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OUR AUNTIE DIANA; Young ones who held a special place in the Princess's heart.

To many she was the fairy tale princess - but, to 17 lucky children, she was their "Auntie" Di.

Princess Diana took her role as a godmother very seriously.

Typically, the godchildren of the People's Princess are from all walks of life. Mixed in with the children of British aristocracy and European royalty, you almost inevitably find the children of servants, teenage friends and childhood chums.

And the Princess treated each one exactly the same - with heaps of generosity and attention and, of course, the warmest of hugs.

Come Christmas, it was always the present from Auntie Di that was excitedly ripped open first. And there were never any disappointments.

Every birthday, a card and present faithfully arrived, no matter what she was doing or where she was in the world.

And, somehow, it was always exactly what that godchild had wished for.

"Diana was a very, very special godmother," says her close friend, Lady Carolyn Warren, daughter of the Earl of Carnarvon and mother of Diana's godson, Jakie, 11.

"She somehow managed to make Jakie feel as if he was the only one.

"At Christmas and birthdays Diana always got it just right. Knowing how to give the right thing at the right moment was one of Diana's great qualities.

"Jakie would always be so excited when Auntie Di came to visit. He'd race out to greet her. And she would be ready with that wonderful smile and her arms wide open waiting for lots of hugs and kisses. Jakie absolutely adored her.

"When she was talking to him, she talked on his level. And she was always there at the right moment.

"She was brilliant about keeping in touch. When Jakie started at boarding school, his first letter - after the one from mummy and daddy - was from Diana.

"Jakie is at Ludgrove with Prince Harry and whenever she was visiting him, she'd always go and see Jakie as well - to make sure he was happy and settled.

He was very lucky to have her. Words can't say just how much he was blessed."

One of Diana's oldest friends, Isabel Cazalet adds: "She really was the most wonderful godmother to my youngest daughter, Clare,who's 13.

"She never forgot her birthday, always sent cards and presents at Christmas, and took her out on treats whenever she could.

"She was so good with children. She would have been the perfect person to have, even if she hadn't been who she was."

Diana's most recent godchild, two-year-old Domenica, suffers from Down's syndrome - and, whether consciously or not, the Princess's association with her helped to raise the profile of the misunderstood condition.

But Diana wasn't just a constant support for little Domenica - she was there for her mother, Rosa Monckton, too. The two were the closest of pals and, last month, enjoyed a holiday touring the Greek islands.

But they didn't just share the good times. A year before Domenica was born, Rosa tragically lost a daughter at 22 weeks - and Diana rushed to comfort her.

Rosa - who is the managing director of top jewellers, Tiffany's - says: "As a friend, Diana was steadfast and loyal, and I leaned on her like so many people did. Whenever I had any setback, she was immediately there and would drop everything.

"Everyone wants the best for their child - and there simply wasn't any better godmother than Diana.

"She was there for me when Domenica was born and she has been with her every step of her two years of life.

"It's very sad that over the past couple of days Domenica has started walking. I can't believe her godmother will never see that.

"Diana had an enormous capacity for love and compassion. Her heart ruled her head which is why I think she was so often so misunderstood."

Diana was similarly supportive of her West Heath school friend, Laura Lonsdale with whom she once shared a flat in London's Earl's Court.

She was godmother to Laura's first child, Leonora, whom she doted on and treated to her first theatre trip to see Joseph And His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

Five years later, Diana was there for Laura when she tragically lost her 11-month-old son, Louis, to cot death.

She stood next to Laura at the funeral, and then spent months counselling the distraught mother through her grief.

After Louis's funeral one relative said: "The Princess of Wales is the nearest thing to an angel on earth.

"She has a unique quality of being able to comfort someone without being pushy or over-the-top. She has a magic touch."

Although Diana was officially godmother to the Hon Alexandra Knatchbull,14, her tragic younger sister, Leonora had a special place in the princess's heart.

Leonora was diagnosed with cancer at the age of four and, after a courageous year-long battle with the disease, died on October 22, 1991.

Four months before her death, Diana invited Leonora to be her 'special guest' on the Buckingham Palace balcony to watch a fly-past with her.

