The beloved Princess of the People had a short and tragic life. She challenged the Royal Family to get with the times and broke countless times with royal protocol. She engaged not only a nation but the world over. And her shy demeanor but brilliant PR made her wildly appealing to the media.
Diana had the charm of a country girl and ruffled the feathers of hardcore traditionalists that expected a particular level of sophistication and decorum. But despite the criticisms, Diana possessed a grace and beauty that is timeless. It was her passionate spirit and engagement with truly meaningful charity work that warmed the hearts of the people.
But her life was riddled with difficulties and personal tragedies, that were broadcasted and shared with the world. Diana’s image was everywhere and media outlets took advantage of her as a golden egg to sell their magazines. The public was so aware of the media’s endless and tireless pursuit of Diana, that they actually blamed them for her death in 1997. She was only 36 years old.
Diana’s rebellious nature may have infuriated the Queen, but it generated huge public interest in the nitty gritty details of the good, the bad, and the ugly truths of Diana Spencer. This list takes a look at the highlights.
15. She Sucked At School
Princess Diana was no scholar! Like other upper-class children, Diana was homeschooled until the age of 9 by private tutors. After her parent’s divorce, she attended Riddlesworth Hall in Norfolk, where her family lived. Later, she was sent to an exclusive boarding school, the West Health School. Unfortunately, these educational endeavors failed to impress upon the young Diana, and she failed her O-levels twice. At 16, she left the West Health School. Her father then enrolled her in the Institut Alpin Videmanette, a finishing school in Switzerland, but she insisted on returning home. Even though she wasn’t a good student, she did excel in other activities during her time at school. She was reportedly a fantastic swimmer, diver, and hockey player. Her passion for swimming continued into her days with the Royal Family—she swam every morning to stay in shape.
14. Familial Ties to the Monarchy
The woman who eventually became a princess had many family ties to the Royal Family. Diana’s maternal grandmother, Lady Ruth Fermoy, was a lady-in-waiting to Prince Charles’s grandmother, The Queen Mother. Her presence in the palace led to a close friendship with Queen Elizabeth. Many speculated that it was this connection between Lady Fermoy and Queen Elizabeth that spawned the relationship between Charles and Diana. Hindsight, however, would reveal that the relationship between Diana and her grandmother was extremely strained. Lady Fermoy’s testimony against Diana’s mother during her parent’s divorce proceedings resulted in her father getting custody.
In addition, Diana’s lineage can be traced back to King Charles II and a long line of aristocrats including Winston Churchill. Edward John Spencer was the 8th Earl Spencer and worked as a personal aide to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. He was also the godson of Queen Mary.
13. Her Engagement Ring
It is typical for members of the Royal Family to have their engagement rings and other jewelry custom made, but that didn’t fit with Diana’s down to earth style. The Princess of Wales selected her ring from Garrard jewelry collection catalog! Now, just because it comes from a catalog does not mean it is cheap. The ring is a sparkling 12-carat oval blue Ceylon sapphire surrounded by 14 solitaire diamonds…kind of reminiscent of that necklace from Titanic! The extravagant piece cost £30,000 or £94,800 in today’s terms! The break from tradition may not have sat too well with the Queen, but the new family heirloom has been past down and now sits proudly on Kate Middleton’s finger!
12. Her Death
Princess Diana’s death made the headlines the world over. Diana, her lover Dodi Fayed, and the chauffeur, Henri Paul, died from injuries they sustained in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel in Paris, France. Mourners immediately took to the streets and conspiracy theorists set out their storylines of how the Royal Family had actually orchestrated the car crash. The Royal Family’s strict adherence to protocol opened them to disdain and widespread public criticism. They refused to return to London and stayed at the summer residence to grieve privately. At her funeral, over a million people lined the streets that lead from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey. 750 million people had tuned in to watch the princess marry Charles, but her funeral, 16 years later, was broadcast to 2.5 billion viewers!
