and Elton John, who sang a revised version of Candle In the Wind during the service.
Hundreds of grief-stricken mourners had camped out around the Abbey the night before to say goodbye to their princess.
Among them was Roy Gardner, a maintenance worker for Blackpool Transport.
He said: “We all feel like we knew her as a member of our own family. Her death felt personal, that’s why I came to show my respect.”