Diana also gave Leonora's parents, Lord and Lady Romsey, immeasurable support after they discovered the shattering news about their daughter while holidaying with the Waleses in the Greek islands.

Diana immediately took over the practical role of looking after Alexandra, then 7, and her older brother Nicholas, then 9, while the Romseys and four-year old Leonora dashed back to London.

The Earl and Countess of St Andrews - parents of Diana's eight-year-old godson, Lord Edward Downpatrick - also appreciated the Princess's compassion, understanding and impartiality.

The Countess, Sylvana, was a Canadian divorcee from a middle-class family. When she married the Earl (who is the Duke and Duchess of Kent's eldest son), he had to renounce his right to inherit the throne.

Diana was appalled to discover that, as a result of his father renouncing the throne, her godson was forbidden to wear the traditional royal christening robe on his special day.

He was the first royal baby in 150 years not to wear the robe first worn by Edward VII.

The Hon Rupert Soames - father of Diana's five-year-old goddaughter, Daisy - summed up their feelings.

He said: "We are devastated, terribly shocked and very sad at losing the Princess of Wales. And also very thoughtful of her two sons and the other people involved.

"Diana was an extremely attentive godmother to Daisy - and very generous. Inevitably, they enjoyed a very close and happy private relationship."

The Duke and Duchess of Westminster - whose daughter, 15-year-old Lady Edwina Grosvenor, had the honour of becoming Diana's first godchild - are still in a state of total shock.

But they issued a statement, saying: "We are both deeply shocked by the tragic news. We feel and share a great sense of loss with all the families involved - but especially with William and Harry."

The children she doted on

THESE are Diana's 17 godchildren:

LADY EDWINA GROSVENOR: Born November 4, 1981. Daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Westminster. The Duke of Westminster is Prince Charles's cousin.

HON ALEXANDRA KNATCHBULL: Born December 5, 1982. Second child of Lord and Lady Romsey. Lord Romsey is Lord Mountbatten's grandson.

CLARE CAZALET: Born July 4, 1984. Daughter of Diana's childhood friend, Isabel and her merchant banker husband, Victor Cazalet.

CAMILLA STRAKER: Born March 25, 1985. Daughter of Diana's old pal, the Hon Sophie Straker and her husband, Reuben.

PRINCE PHILIPPOS: Born April 26, 1986. Son of ex-King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie of the Hellenes.

LEONORA LONSDALE: Born June 14, 1986. Daughter of Diana's schoolfriend Laura and her husband, Jamie Lonsdale.

JAKIE WARREN: Born August 21, 1986. Son of Lady Carolyn Warren and her husband, John. Lady Carolyn is the daughter of the Earl of Carnarvon, the Queen's racing manager.

LADY MARY WELLESLEY: Born December 16, 1986. Daughter of the Marquis and Marchioness of Douro.

GEORGE FROST: Born April 23, 1987. Son of broadcaster and writer Sir David Frost and his wife, Lady Carina. Lady Carina is the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk.

ANTONIA TWISTON DAVIES: Born October 22, 1987. Daughter of Diana's old school pal Caroline and her husband, Audley.

JACK FAULKNER: Born August 23, 1988. Son of Major Simon and Isabel Faulkner.

LORD EDWARD DOWNPATRICK: Born December 2, 1988. Son of the Earl and Countess of St Andrews.

JACK BARTHOLOMEW. Born July 19, 1989. Son of Diana's former flatmate Carolyn Bartholomew and her brewery-heir husband William.

BENJAMIN SAMUEL: Born May 22, 1989. Son of the Hon Michael and Julia Samuel.

ANTONIA HARRINGTON: Born August 20, 1991. Daughter of Mr and Mrs Jonathan Harrington.

DAISY SOAMES: Born April 2, 1992. Daughter of the Hon Rupert and Camilla Soames. Rupert Soames is brother of Tory MP Nicholas Soames.

DOMENICA LAWSON: Born June 1, 1995. Daughter of Diana's close friend Hon Rosa Monckton and Sunday Telegraph editor Dominic Lawson. Rosa is managing director of Tiffany's jewellers.
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Author:Maung, Carole Aye
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 5, 1997
Words:1465
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