Lady Diana Frances Spencer was the youngest of three daughters born to Earl Spencer and his wife Frances. Her brother Charles, a much-wanted son, was born three years later. Not long after this event, the marriage of the Spencers broke down and the couple divorced. Frances lost custody of the children and she married again, becoming Mrs Shand Kydd. Diana was an unremarkable child at school, not excelling in anything. She left school with no qualifications and started to work as a children's nanny.
The Prince of Wales
Charles, Prince of Wales and heir to the throne of England, was under immense pressure to find a 'suitable' girl to marry and produce an heir. The love of his life, Camilla, was lost to him, due to the fact that she had married Andrew Parker Bowles. From a shortlist of names, the final choice for future Queen was Diana Spencer. Having remained a bachelor for 31 years, his choice of a naive, shy teenage girl seemed to be perfect. The happy couple announced their engagement in early 1981. Diana happily showed off her sapphire engagement ring and blushed furiously for the television cameras. Charles, when asked whether they were in love or not, answered: 'Whatever love is'.
Diana was used to living a relatively anonymous life. All of a sudden she had been thrust into the spotlight of media attention and for a shy girl this must have been overwhelming. From the announcement of the engagement, she left her flat which she had shared with old school friends, and moved into Clarence House, the home of Charles' grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. There she was supposed to be 'schooled' in royal duties. That Diana had doubts about whether to go through with the wedding has been substantiated. Seeing a newspaper report about an 'assignation' between Prince Charles and a mystery blonde on the front page of a newspaper did not bolster Diana's confidence. The press assumed it was her; Diana knew better. It was the last meeting between Charles and Camilla before Charles's wedding. Diana voiced her concerns to her sisters, only to be told 'It's too late, Dutch (her nickname), your face is on the teatowels'1.
The Royal Wedding
Wednesday 29 July, 1981 was a glorious summer's day. The sun shone on the bride as she drove to St Paul's Cathedral, accompanied by her father Earl Spencer. Diana wore the Spencer family tiara with her headdress and a sapphire and pearl choker which was a wedding gift from her husband-to-be. She looked every inch the fairytale princess.
As Diana was saying her vows, she accidentally transposed two of Charles's forenames - which is understandable considering he was christened Charles Philip Arthur George. To make her feel less awkward, Charles made a (deliberate) mistake of his own. The day had been declared a public holiday by the Queen. Street parties were held, organised by local councils, and every child who attended was presented with a commemorative medal.
After the wedding, the newlyweds were driven in an open carriage around London with the Prince's two younger brothers as footmen, much to the delight of the Union Flag-waving crowds. The wedding feast was held in Buckingham Palace itself. The huge crowd, being treated to an appearance on the balcony by the entire Royal family, were ecstatic when the Prince responded to calls of 'Give her a kiss' and he kissed his bride.
The Princess of Wales
Diana became the Princess of Wales upon her marriage. The Royal couple honeymooned on the royal yacht, Britannia. The new bride was perplexed that Charles had packed books for his holiday, complaining that he never normally got time to read. Charles' lack of interest in her must have been deeply wounding for the young bride. When they returned from honeymoon, it was hard to believe it was the same girl, she had changed so much. Her 'puppy fat' was gone and she was hauntingly beautiful, tall and slender. She was in fact taller than her husband, and as she commenced her royal duties she chose to wear flat shoes and walked a few paces behind him.
It was not long into the marriage that Diana became pregnant and she gave birth to the next heir to the throne a month before their first wedding anniversary. The pregnancy was not straightforward and it was known that Diana had an accident falling down some stairs during her early months, and she also suffered from morning sickness. Prince William's healthy birth was much rejoiced and Princess Diana had never looked happier than in photographs holding her son.
