Retro: when Sheffield crowds gathered for Princess Di visit

Princess Diana at the Jessop Hospital, Sheffield - 16th July 1991
Princess Diana at the Jessop Hospital, Sheffield - 16th July 1991
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If we are to believe biographers and newspaper reports, Princess Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles was seriously floundering when she dropped into Sheffield for a solo visit on July 16 1991.

Yet, typically, she betrayed no hint of her personal troubles as she chatted, joked and laughed with Sheffielders – and there were dozens of them – who turned out to that memorable visit to the city.

In her lifetime she was one of the most photographed individuals in the world and whilst in Sheffield she was captured on film many times by the Star’s shutter-happy photographers.

The images reproduced here not only provide a unique record of the historic visit but give Star readers an opportunity to see if they have been photographed with the Princess of Wales – no-one at that time ever imagining how her life would be tragically cut short in subsequent years.

A key part of the Princess’s tour was a visit to Sheffield’s Harris Birthright Centre for Reproductive Medicine in Jessop Hospital.

Devoted crowds of royal watchers began gathering outside the building hours before she was due to arrive. Armed with Union flags and flowers of welcome, they stood in the bright sunshine waiting for Diana.

Brother and sister Jason and Keri Hinchliffe of Moorbank Road, Sandygate, were seeing a member of the Royal family for the first time after recently moving to the city from South Africa.

Keri, aged 17, said: ‘I would like to say hello to her and say how happy I am to see her. She is so friendly and so glamorous and always looks as if she is enjoying her job. She is always smiling and happy.’

Grateful mum Deborah Newton, whose 13-month-old daughter Kate was born with the help of the Birthright Centre, was a VIP guest at the hospital.

The 34-year-old mum from Goole was due to meet the Princess and said: “Kate was born after research at the clinic. They helped us achieve our wish and I cannot over-emphasise the importance of their work.”

Princess Diana – wearing a cream and blue pinstripe suit – arrived in the county at RAF Finningley, near Doncaster, and travelled by car to Sheffield, getting to the hospital just before noon.

The Birthright charity’s progress had been closely followed by Diana, who was the organisation’s patron.

She officially opened the centre in 1986 and returned on that day to learn about breakthroughs in research into infertility.

She was introduced to hospital staff, charity trustees and South Yorkshire businessman Kevin McDonald and his wife, who were major sponsors of Birthright. He was managing director of Doncaster firm Polypipe.

Princess Diana posed for a picture with some of the children whose parents sought help from Jessop’s special unit. She also cradled a five-month-old baby girl.

Her delight was so obvious that she was lost for words.

Diana was giving a helping hand to a mum who had spent seven years trying to have a baby before having twins after treatment at the Birthright Centre. The lucky mum was Stephanie Dilnot from West Yorkshire.

Outside the hospital the Princess chatted to some of the hundreds who turned up to catch a glimpse of her.

Her sunny sense of humour was ever-present – particularly when she joked to a well-wisher who presented her with a gift: “Oh, no I can’t carry that! It would ruin my street cred…”

The incident happened at the Cutler’s Hall, where a special lunch was organised to raise money for Birthright by Master Cutler Hugh Sykes and wife Ruby. The lunch raised up to £20,000 for the charity after guests paid £75 a head for the pleasure of having lunch with the Royal visitor.

The Princess was then due to meet the events organiser of the World Student Games Disability Programme and participants in the It’s Our Year Too programme.

After lunch, the Princess broke protocol and set off on unscheduled walkabouts in Sheffield city centre to speak to as many of her lucky devoted fans as possible.

She then travelled to Rotherham, taking part in another walkabout before calling in at Rotherham Relate, the marriage guidance organisation.

Whilst there, she spent seven minutes alone listening to a young couple’s marital problems.

The couple, who had four children, told her that unemployment had put a strain on their marriage.

The Princess, who was Relate’s patron, spent longer than planned touring the marriage guidance offices in Percy Street, despite arriving 20 minutes late in Rotherham after visiting Sheffield.

n If you are depicted in any of the pictures please let us know, and please share your memories of Princess Diana’s visit to Sheffield in July 1991 or on any other occasion.