A Personal Loss

updated 09/09/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/09/1991 01:00AM

IT'S NO SECRET THAT PRINCESS DIANA IS less than thrilled by summer vacations at Balmoral in Scotland. But when she interrupted her family holiday there on Aug. 20, it wasn't just the standard royal getaway. Learning that her close friend Adrian Ward-Jackson, 41, was in the terminal stages of AIDS at St. Mary's Hospital in London, Di left Prince Charles and the children behind and anxiously rushed to his bedside.

Over the next three days, Diana visited Ward-Jackson, a successful art dealer, at least twice a day. As the end neared, the Princess settled in for an eight-hour bedside vigil on Aug. 22, during which she stroked her friend's hand and comforted his family. When an aide asked her when she planned to leave, Diana replied, "How could I leave him now, when he needs me most?"

That night she left the hospital at 10 P.M., instructing nurses to call her if Ward-Jackson's condition deteriorated. Sadly, the end was nearer than she imagined—just three hours later he died. When she was notified at Kensington Palace, Diana rushed back to the hospital at 1:30 A.M. and paid her last respects by kissing Ward-Jackson lightly on the forehead. She stayed with his grieving family until 8 A.M. "She proved to be a very, very special friend of Mr. Ward-Jackson," said a nurse. "Those last hours would have been much harder for him but for her support and kindness."

As patron of the National AIDS Trust, Diana has never hesitated to confront prejudices about the disease. In fact, in 1987, when ignorance about AIDS was still rife in Britain, she made the point that the disease was not easily transmissible when she extended her ungloved hand to grasp that of a patient at Middlesex Hospital. "Shaking hands with an AIDS patient is the most important thing a royal's done in 200 years," commented journalist Judy Wade after the event.

But Diana's visits to Ward-Jackson were more than symbolic. Over the past five years, as their interests and social orbits overlapped, they had developed a warm friendship, sharing a passion for ballet. "They were really quite close," says Marguerite Littman, founder of the AIDS Crisis Trust, of which Ward-Jackson was deputy chairman. "Adrian was heavily involved in fund-raising. The Princess came to all the galas."

Ward-Jackson enjoyed a discreetly gay lifestyle, sharing luxurious homes in London and New York City with companion Harry Bailey until Bailey's death from AIDS last year. When Ward-Jackson was diagnosed HIV-positive, he kept his illness secret from all but Diana and his closest friends. As his condition worsened, Di frequently visited him at home, reading to him for hours and holding his hand.

In her grief over Ward-Jackson's death, the Princess's commitment to AIDS patients is expected to deepen. "Diana has long campaigned against the stigma and ignorance faced by AIDS patients. But yesterday [with Ward-Jackson's death] she showed the very real depth of her caring nature," editorialized the Today newspaper. "When we see her hold a hand, it is not from duty but because she really does care.

MARY H.J. FARRELL
TERRY SMITH in London

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