It was usual for royal couples to leave their children at home when travelling on royal tours. Diana though, would not hear of leaving behind the baby prince for the duration of their upcoming tour of Australia. Diana got her own way and Prince William accompanied his parents, much to the delight of the Australian population. It was here that Prince Charles must have got his first taste of how popular his wife was becoming. From the shy creature who had trailed behind him in his shadow, Diana started to take over 'the other side of the road' and greeted people, shaking hands and accepting flowers. People on 'his side of the road' began to complain when they got Prince Charles and not Diana. For a man who was used to the spotlight, this must have been a devastating blow. In one interview he commented wryly: 'I wish I could split my wife in half, then she could work both sides of the road and I could walk down the middle'.
Diana gave birth to a second son, Prince Harry, in 1984. She joked to friends that she had done her duty for her country and produced an 'heir and a spare'. When Prince Charles visited her and his new son, he could not mask his disappointment that the baby was not a much-wanted daughter. He complained that the child even had 'the Spencer red hair' which upset Diana deeply. This is believed to be the point at which the marriage irretrievably broke down. Although the couple carried out their royal duties together, they no longer lived as man and wife.
The Fashion Icon
As Diana's confidence grew, so her sense of style changed. She was a photographer's dream; tall, slender and beautiful. Her hairstyle was much copied and she rapidly became the most photographed woman on the planet. Her popularity soared to the ranks of superstardom. The general public adored her and even famous people idolised her. Her fans included Wayne Sleep and Pavarotti. As a surprise for Prince Charles's birthday, she once appeared on stage with Wayne Sleep and performed a dance routine. As she was growing up, Diana had wanted to become a ballet dancer but she grew too tall. The audience were delighted with the impromptu performance but Prince Charles was not.
Three in the Marriage
Once Diana found out that Prince Charles was seeing his old flame Camilla, she started to have affairs of her own. The situation became intolerable for the Royal family when taped conversations between Diana and a male friend; letters to another male friend; and 'nuisance' telephone calls to yet another male friend became public knowledge. The book Diana: Her True Story by Andrew Morton was said by him to have been written with Diana's permission. Desperate to keep public sympathy, Diana was interviewed on the BBC programme Panorama on which she stated that there were 'three of them' in the marriage from the start 'so it was a bit crowded'. It was during this interview that she stated that she knew she would never be Queen of England and that she wished to be queen of people's hearts.
Prince Charles retorted by giving an interview to David Dimbleby in which he stated that he did not commit adultery until his marriage had irretrievably broken down. The night that the programme was due to be aired, Diana appeared in public wearing a stunning black dress which guaranteed her maximum publicity. She effectively stole Prince Charles's thunder, and the 'War of the Wales' raged on. Queen Elizabeth had had enough and she urged the couple to divorce. Diana moved into Kensington Palace with her two sons while Prince Charles remained at Highgrove.
Diana resigned from many of her charities in an attempt to scale down her public life. She wrongly assumed they would no longer want her to be their patron after her divorce. The fact that she had done more for the royal family in human terms mattered to the people. She championed causes no other Royal would have touched, eg homelessness, leprosy and AIDS. When she went to Angola in the beginning of 1997, with the Red Cross as a volunteer, she brought great media attention to the plight of landmine victims. The image of her walking through a cleared area of a minefield with a visor covering her face adorned every newspaper. The fact that she was wearing a simple blouse and jeans gave the image depth.
Later that year the divorce was announced, Diana received £17 million from Prince Charles but she was shocked when she was stripped of her title of 'Her Royal Highness' (HRH). She took her sons abroad for a holiday during the summer as the guest of Mohammed Al Fayed, the owner of Harrods, and an old family friend. When she noticed that there were photographers dogging her every move, she made sure she gave them plenty to photograph, appearing each day in a different swimming costume. In the meantime, back in Britain, a party was being held by Prince Charles at his Highgrove home for Camilla's 50th birthday.
Diana arranged for a sale of her most famous dresses upon a suggestion by Prince William. This proved very popular, raising approximately £2 million for her charities. She autographed copies of the catalogue in which the foreword was dedicated to 'Our son William'.