11. The Cult Of Celebrity
Princess Diana quickly became immersed in the cult of celebrity calling Gianni Versace, George Michael, Bryan Adams, and Elton John among her close friends. But like all celebrities, Diana felt huge pressures to maintain and uphold certain appearances. After being referred to as “pudgy”, Diana took to dieting and reportedly could not stop. This led to a secret battle with bulimia that came to light through Andrew Morton’s book Diana: Her True Story. Her struggle began in 1981, the same year she married Prince Charles, and wore on into the latter part of the 80s when she eventually received treatment for it. During the 90s when the truth became public, many more cases of bulimia were reported and Diana was championed for helping others admit to their disorder. This outcome has been coined the “Diana Effect.”
10. Momma Took Care Of Hers
Princess Diana seemed set on giving her children a more authentic childhood than other royal children before them. She dismissed the Royal Family’s protocol and chose the princes’ first names, dismissed the Royal nanny and hired one of her own selection, and chose their schools and clothing. The royal momma drove her kids to school whenever her schedule permitted her to, and organized her public duties around their timetables. She also took it upon herself to plan their outings—they got to go to fun places like Walt Disney World and even McDonald’s!
Diana also realized the influence and power she had over making her children’s dreams come true. When a young Prince William had a crush on supermodel Cindy Crawford. Princess Diana was sure to invite the model to Buckingham Palace for dinner! Now that’s a good mom!
9. Her Charity Work
Diana quickly became known for her charity work, pouring herself into countless appearances that went beyond fulfilling her obligations as a new member of the Royal Family. Her interests swayed away from traditional royal involvement and into health-related issues such as AIDS and leprosy. Diana was the first royal to come in physical contact with AIDS patients even though at the time, it was unclear how exactly the disease was spread. In 1991, Diana carried out 397 official engagements to various tragedies. Of her work as a philanthropist, director of the UK Institute of Charity Fundraising Managers, Stephen Lee, said, “Her overall effect on charity is probably more significant than any other person’s in the 20th century.” During her life, she supported over 100 charities including the British Red Cross and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a few months after Diana’s death.
8. She Was A Regular Working Girl
In spite of her royal heritage, Diana held regular low-paying jobs after she dropped out of school. She originally dreamed of being a ballerina, but her 5’10 stature kept her from achieving professional status. She did, however, work as a dance instructor until she was injured in a skiing accident and had to miss three months of work. Next, she worked as a preschool assistant, then as a nanny for the Robertsons, an American family living in London, and finally as a nursery school teacher assistant. Her humility and love of children is something that continued into her life as the Princess of Wales and inspired the adoration of her people and the nickname “The People’s Princess.”
7. Her Sister Dated Charles First!
In true Royal Family fashion, the courting of Diana was rather incestuous! Diana first met Prince Charles at a family function when he was dating her sister, Lady Sarah Spencer! Diana was only 16 at the time, so it wasn’t until they met again in 1980 that their romance began. Their second meeting was also a result of Lady Sarah’s connection to the monarchy—her husband, Neil McCorquodale, worked for the Queen. When Diana and Charles announced their engagement, Lady Sarah gave them her blessing, “I introduced them. I’m Cupid.” She is also the president of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and remains close to her nephews, Prince William and Prince Harry.
6. The Vows
Prince Charles was 12 years older than his bride-to-be and proposed to Diana when she was only 19 years old. The pair waited until she was 20 to wed in a fabulously extravagant wedding for the ages that was broadcast all over the world to millions of viewers. Diana’s dress had the longest train in Royal history, but that wasn’t the only envelope the soon to be Princess was willing to push. In addition to breaking from tradition with the engagement ring, Diana also controversially broke the wedding vow protocol when she did not promise to obey Prince Charles! Gasp! The move was not followed by the royals that followed. Sarah Ferguson and Sophie Rhys-Jones promised to obey in 1986 and 1999 respectively. The bold move was however followed by Kate Middleton in her vows to Prince William. Instead of promising to obey, Kate vowed to ‘love, comfort, honor and keep’ her husband.
