Diana Francis Spencer was born on 1 July 1961, the daughter of Viscount Althorp, so she was known by the courtesy title The Hon. Diana Spencer
(from 1975 Lady Diana Spencer
). She did adequately in school and became a kindergarten
teacher. Her elder sister Lady Sarah Spencer
was a friend of the Prince of Wales
, and was one of many romantically linked with him. Charles was over thirty and needed a good, reliable wife. He chose Diana, and they were married in St Paul's Cathedral
on 29 July 1981.
From this point she was known officially by the style H.R.H. The Princess of Wales, and popularly as "Di", "Princess Di", or "Princess Diana". Their marriage produced two children, Prince William and Prince Harry. The marriage was predictably treated as a fairytale by the sentimental end of the population, and this very shy, young, and inexperienced woman became one of the most famous and closely-observed people in the world. As the public learned of her hairstyles and charities, they also learned rumours of her bulimia, suicide attempts, and affairs, and of Charles's long-standing affair with Camilla Parker Bowles. For a long time such things were officially ignored, but the breakdown of the marriage became so apparent that it led to separation in 1992. In a 1995 interview with Martin Bashir on the television programme Panorama she confirmed in a casually coded way that both had been having affairs. If her marriage was to end and she could not be queen, she said she wanted to be thought of as "Queen of Hearts".
There had been effectively two rival royal households, with great antagonism between the Charles and Diana camps, and separation only formalized it. With the inevitable divorce in 1996 came the unprecedented problem of how to fit such a princess or ex-princess into the Royal Family. The style of Diana, Princess of Wales was created for her and she continued to undertake substantial royal and charitable commitments. Now much older and more experienced, she seemed to flower and become strong as she became her own woman. What was unthinkable back in 1981 was that she would become a feminist role model and icon, but she did. She now put enormous energy into supporting the victims of AIDS, of leprosy, of land mines, and other causes far removed from the polite charities more commonly associated with royalty.
On the early hours of 31 August 1997 she and her partner Dodi Fayed died in a car accident in Paris, chased by paparazzi. The mourning that engulfed the nation and the world was on a scale unlikely anything before, symbolized by her home at Kensington Palace being surrounded by a huge sea of floral tributes. The funeral was broadcast live to more or less everywhere in the world. The Royal Family suffered severe damage from their perceived neglect of her.
Childhood: The Hon. Diana Spencer
She was born at an estate in Norfolk
called Park House
, where her parents lived. Her father, known as Viscount Althorp, was the son of Earl Spencer and had been an equerry
to the King from 1950, and to the present Queen until 1954. In that year he married the Hon. Mrs Shand-Kydd, and they had four children: Diana had two elder sisters Sarah and Jane and a younger brother Charles. Park House was near the royal estate of Sandringham
, so the Spencers often mixed with the royal family. Her parents separated in 1967 and divorced in 1969, with Diana continuing to live with her father.
Youth: Lady Diana Spencer
In 1975 her grandfather Lord Spencer died, her father succeeding to the title and to the ancestral estate of Althorp
(which the family traditionally pronounce All-tr'p
) in Northamptonshire
. Now the daughter of an earl
, she gained the courtesy title
' in place of her former 'The Honourable'. They moved to Althorp, though since the previous year Diana had been a boarder at a school in Kent, so it was not much of a home. As her family estate it is nevertheless her final resting place.
In 1977-8 she was at a Swiss finishing school, and on returning to England worked as a nanny and a kindergarten teacher in London. Her engagement to Charles was announced on 24 February 1981.
Marriage: H.R.H. The Princess of Wales
The marriage of Charles and Diana, televised across the world, was one of the last of the great celebratory events of royalty. After Diana and her impact no-one can see the Royal Family in the same innocent light, or with unquestioning acceptance. Her wedding
gown, with its enormous train
, was designed by the Emanuels
and became a famous image in its own right. One of the hymns played was her favourite, "I Vow to Thee, My Country
", which was also used at her funeral.
William was born on 21 June 1982 and Henry on 15 September 1984. The Waleses lived at Highgrove House in Gloucestershire with London apartments in Kensington Palace. After their separation Diana stayed in that Palace and Charles made his London home in St James's Palace.
Naturally they toured overseas a lot. Her first official overseas duty on her own was representing Britain at the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco. They attended the enthronement of Emperor Akihito together. In a visit to India the strain of the marriage was obvious: a famous picture showed Diana alone and miserable outside the Taj Mahal.
As a working member of the Royal Family she had a huge number of honorary appointments as heads of charities, military units, and other organizations. Her popularity made a huge difference to charities she supported. After the separation she relinquished all her military posts and reluctantly cut down her charities to a small number of those most important to her. These were Centrepoint (for the homeless), the English National Ballet, the Leprosy Mission, the National Aids Trust, the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, and the Royal Marsden Hospital.
For part of this time she had been having one or more love affairs. While she was not quite explicit about them, even in her manipulative Panorama interview, there was a rumour that one Major James Hewitt had been a lover. This was encouraged by publication in an Australian magazine of an alleged recording of a mobile phone conversation between them, in which he called her by the nickname Squidgy. Later the cad Hewitt was vilified when he went into print claiming to have been her lover.
Independent: Diana, Princess of Wales
The divorce became final on 28 August 1996. She acquired her new title, but was deprived of the style "Her Royal Highness
", a point much criticized for pettiness. Although there were strong feelings on both sides, national sympathy was probably increasingly for Diana in her later years, and the "old" royal family came off badly in comparison.
Out went the lost waif look, and she seemed more vibrant and in control. On her tours in Britain and the world she reached out to people, even the least fortunate, in a very public way: she held the hands of lepers, she embraced people with AIDS, and in her last year she went out into minefields in Angola and Bosnia as part of her campaign to have them declared illegal. She did not quite live to see the success of this campaign and the Nobel Peace Prize for the organization that achieved it.
Her friendship with Dodi Fayed, playboy son of the eccentric Egyptian millionaire and gadfly Mohammed Fayed, led to huge interest by paparazzi, like everything else she did; and after her death when it became impossible to confirm anything it led to rumours of engagement, pregnancy, and MI5 plots to prevent a Muslim becoming stepfather of the future king.
In the late evening of 30 August 1997 they left their Paris hotel with a British bodyguard and a French driver who was apparently stoked up on drink, drugs, or both. To get away from the paparazzi they raced at speed through the tunnel under the Pont de l'Alma, but crashed. Diana was taken to La Pitié Salpétrière Hospital for emergency surgery but at about 3 a.m. she was declared dead. Dodi and the driver also died.
For details of her funeral see Funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Much of the biographical detail is from the royal website, which is naturally very sanitized or silent about many of the more interesting aspects of her life: