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Princess Diana: How she made her mark on the North East

Princess Diana made various visits to the North East Credit: PA

Thursday marks 20 years since Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris.

Diana made a number of visits to the region over the years, where she opened factories and bridges bearing her name.

The princess took time to visit hospitals, schools and workplaces, leaving a lasting impression on those lucky enough to meet her.

Princess Diana opening the Redheugh Bridge in 1983 Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

In May 1983 Diana made her first solo visit to the North East, where she officially opened the Findus food factory, in Longbenton, and also opened the Redheugh Bridge over the Tyne.

Ann Hobson, from Gateshead, was among the crowd that day and turned up over an hour and a half early to make sure she wouldn’t miss the princess.

She told ITV Tyne Tees: “It was very cold. The cold was coming up from the river. I had two carrier bags with me so I put a foot in each bag to stop the cold.

“Suddenly the car arrived and she got out and made a beeline for me because she saw the carrier bags and she said have you got whisky in them?

“I said it’s so cold, we’ve stood here so long. When I said that to her she lifted her head back and laughed.

"She was absolutely gorgeous. Just a lovely person.”

Princess Di opening the Princess of Wales Bridge Credit: .

In 1989 Diana was back in the North East, where she visited Percy Hedley School in Forest Hall.

In September 1992 Diana opened another bridge, this time the Princess of Wales Bridge, which crosses the Tees in Stockton.

Business owner Colin Scarsi met Diana, when she visited his nearby bicycle tyre factory.

She unveiled a plaque, which didn’t stick to the plain rectangular royal template.

He said: “We had to submit plans for the plaque for her to unveil and they were all rejected by the palace, but we followed it to the letter,accept made it round. When she unveiled it there were lots of belly laughs. She was very, very amused.”

A year later Diana was back to open to the new St Benedict’s Hospice, in Sunderland.

And while most people were eager to catch a glimpse of the princess, auxiliary nurse Marion Usher remembers almost shutting her out, after one family said their mother was too ill for visitors.

Marion said: “I went to close the door and someone was pushing the door. At the finish I just opened it, because there was a big push and I saw Diana. I was just speechless and I just went backwards. She said ‘are you shutting me out?’

“You don’t expect to see a princess at the door do you? She just came in and sat down and started talking.

“It was amazing how she just involved the patient in the conversation. She got her arms around everyone and gave a group hug and cuddled them in.”

She also visited St James’ Park, where she was handed two Newcastle United football shirts for princes William and Harry.

  • Did you meet Princess Diana on her visits to the North East? Email us your stories to pamandian@itv.com