A small cafe on the fringes of Hyde Park in London is keeping the memory of Princess Diana alive 25 years after her death, with photos of the venue’s most famous customer adorning the walls.
The cafe was opened in 1989 by Iraqi-born entrepreneur Abdul Basit and serves a combination of Middle Eastern and British cuisines, including the “Diana burger”.
Mr Basit decided to change the name of his business after seeing the princess taking her young sons to school and perceived it as a good omen.
Cafe Diana is only a stone’s throw from the princess’s residence at the time, Kensington Palace, and before long, its namesake was a regular customer.
“Diana came from the palace at the foot of the road and brought the two boys, William and Harry, when they were small boys and apparently they had hamburgers,” John Harkness, one regular, told The National.
“I’ve been coming here for years and years.
“It’s good coffee. I have American friends and they think it’s good, strong coffee. It’s different from continental coffee.
“I always have the same thing. I have the falafel with hummus and salad.
“It’s very popular with tourists on their way to Portobello market or going the other way.”
As a treat, and a break from the confines of palace life, Diana would often go to the cafe for a coffee, cake, croissant or a full English breakfast. Keen to ensure her young sons did not miss out on normal childhood experiences, she sometimes took them with her.
Diana, who at the time was married to Prince Charles, could often be seen chatting with Mr Basit and servers. As a tribute to the royal guest of days gone by, a picture of the princess with the staff is still on display in the cafe.
Another image that stands out from the dozens of others is an elegant portrait of the princess, signed in gold, that Diana gave to Mr Basit, who has since sold the business.
Mr Harkness, 78, suggested Diana was drawn to the Bayswater cafe by its “unsophisticated and friendly” atmosphere.
Originally from Glasgow but having lived in London for more than 40 years, Mr Harkness said he once saw the princess driving near the cafe.
“I was just walking home along the road and the car came out and I stopped and looked down and there’s Princess Diana on her own. No protection officers or anything,” he said.
“Fortunately, she stopped for me, she let me pass. I just smiled at her.”
He recalls walking past the cafe shortly after the princess died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 and seeing the shopfront “surrounded with flowers” left in her honour.
Ken Aldous, 87, who has been a regular customer at the cafe for years, said the unique venue took on a new meaning after her death.
“A lot of people took a great interest in looking at all the pictures of her,” he told The National.
He said the cafe probably served as an oasis of calm for the princess and her two sons.
“She used to sit and talk to the owner,” he said.
“I live very close, just around the corner. It’s a very useful place to come and it’s a good environment and relatively peaceful.
“The best time to come not to find peace is in the evening because it’s very, very busy.
“I usually have coffee or herbal tea. Sometimes I have a snack but, being English, I’m not all that favourable towards some of these foreign menus. I’m more a person who loves lamb chops, chips and peas.”
Updated: August 28, 2022, 6:00 AM