5. The Affairs
It’s no secret that the royal couple were unhappy in their marriage… even before the wedding! Charles reportedly wailed, “I can’t do it!” on the evening before the nuptials. Apparently, Diana wasn’t so sure herself. She was reported to be wildly jealous of Camilla and was worried that Charles had gone back to her. Biographer Andrew Morton said, “Diana knew he had doubts and was concerned he’d gone back to Camilla. Everyone had jitters because their courtship was such a whirlwind. They were in each other’s company, not necessarily alone, for 28 days before he popped the question.”
Not long before the exchange of the vows, Diana is said to have opened a package that had arrived at the Buckingham Palace office to find a gold chain bracelet with the initials ‘F’ and ‘G’—for Fred and Gladys, the nicknames Charles and Camilla used.
By 1987, both Diana and Charles were having affairs. Charles was back with Camilla and Diana had a slew of lovers from a detective, Barry Mannakee, to an officer-turned-riding instructor, Major James Hewitt, and a car salesman, James Gilbey.
4. She Talked To The Press
Charles was demonized for his relationship with Camilla and took to the television airwaves in an attempt to find public understanding. In an interview with Jonathan Dimbleby, the Prince of Wales verified his affair with Camilla, but said that he had rekindled their relationship only after his marriage had “irretrievably broken down.”
Diana did not take this action lying down and was sure to retaliate in her own interview with Martin Bashir of Panorama. The Princess of Wales appeared nervous but spoke candidly and responded to all of the questions asked of her. When asked about the failure of her marriage to Charles, she notoriously stated, “There were three of us in this marriage.”
3. She Rejected The Queen’s Help
In true Diana fashion, she rejected the Queen’s help at every turn. A friend of the Queen said, “She felt the pretty girl was a misfit who didn’t quite contribute to the things they did and what they wanted her to do in the family.” To help the new princess make the transition into the Royal Family, the Queen had people brought in to teach Diana of her duties and how she should behave. The Queen employed the help of Lady Susan Hussey, her favorite lady in waiting. According to Lady Pamela Hicks, one of the Queen’s bridesmaids in 1947, Diana did not want the help she was given. She controversially revealed to the Daily Mail, “Instead, she [Diana] wanted to listen to her music and go disco-ing or to some jive concert. She didn’t try… She had no need to try because she saw the people admired her. She reckoned she was the star.”
2. The Tabloids
Princess Diana was of such great interest to the public that from her engagement to the Prince of Wales in 1981 until her death in 1997, she was described as the “world’s most photographed woman.” According to the Asia-Pacific Economics Blog, she appeared on the cover of People magazine more than 50 times, on Time magazine 8 times, and on Newsweek 7 times. And all of this publicity was quite welcomed by the Princess when it came to promoting her various causes or shaming her husband for his affair with Camilla. Diana actually courted many of the editors of various media outlets to help secure her pristine image. But the media world felt an immediate backlash after the Princess of Wales’ death. Many blamed the paparazzi for the high speeds at which Diana and her lover, Dodi Al Fayed, were traveling. Editor, Phil Hall, makes the statement in the documentary Diana’s Last Summer that he and everyone else in the business felt a “huge responsibility for her death.”
1. She Made Off Like A Bandit
At the Queen’s urging, Princess Diana and Prince Charles officially divorced 4 years after their separation. Their 16-year marriage ended in quite the settlement for Lady Di! Not only did Diana get to keep her title as the “Princess of Wales” and her Kensington Palace apartment, but she also received split custody for Princes William and Harry…oh, and £17.5 million (about £30 million today, or $37.1 million)! In 2004, the prince’s former personal financial advisor told the Telegraph that the prince liquidated everything he owned in order to come up with the vast sum Diana demanded: “Princess Diana took every penny he had.” Reportedly, Charles even had to borrow money from his mother to pay the huge amount.