Lady Di remembered: ABC takes a retrospective look at the life of the People's Princess

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Shona Dustan / TV Media
Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer, as seen in "The Story of Diana"

Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer, as seen in "The Story of Diana"

Where were you when you heard the news that the People's Princess had been killed in a tragic car crash? I was young, traveling home with my family after a weekend excursion, and though the volume of the radio was low compared to our boisterous laughter in the back seat, the breaking news bulletin cut through the noise like a knife. The pall that settled upon our family is still palpable to me when I think about those moments, as it is for many who mourned the loss of the captivating and enigmatic woman.

Twenty years later, the magnetism of Diana, Princess of Wales, is undiminished. Her likeness is still used the world over to sell merchandise (tastelessly, some argue), and any who claim to know her secrets or hidden truths about that fateful day can still make a pretty penny from tabloids and book publishers alike.

In an effort to honor the late princess, bring her story and life's work back into the spotlight, and, let's face it, capitalize on her perpetual popularity, ABC -- in partnership with People magazine -- presents the two-episode, four-hour special "The Story of Diana," premiering Wednesday, Aug. 9, and concluding Thursday, Aug. 10.

The documentary special features interviews with some of Princess Diana's close friends and family members, along with biographers and various experts on the woman and her life. Billionaire philanthropist Sir Richard Branson, author and journalist Vivienne Parry and famed dancer Wayne Sleep are among the friends participating in the special, along with Diana's bridesmaid India Hicks and iconic dress designer Elizabeth Emanuel.

But the jewel in the crown of this high-profile special is the participation of Charles Spencer, Diana's youngest sibling, and only living brother. His contribution lends a personal touch to the show that is sure to pull viewers in.

In a promotional clip, Charles -- whose official title is the 9th Earl Spencer -- explains his motivation for participating in this American television event: "One of the reasons I wanted to talk now is because I think after 20 years, somebody shifts from being a contemporary person to one of history, actually. And Diana deserves a place in history. It's important for people who are under [the age of] 35, who probably won't remember her at all, to remember that this was a special person, and not just a beautiful one."

While Charles may underestimate the impact his sister made upon that younger generation, his sentiments are shared by many -- a fact that ABC is banking on, as the viewership of this two-part docuseries is expected to be impressive.

The show is not all misty eyes and fond memories, however. It also celebrates the late princess's philanthropic work, and highlights how those labors of love have evolved since her passing, as well as how her efforts continue to benefit the world today. Specifically, activist Jerry White, who partnered with Diana on her crusade to rid the world of land mines, illustrates just how far that work has come, and outlines how many lives have been saved thanks to the enthusiasm and support she instigated for the cause.

India Hicks as seen in "The Story of Diana"

India Hicks as seen in "The Story of Diana"

Though the media coverage this year makes it easy to see Diana as a saint, this one-dimensional view of the People's Princess does her a disservice. As her brother, Charles, put it when he eulogized his beloved sister at her funeral: "Indeed to sanctify your memory would be to miss out on the very core of your being, your wonderfully mischievous sense of humor with a laugh that bent you double."

ABC and People Magazine hope to capture this human side of the princess as well, and give viewers a glimpse of the real woman behind the royal facade. She would be 56 years old now, and was only 36 when she was killed in Paris, France. Her untimely death was the result of a harrowing car crash that spawned many conspiracy theories, and exposed the lengths to which paparazzi will go for a scoop. Her funeral, much like her life, was legendary, with more than a million people gathering in London to pay tribute to their beloved princess.

The fun-loving nature alluded to by her brother -- though it was often hidden from the press -- was passed down to her children, Princes William and Harry, who have proven to be much more relatable and warm than the previous generations of the British royal family, and have earnestly endeavored to take up their mother's mantle and dedicate their lives to charity and service.

It has been 20 years since that fateful crash, and as the world remembers the vitality and good works of Princess Diana, ABC contributes "The Story of Diana." The two-part documentary airs in two-hour blocks, starting Wednesday, Aug. 9, and concluding Thursday, Aug. 10, on the alphabet network.