The “People’s Princess”
Diana Frances Spencer was born July 1, 1961, at Park House near Sandringham, Norfolk. She was the youngest daughter of three (Sarah b. 1955 and Jane b. 1957), and she had a younger brother Charles (born 1964). Her parents were Viscount and Viscountess Althorp, now the late (8th) Earl Spencer, and the Honorable Mrs. Shand-Kydd, daughter of the 4th Baron Fermoy. Earl Spencer was Equerry to George VI from 1950-1952, and to the Queen from 1952-1954, when he married Diana’s mother. Her parents separated in 1967 after her mother left her father for another man, and the marriage continued to dissolve until 1969 when the divorce was made final. Diana’s father won custody of the children. The continued to live with their father at Park House, Sandringham, until the death of her grandfather, the 7th Earl Spencer. In 1975 the family moved to the Spencer family house at Althorp in Northamptonshire in the English Midlands. After her grandfathers death, her title in turn changed to Lady Diana Spencer. Diana’s father remarried Raine, Countess of Dartmouth in 1976.
Lady Diana was educated first at a preparatory school, Riddlesworth Hall at Diss, Norfolk, and then in 1974 went to a boarding school, West Heath, near Sevenoaks, Kent. At school she showed a great talent for music, dancing, and domestic science. Though she never excelled academically, she was recognized at West Heath with a special award for service in 1977. People described her as “a girl who notices what needs to be done, then does it willingly and cheerfully.” Diana left West Heath in 1977 and went to finishing school at the Institute Alpin Videmanette in Rougemont, Switzerland, which she left at the Easter term of 1978. The following year she moved to a flat in Coleherne Court, London. For some time she looked after the child of an American couple, and she worked as a kindergarten teacher at the Young England School in Pimlico.
Diana and her siblings, growing up at her father’s house on the royal estate at Sandringham and the family home at Althorp, knew the royal family from a young age, with Charles’ younger brothers Edward and Andrew as playmates. Although their families had known eachother for many years, Diana and Charles met again when he was invited to a weekend at Althorp in November 1977. Lady Diana and Prince Charles began dating in 1980, when their romance at first remained a secret from the news. But soon the cameras caught up with “Shy Di,” who at 19 charmed the world with her fresh beauty and innocence. On February 24th 1981, it was officially announced that Lady Diana was to marry The Prince of Wales.
The fairytale romance of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles raised worldwide interest in Britain’s royal family. Engagement pictures showing the smiling couple, and showing off Diana’s engagement ring, an 18 carat sapphire surrounded by diamonds, were splashed across everything from newspapers to souviners such as coffee mugs. The heir to Britain’s throne and his beautiful princess-to-be brought forth admirers by holding a storybook wedding with all the royal trappings imaginable. Di’s dress was of silk tafetta with a 25 foot long train. She had 5 bridesmaids, including Princess Lady Sarah Armstrong. Crouwds packed London streets and millions watched worldwide on television as Charles 32, and Diana, 20, exchanged vows at St. Paul’s Cathedral on July 29, 1981. The wedding reception was held at Buckingham Palace. Diana was the first English woman to marry a heir to the throne for 300 years. The couple honeymooned in Hampshire and aboard the royal yacht Britannia in the Mediterranean. The 12- year age differance between the prince and princess seemed to matter little at this stage.
Princess Diana gave birth to William Arthur Philip Louis on June 21, 1982, less than a year after the wedding. After her marriage, The princess of Wales quickly became involved in the official duties of the Royal family. Her first tour with The Prince was a three-day visit to Wales in October of 1981. The Princess’s first official visit overseas on her own was in September of 1982, when she represented the Queen at the state funeral of Princess Grace of Manaco. The Princess’s first solo overseas tour was in February of 1984 when she travelled to Norway to attend a performance of Carmen by the London City Ballet, of which she was a patron. The Princess subsequently visited many countries including Germany, Pakistan, Switzerland, Hungary, Egypt, Belgium, France, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nepal, and the United States. The US is where she had her famous dance with John Travolta. In 1983 she accompanied The Prince on a tour of Australia and New Zealand, and they took the infant Prince William with them.
Princess Diana indulged herself in clothes and made a point to wear British fashion. She entered the marriage with jeans, a few cashmere sweaters and one long dress, plus a collection of Laura Ashley dirndls that were the Sloane Ranger Uniform. Only six years later, the Princess of Wales owned more than 80 suits, 12-dozen evening gowns and 50 day dresses, plus matching shoes, and purses galore. With the early guidance of pals at British Vogue, she educated her eye and became, in time, a style setter. Her worth to the British fashion industry has been estimated in the tens of millions.Pictures of her were snapped up by a public increasingly eager for news of this unusually approachable and modern royal. Diana also mad it a point to expose her sons William and Harry (Henry Charles Albert, born in 1984) to life outside the palace.
By the mid-1980’s, signs began to emerge that Diana and Charles were less than happy together. The 12-year age gap between them began to take its toll, as their interests diverged. By 1986, Charles began to see his old love, Camilla Parker Bowles, while Diana developed bulimia nervosa and reportedly even attempted suicide. Charles and Diana continued making public appearances together, but privately began to lead separate lives. The rumors and reports about the couple’s unhappiness abruptly became official in 1992, when then-Prime Minister John Magor announced to Parliament that Charles and Diana were separating. Under the July 1996 divorce agreement reached only after testy negotiations, Diana gave up the right to be Queen of England and to be called “Her Royal Highness.” In return, she reportedly recieved a large sum payment of more than $20 million in cash, another $600,000 a year to maintain her private office, and equal access to her children, Prince William and Prince Henry.
The tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales occurred on Sunday August 31, 1997; following a car accident in Paris, France. The vehicle in which the Princess whas tracelling was involved in a high-speed accident in the Place de l’Alma underpass in certral Paris shortly before midnight on Saturday August 30th. The Princess was taken to the La Pitie Salpetriere Hospital, where she underwent two hours of emergency surgery before being declared deceases at 4:00 BST. The Princess’s companion, Mr. Dodi Fayed, and the driver of the vehicle died in the accident, while a bodyguard was seriously injured. The Princess’s body was taken to the United Kingdom in the evening of Sunday August 31st by a Bae 146 aircraft of the Royal Squadron. The Prince of Waes and the Princess’s elder sisters accompanied the Princess’s coffin on its return journey. Upon arrival, the coffin, draped with a Royal Standard, was removed from the aircraft and taken to a wating hearse by a bearer party fromt he Queen’s Colour Squadron of the RAF. The coffin was then taken to a private mortuary in London, so that the necessary legal formalities could be completed. Shortly after midnight, it was moved to the Chapel Roal in St. James’s Palace, where it lay privately until the funeral on Saturrday September 6, in Westminster Abbey. Following the funeral, the coffin was then take to the family estate at Althorp for a private burial. The Princess was buried underground on an island in the centre of an ornamental lake.
Since their relationship became public in August, Diana and Fayed had been quite happy to let the press capture moments of tenderness and passion. Their last day together was reportedly typical of the romance– supper at the two-star restaurant in the Ritz Hotel, which is owned by Fayed’s father, then a night at a private villa across the Seine River. But the couple never got there, and Diana’s hope for a discreet weekend in Paris with her new companion ended in tragedy.