LONDON — John Loughrey is committed to the cause. The cause is Princess Diana.
For the past two decades, Loughrey, 62, from south London, has done more than most to commemorate, celebrate and honor the life and legacy of the Princess of Wales, who died 20 years ago this month in a car crash in Paris.
“I could tell straight away the first I saw her that she had a lot of warmth to her, that she loved being with the people,” he said, reflecting on her character, style and manner that have remained an object of popular fascination around the world.
“Diana went out of her way to make time for the people, to embrace them. No other member of the royal family had ever done anything remotely like it before.”
To mark the 20th anniversary of her death, Loughrey and half a dozen other hardcore Diana supporters will unveil on Aug. 30 — she died in the early hours of Aug. 31 — two large tribute banners that will be fixed to the “Golden Gates” of Kensington Palace, her former London home now occupied by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. They will hold an all-night vigil outside the gates with hundreds of candles. An enormous cake bearing a portrait of the people’s princess will be shared with passersby.
For Loughrey, the event is important, but it is not the culmination of years of devout legacy-tending. He earned a reputation for being Diana’s No. 1 super-fan after he quit his job working in a kitchen so he could attend every court session of the official inquest into her death at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. There were dozens. He rose at 4:30 a.m. each day to secure a spot in the court’s public gallery. The inquest took 6 months.
“No one except you and I and, I think, the gentleman in the public gallery with Diana and Dodi painted on his forehead (Loughrey) has sat through every word of evidence,” said Lord Justice Scott Baker as part of his official coroner’s summary to the jury at the inquest.
Dodi Al Fayed was killed alongside Diana in the crash. Like a true fan, Loughrey had taken to writing his and Diana’s name on his face during the proceedings.
“I didn’t cry alone. The whole world cried,” Loughrey said of that time. “She was special.”
Loughrey is a committed follower of the British royal family.
When Diana’s grandson Prince George was born in July 2013 he slept for eight days on a bench outside the London hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was giving birth. (Where USA TODAY first encountered him.) He did the same — for two cold weeks — when Princess Charlotte was born in May 2015. Queen Elizabeth II turned 90 last year. Loughrey presented her with roses at Windsor Castle.
He appears briefly in Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, a documentary that aired in July and that features intimate and candid interviews with the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry talking about the trauma of losing their mother.
Loughrey said he goes to Westminster Abbey each week to say a prayer for Diana.
On the night of her death, Loughrey was at home with his late wife, who died 14 years ago from cancer. Her birthday had been the day before, but they were celebrating on the Saturday night instead and had just opened a bottle of champagne when they turned on the news and heard there had been a terrible accident in the French capital.
“We didn’t drink any of that champagne. It went back in the fridge with the cork off,” he said. “Then, when it was confirmed that Diana was dead, we just cried.”