1 9 6 1 – 1 9 9 7
Diana Frances Spencer was born in Sandringham, Norfolk in 1961. Her father, Lord Althorp, became the 8th Earl Spencer in 1975, following the death of her paternal grandfather, Albert Edward John, 7th Earl Spencer.
Lord Althorp had been a Captain in the Royal Scots Greys and served as equerry to King George VI and to Queen Elizabeth II.
Her mother, born the Honourable Frances Roche, was the daughter of the 4th Baron Fermoy and of Ruth, Lady Fermoy, a Woman of the Bedchamber and close personal friend to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
In 1969, after the dissolution of her parents’ marriage, her mother remarried, but the children remained in the custody of their father.
Diana was educated at home in Park House, Norfolk until the age of nine when she was sent to board at Riddlesworth Hall near Thetford in Norfolk. At twelve she was transferred to West Heath School in Sevenoaks, Kent.
Despite her undistinguished academic performance, she was given a special award for service when she left the school in 1977. She then went to the Chateau d’Oex school, an exclusive finishing school near Montreux, Switzerland, but returned to England after a few months.
After working briefly as a part-time cook, nanny, and governess, she became a teacher at the fashionable Young England Kindergarten School in Pimlico, London, between 1979 and 1981.
Early in September 1980, a group of Fleet Street paparazzi were snooping on Prince Charles as he sat fishing on a Balmoral riverbank when a make-up mirror flashed from behind a tree.
The Prince had a hidden companion – and one who rather fancied herself in the game of cat and mouse with the press.
A few days later the sleuths tracked down the 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer at work in London where she was caring for children in a nursery school.
If she ever was shy, the people’s princess soon gained composure, and by the time of her fairytale wedding in July 1981, Diana was easily the most photographed woman in the world, appearing on the cover of every magazine.
Her wedding dress was created by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, and the royal occasion was watched by a worldwide TV audience of over 700 million. But behind the glamorous and ever-thinner exterior lurked deep insecurities.
Within weeks of Diana’s arrival at Balmoral after her wedding, the psychiatrists were called in. The young princess’s anxieties focused particularly on Charles’ feelings for his old flame, Camilla Parker Bowles.
Still, Diana dazzled the world with her dresses and her disorders, her odd compulsions and her gift for compassion. When she touched an AIDS patient, attitudes to the century’s most dreaded plague were transformed overnight. The wattage of Diana’s celebrity overwhelmed her dowdy royal relatives.
The Princess of Wales gave birth to her first child, William, in 1982. A second son, Henry (Harry) followed in 1984.
Sadly, Diana was plagued by subsequent marital problems, extra-marital affairs and relationships and a constant battle with her eating disorders – all of which took place very squarely in the public eye thanks to the rabid media coverage she always attracted.
Charles and Diana”s decision to separate was announced by Prime Minister John Major in December 1992, when he stated that they had no plans to divorce and that their constitutional positions were not affected.
The Church of England issued a statement saying that the separation would not prevent Charles from leading the church.
A notorious interview with Princess Diana that was broadcast on Panorama when it was becoming clear that the rift in her marriage to the Prince of Wales was irreparable – though many still hoped the marriage could be saved – provoked howls of protest from many quarters, not least from the Palace itself.
Charles was given his own programme in which to give his side of the case but only succeeded in drawing more fire upon himself and his family.
For many viewers both interviews were enthralling viewing, though to others they were distasteful and reflected badly both on the individuals themselves and on the institution of the monarchy.
Charles and Diana were officially divorced in late August 1996. As part of the settlement, believed to be worth between £15 million and £17 million, the Princess lost the title of Her Royal Highness and was now known as Diana, Princess of Wales.
As Buckingham Palace confirmed, both the queen and the prince continued to regard the princess as a member of the royal family and she continued to live at Kensington Palace.
Following her divorce, it seemed Diana was finally at peace. Freed of the burden of the Royal Family and their demands on her, she blossomed and flourished, and her popularity had never been greater.
She relinquished her small portfolio of military appointments, resigning as the patron of 93 British, and cut her workload to just six charities of her choice.
She continued and expanded her role with the Centrepoint homeless charity, the National AIDS Trust, the Leprosy Mission – linked with Mother Teresa of Calcutta”s mission – and the English National Ballet. She also remained president of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children and the Royal Marsden Hospital, which specialises in cancer research and treatment.
In the last few years of her life, Diana became deeply involved in the anti-landmine campaign.
She was the goddess that Britain’s royals had rejected, but though stripped of her Royal title, the people’s princess kept careering onwards towards her own inspiring, self-indulgent destiny.
Diana died in a car crash in Paris on 31 August 1997 together with her companion, Dodi Fayed, and their chauffeur, Henri Paul.
The accident happened as their Mercedes was being pursued by paparazzi photographers on motorcycles.
Her violent and tragic death shocked the British nation and also led to calls for the introduction of tougher privacy laws.
Her death was a rent in the firmament. A tragedy of such unbelievable proportions that life seemed to come to a halt.
Public response to Diana’s death was unprecedented, as hundreds of thousands paid floral tributes and signed books of condolences.
The strength of public feeling and criticism directed at the royal family for their apparent indifference to the death of the nationally loved princess led the queen to make an extraordinary live television tribute to the late Princess of Wales and to arrange Diana’s funeral in a way that would allow the public to be involved.
The queen normally speaks to the nation on Christmas Day; this was the second exception to this rule in her 45-year reign (the other was on 24 February 1991 at the end of the Gulf War).
At her funeral on 6 September 1997, her brother compared her to a classical goddess and the whole world applauded his angry eloquence and romance.
A record 31.5 million people – three-quarters of all British adults – watched the funeral. The BBC’s coverage was also broadcast in 185 countries. It was the final instalment in the media circus that commenced on 29 July 1981 at St Paul’s Cathedral.
The investigation into the car crash which killed the Princess of Wales concluded in early January 1999 that no one involved should face criminal charges.
The official report, at the end of a 16-month inquiry, absolved staff at the Ritz Hotel in Paris of any blame and lifted manslaughter charges against nine French press photographers.