A few weeks later, Diana returned to the yacht, this time alone. She spent time in the company of Al Fayed's son Dodi and Diana did not seem to mind being photographed with him. It was known Dodi spent £50,000 on a 'friendship ring' when they returned to the Ritz Hotel in Paris on their way home to Britain. That night, Dodi asked the Ritz driver Henri Paul, to meet them at the back of the hotel to avoid photographers at the front entrance. The only one wearing a seatbelt in the car was Dodi's bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones. Diana had dismissed her own 'protection squad' as soon as her royal status was revoked. Henri Paul had not been expecting to drive that night and he had been drinking. He drove fast under Dodi's orders and crashed the car into a pillar, killing himself and Dodi, with Diana and Trevor Rees-Jones seriously injured.
Diana was treated at the scene of the crash and she was still alive when she was transported to a hospital in Paris. Unfortunately the injuries were too severe and Diana died. The terrible news was broken to her sons by Prince Charles in the early hours of the morning of the 31 August.
A Nation in Mourning
The general public awoke to the news of Diana's death with a mixture of shock and disbelief. A wave of public condemnation for the paparazzi who had hounded her for the past 16 years turned into baying for royal blood as the royal family stayed cloistered away at Balmoral in Scotland where they were having their summer holiday. The flag at Buckingham Palace wasn't lowered to half mast - though this adheres to royal protocol which dictates that the flag can only be lowered when the monarch is not in residence.
That night Prince Charles flew out to Paris with Diana's two sisters to collect Diana's body. He took with him the royal standard to drape over her coffin, acknowledging in death her status as a Royal.
During the time she lay in state in St James's Palace, people arrived with flowers and placed them outside Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace. Books of condolence were started and queues formed to sign them. Every Town Hall in the country had them; they were eventually handed over to the museum Diana's brother, the Earl Spencer, opened for her at Althorp House, the Spencer ancestral home.
When the Royal family eventually arrived back at Buckingham Palace the Queen made a live television broadcast to the nation in which she praised Diana as an 'exceptional and gifted human being'. The Queen also stated that she admired and respected Diana for her commitment to others, her charitable work, her devotion to her children and the love she had inspired.
Saturday 6 September, 1997, was the day when the nation stopped to pay its respects to a remarkable woman. On this day a Union Flag flew over Buckingham Palace at half mast. This is the only time that the sovereign's residence has flown a flag at half mast. The purpose of the flag is to illustrate the continuity of the monarchy, so even after the death of a monarch the flag remains at the top of the pole. This is expressed in the age-old proclamation 'The King is dead, long live the King'.
The coffin, draped in the royal standard, was carried on a gun carriage in royal tradition. Behind it walked four princes (Charles, William, Harry and Philip) and Earl Spencer. Following them were representatives of all her charities. The members of the public lining the route wept openly. Many millions more wept following the procession on television. The funeral was attended by royalty, Hollywood actors and actresses, singers and specially invited members of the public, to represent her charities.
The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, read the lesson. Elton John sang a specially re-worded version of his hit 'Candle in the Wind' as a tribute. This single later became the biggest selling single of all time and raised millions of pounds for her charity. Earl Spencer read a tribute which was given a standing ovation by the people outside watching on the huge screen in Hyde Park. The mourners inside Westminster Abbey joined in the applause.
After the funeral, thousands of people lined the route to her final resting place. Many wept openly, and the hearse had to stop frequently to clear the windscreen of flowers that had been thrown by the distraught crowd. Diana's body was buried in a private family ceremony in the grounds of her ancestral home, Althorp House.
A charity was set up in memory of the Princess and has so far topped £20 million. Four years on there are plans to build a fountain (at the probable cost of £3 million) in Hyde Park, London.
Diana will be remembered for raising public awareness of the horror of landmines and for teaching compassion towards those affected by AIDS and leprosy.
Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand alone,
Kindness in another's trouble,
Courage in your own.
- Diana, Princess of Wales, 1997