Diana, Princess of Wales, was born The Honourable Diana Frances Spencer on 1 July 1961 as the daughter of John Spencer, the Viscount Althorp, later 8th Earl Spencer and Frances Ruth Roche. She was born in Park House in Sandringham, Norfolk. She had two elder sisters, Jane and Sarah. Her elder brother John lived for just 10 hours. A younger brother named Charles is now the 9th Earl Spencer. He later said, “It was a dreadful time for my parents and probably the root of their divorce because I don’t think they ever got over it.”1 She was baptised at St. Mary Magdalene Church on 30 August 1961.
Diana grew up in Park House, which was leased from The Queen and the Royal Family frequently stayed at the neighbouring Sandringham House. She was on horseback from the age of three and developed a passion for animals. She had pet hamsters, rabbits and a cat named Marmalade. She was just seven years when her parents divorced. Her mother remarried to Peter Shand Kydd in 1969. Her father remarried to Raine McCorquodale in 1976 and Diana’s relationship with her stepmother was reportedly very bad. Raine later commented, “I am absolutely sick of the ‘Wicked stepmother’ lark. You’re never going to make me sound like a human being. because people like to think I’m Dracula’s mother but I did have a rotten time at the start and it’s only just getting better.”2 When her father became Earl Spencer in 1975, Diana became known as Lady Diana. The family then moved from Park House to Althorp.
Diana was initially homeschooled before beginning her formal education at Silfield Private School and Riddlesworth Hall School. In 1973, she joined her elder sisters at West Heath Girls’ School before leaving at the age of 16. She then attended a finishing school for one term. As an 18th birthday present, she was given a flat in Earl’s Court by her mother, where she lived until 1981.
Diana first met Charles, Prince of Wales, when he was dating her elder sister Sarah. It wasn’t until 1980 that he took a serious interest in her as a potential bride. They met several times over the year before he proposed on 6 February 1981. Diana accepted, but the engagement was kept a secret for a few weeks. She lived at Clarence House and Buckingham Palace until the wedding. She made her first public appeared with her future husband in March 1981 at a charity ball, where she also met the Princess of Monaco (born Grace Kelly). She became the Princess of Wales when she married Charles on 29 July 1981 at St Paul’s Cathedral. She later said of her wedding, “I had tremendous hopes in my heart.”3 She was never officially Princess Diana, though she is often referred to as such.
On 21 June 1982, Diana gave birth to their first child, a son named William. In the first years of marriage, Diana made several attempts to hurt herself and even threw herself down the stairs while pregnant with William. “They were desperate cries for help. I just needed time to adjust to my new position.”4 She also suffered from bulimia. A second son named Harry was born on 16 September 1984. As Princess of Wales, she supported many charities, including working with HIV/AIDS patients in the early 1980s when much was still unknown about the disease. She was also the patron of the HALO Trust, an organisation that removes debris, such as landmines, left behind by war.
Diana and Charles’ marriage quickly turned sour. They were incompatible and the age difference of 13 years was beginning to show. Charles resumed his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles while Diana began an affair with James Hewitt. The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh tried to reconcile the couple, but they were unable to overcome their differences. A media storm followed Diana and Charles wherever they went. Diana said, “One minute I was a nobody, the next minute I was Princess of Wales, mother, media toy, member of this family, and it was just too much for one person to handle.”5 In December 1992, the Prime Minister announced the couple’s separation. Diana later commented, “The fairytale had come to an end…”6 In 1995, Diana gave an interview to Martin Bashir for Panorama, where she discussed her and her husband’s extramarital affairs. Diana confirmed her mental health problems, including self-harm. After this, divorce proceedings were set in motion, and the divorce was finalised on 28 August 1996. “I have learned so much over the last years. From now I am going to own myself and be true to myself. I no longer want to live someone else’s idea of what and who I should be.”7
After the divorce, Diana lost the style of “Her Royal Highness” and was instead styled as Diana, Princess of Wales. She retained her apartment at Kensington Palace. She began dating Hasnat Khan, a heart surgeon. In the summer of 1997, Diana began a relationship with Dodi Fayed, and she joined his family in the south of France. On 31 August 1997, Diana, Dodi Fayed and their driver were killed in a crash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris. They had been hounded by paparazzi, and the driver had lost control of the car at high speed while intoxicated. Her funeral service on 6 September was watched by millions. She was buried on an island within the grounds of Althorp Park.
Diana is still regarded as an iconic, if somewhat saintly, figure. After her death, her brother said, “Diana was the very essence of compassion, of duty, of style, of beauty. All over the world, she was a symbol of selfless humanity. All over the world, a standard bearer for the rights of the truly downtrodden, a very British girl who transcended nationality. Someone with a natural nobility who was classless and who proved in the last year that she needed no royal title to continue to generate her particular brand of magic.” She was certainly someone special.
- Andrew Morton – Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words p.123
- Andrew Morton – Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words p.152
- Andrew Morton – Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words p.199
- Andrew Morton – Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words p.208
- Andrew Morton – Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words p.206
- Andrew Morton – Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words p.337
- Andrew Morton – Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words p.1377