We’ve heard stories of the Prince and the Princess and how they lived happily ever after in their castle. But this one Princess, it so appears, was not meant to live that perfect life! Diana, Princess of Wales, was not just a member of the British royalty but the much loved People’s Princess. She was the first wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, and the heir apparent to the British throne. Her life in the castle is sprinkled with stories of unhappiness and sadness. Born on July 1, 1961 the most loved People’s Princess died a tragic death on August 31, 1997. A Life so Beautiful and yet so Sad – that is the real-life story of the Princess of Wales.
The Birth of a Lady
Diana Frances Spencer, was born at Park House, a rented home on Queen Elizabeth II’s estate at Sandringham, Norfolk, England. She was the third child and youngest daughter of Edward John Spencer, Viscount Althorp, heir to the 7th Earl Spencer, and his first wife, Frances Ruth Burke Roche (daughter of the 4th Baron Fermoy). She grew up with two sisters Sarah and Jane and and brother Charles. She became Lady Diana Spencer at the age of 14 when her father inherited the title of Earl Spencer in 1975. She studied at Riddlesworth Hall and West Heath School. She later went to the finishing school of Chateau d’Oex at Montreux, Switzerland. Upon completing finishing school, Diana returned to England to become a Kindergarten teacher at the Young England School in Pimlico.
A Princess to Prince Charles
Young Lady Diana when she married Prince Charles in 1981, was the first person in 300 years, who was not from a royal family to marry an heir to the throne. The ‘fairy tale wedding’ or ‘wedding of the century’ was held in London at the St. Paul’s Cathedral on July 29, 1981. It was attended by 3500 guests and watched by a global audience of 750 million people. The United Kingdom had a national holiday on that day and people came out on the streets to party and rejoice. Two million spectators, lined the route of Diana’s procession from Clarence House to congratulate her as her motorcade passed through. Several events were also held around the Commonwealth to mark the occasion. After the wedding, Diana earned the royal title of Princess of Wales. The cost of the grand wedding ran close to USD 48 million.
Soon after, in 1982, Princess Diana gave birth to their firstborn Prince William. In 1984, their second son Prince Henry (Harry) was born.
Princess Diana’s Royal Duties
The shy Princess Diana, with her charisma and friendliness soon began to win hearts. As Princess of Wales, she had to take up royal duties. She began to represent the Queen at functions across the Commonwealth realms. Her monarchy, photogenic appearance, youth, modernity, warmth, all helped to connect with the common people, turning her into a global icon.
In 1983, on her first international appearance with Charles to Australia and New Zealand, Diana was already pulling crowds. As her royal trips grew she continued to dazzle the world from the way she dressed to the way she danced (her infamous spin with John Travolta). As her visits increased and she traveled to Italy, Germany, France, USA, Thailand, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and numerous other places she was photographed smiling, shaking hands and greeting children all of which exuded warmth making her a true ‘People’s Princess’. Her unconventional approach to charity work and to raise public awareness on issues like helping to change the public perception on AIDS and abolish the use of landmines, helped her develop relationships with many entertainment personalities, including singers George Michael and Elton John.
The Truth behind a Life so Beautiful
In 1991, Diana wrote in a letter to journalist Andrew Morton that she felt “extremely isolated” and “continuously misunderstood” by the Royal family. What she was leaving out, however, was her close relationship with father-in-law, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. In private correspondence between Prince Philip and Diana, Philip expresses his shock and outrage over Charles’s treatment of Diana and signs himself, “Fondest love, Pa.”
The marriage of Diana, the Princess of Wales, was an unhappy one marked by extramarital affairs. In 1992, the most perfect couple Prince Charles and Princess Diana announced their separation. By August 28, 1996 their official divorce came through. After her divorce, she stepped down from most of her royal duties and also gave up much of the charities she’d been working with except a few that dealt in homelessness, AIDS, leprosy, and cancer. She lost her title “Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales” and became “Diana, Princess of Wales.”. While Diana continued to live at Kensington Palace she earned a settlement of about USD 23 million plus USD 600,000 per year. Her stories of infidelities, her struggles with bulimia, and even her suicide attempts began to make rounds. The press was still in love with her. They never stopped chasing her.
Death of the Princess of Wales
Diana once famously said
‘Only do what your heart tells you.’
In early 1997, Diana was linked romantically with “Dodi” Fayed (Emad Mohammed al-Fayed), son of Mohammed al-Fayed who owned Harrod’s department store and the Ritz Hotel in Paris, among other properties.
On August 30, 1997, Diana and Fayed left the Ritz Hotel in Paris after dining privately in the Imperial Suite, accompanied in a car by French driver Henri Paul and one of the Princess’ bodyguards, Trevor Rees-Jones. As they were pursued by paparazzi the driver sped and the car spun out of control and crashed into the 13th pillar of the Pont de l’Alma Tunnel. While Fayed and the driver were killed instantly, Diana died later at 4 am in La Pitie Salpetriere Hospital. She was 36 years old. The bodyguard survived despite critical injuries. An 18-month French judicial investigation into Princess Diana’s car accident concluded in 1999 that the crash was caused by Henri Paul, who was intoxicated at the time and lost control at high speed.
3 million mourners and onlookers came out on the streets of London to mourn the People’s Princess. Gathered outside the Westminster Abbey and in Hyde Park they watched the funeral proceedings on large outdoor screens displayed. They waited for hours to shower flowers on the motorcade that after the ceremony carried her coffin to Althorp. 31.5 million viewers in Britain and around 2.5 billion watched the funeral on television screens across 200 countries in 44 languages. Surely not a single dry eye as they bid goodbye to the iconic and most loved Princess of all times.
Celebrities including US First Lady Hillary Clinton, French First Lady Bernadette Chirac, Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti, George Michael, Elton John attended the funeral. Elton John performed an especially rewritten version of his song ‘Candle in the Wind’ that was dedicated to Princess Diana, known as “Goodbye England’s Rose”.
Tell-tales or the truth
Over 13 books have been published on the Life and Death of Diana. Some of these include Diana: Her True Story; Remembering Diana: A Life in Photographs; DK Biography: Princess Diana: A Photographic Story of a Life; The Day Diana Died and more. The only truth is that she lived her life on her terms and now rests peacefully in heavenly abode. Rest may be all tell-tale…