Diana, Princess of Wales, smiles as she arrives at the Tate Gallery in London. File picture: Jacqueline Arzt/AP
It was fit for a princess and will now go under the hammer to help a Malawian family.

That is the famous work-out shirt which was frequently worn by Princess Diana and which will go on auction on Wednesday in the US. The sale has been gaining massive interest among collectors world wide

The princess’s former trainer, Jenni Rivett, who grew up in Durban, said she decided to put the shirt on auction because “it was just sitting in my cupboard when it really deserves a place of honour”.

Former Kloof High School pupil, Rivett was the princess’s personal trainer for seven years, from 1991 to 1997, during which time the two formed a close bond.

Rivett said Princess Diana trained three times a week, either at Kensington Palace or at the Harbour Club.

The shirt, with the Virgin Atlantic classic Varga Girl advertising logo, was given to Diana by Sir Richard Branson.

“The princess always used to wear that same shirt as a way of hindering the paparazzi from taking photos of her coming out of the gym every day. She felt there were more important things going on in the world to worry about,” said Rivett this week.

She said that during her years as the princess’s trainer, she always maintained their professional relationship, but the two also became friends. Rivett joined the princess on a skiing holiday in Colorado in December 1994.

Princess Diana's sweatshirt is to be auctioned on July 10. Picture: Sarina Carlos/RR Auction via AP

Rivett said: “She had the most incredible ability to make you feel like you were the most important person of the moment. When I first met her at Kensington Palace, she burst into the room and said: ‘I’ve heard how busy you are, so thank you for fitting me in. Now what can you do with this body?’ She had such a lovely aura and made you feel so relaxed. She was down to earth with such a great sense of humour.

“We became very close and she shared almost everything with me. I really felt what she was going through during bad times, and she often poured her heart out to me. She sent me many lovely notes and gave me lovely gifts. A few months before her death, she called me to say she had left a few sweatshirts for me. Among them, this one,” said Rivett, who collected them from the royal butler.

Princess Diana died in a car crash in August 1997 in a tunnel in Paris with her companion, Dodi Fayed. Rivett said she felt “numb” when she heard the news.

Rivett said she had occasionally tried on the shirt for friends.

“It took me six months to finally put it in the bag and post it to New York, after having many conversations with the auction house. It deserves a good home as it was just sitting in my cupboard here in the UK and I was always a little nervous that if we got broken into, it would be taken.

“Now the money raised will be put to good use and I’m sure the princess would approve.”

Jenni Rivett, who grew up in Pietermaritzburg and Kloof, was the personal trainer to Princess Diana between 1991 and the princess's death in 1997, and the pair enjoyed a close relationship.

Rivett confirmed she had plans to help a Malawian family based in South Africa. “They are very close to my family and the father is a lovely man who has helped me with odd jobs. He has the most adorable little girl who I would like to help put through school and help him on his way to obtain better prospects for his future.”

Mike Graff, from RR Auction House, said this week that the shirt would go on auction on Wednesday. There were also two letters of provenance from Rivett.

“The international media attention has been incredible - the lot has already surpassed our pre-auction estimate of $5000 (R70 000) and, considering that the proceeds are going towards charity, there is no telling what the final bid will be,” said Bobby Livingston, the auction house’s executive vice-president.

Details can be found at www.rrauction.com or visit www.jennirivett.com

Independent on Saturday