With the looks of a movie star, ancestry of a queen and heart of a saint, Diana Spencer became the living embodiment of everything good and right in the world. Her legacy lives on with her sons and her memory still shines bright.
Diana Frances Spencer was born on July 1, 1961, in Norfolk, England, the third of four children to Lord and Lady Althorp.
Diana’s father was a direct descendant of King Charles II and her mother, Frances Shand-Kydd, was the daughter of a wealthy Anglo-Irish baron.
Diana was raised on the royal family estate of Sandringham where she played with Prince Andrew, brother of Prince Charles.
Diana’s parents divorced when she was just eight years old and her father won custody of the children.
She was a shy, quiet kid and was tutored for a year and later sent to Riddlesworth Hall in Norfolk. Her grades were unimpressive and she later attended exclusive West Heath School until she was sixteen, when her father sent her to a Swiss boarding school. Diana missed home and returned to Norfolk.
After school Diana worked part-time as a cleaning woman before taking a job as a kindergarten teacher’s assistant.
Diana knew Prince Charles all her life, he even dated Diana’s older sister, Lady Sarah who introduced the two in 1977. Charles thought Diana was too young for marriage and the romance stalled for three years.
In 1980, Diana visited the royal family at Balmoral Castle in Scotland to see her sister, Lady Jane, who married Robert Fellowes, the queen’s assistant secretary.
Diana spent quality time with Charles walking and fishing and she was invited back. Charles eventually proposed during a dinner at Buckingham Palace.
Because Diana was an Anglican, there were no legal obstacles to marry the future King of England, as head of the Church of England he was allowed only to marry his own faith.
Diana resigned her teaching position and moved into Clarence House with the Queen Mother, where she was instructed in matters as a future member of the royal family.
When Prince Charles married Diana in 1981 she became Princess of Wales.
The Archbishop of Canterbury presided over the wedding at the church of St. Paul’s CathedralWith 2,500 people in attendance, 2 million spectators lining the streets and a worldwide TV audience of 750 million.
Diana’s bridal gown of silk taffeta was followed by a spectacular 25 foot train designed by Emanuel, while her veil was held in place by the Spencer family diamond tiara.
She carried a bouquet of gardenias, lilies-of-the-valley, white freesia, golden roses, white orchids and stephanotis. She was the fantasy of every girl’s dream of marrying Prince Charming.
The Prince and Princess of Wales spent part of their honeymoon at the Mountbatten family home at Broadlands, Hampshire, before flying to Gibraltar to join the Royal Yacht Britannia for a 12-day cruise through the Mediterranean to Egypt. They ended their honeymoon where it began at Balmoral.
The public loved Diana and after the wedding her life became an endless round of public appearances, with 170 official engagements the first year alone. In their first 7 years of marriage the Prince and Princess of Wales made official visits to 19 countries.
Their first son Prince William, nicknamed Wills, was born in 1982
Their second son Harry was born two years later.
The boys were sometimes referred to as “the heir and the spare.” Diana was a caring mother and tried to raise the children as normal as possible.
Diana became involved in charitable causes such as homelessness, drug abuse, land mines and AIDS. In 1990, People magazine published Diana was involved with 54 charities and made over 180 visits on their behalf saying “I don’t just want to be a name on a letterhead,” reported the Saturday Evening Post.
Problems between the royal couple surfaced just a few years after the wedding. Different interests, the difference in their ages (the Prince was 13 years older than Diana) and Charles love affair with Camilla Parker Bowles was beginning to put pressure on the marriage.
In 1992 the royal couple separated and in 1993 Diana announced she would be withdrawing from public life, but continue her charity work. In 1994, in an infamous and brutally honest interview, Prince Charles admitted his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles.
Although he claimed it began only after his marriage had completely broken down, Diana responded with a television interview of her own informing Queen Elizabeth only after it had taken place and just days before it was broadcast.
Her most famous quote was “there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowed.”
On February 29, 1996, Diana consented to a divorce without informing the Queen first. Terms of the divorce stated Diana would be involved in all decisions about the children, the couple would share joint custody, she would continue to live at Kensington Palace and last retain her title Diana, Princess of Wales.
Although she lost her Royal Highness title and any right to the British throne, she did get to keep all her jewelry and received a $23 million dollar settlement, with Charles agreeing to pay for her private office costs.
Diana retained her popularity even after the royal couple divorced in 1996 and she continued her charitable work visiting terminally ill hospital patients, championing for the removal of land mines and meeting with Mother Teresa.
Her love affair with Dodi al Fayed, the eldest son of millionaire businessman Mohamed Al Fayed, who owned Harrods Department Store in London had a tragic ending.
With photographers following the couple after dinner in Paris, the combination of pursuing paparazzi, driving too fast and an intoxicated chauffeur led to a fatal car accident. The driver and Fayed died at the scene, while the Princess Diana died from her injuries later at the hospital.
The entire world mourned for “the People’s Princess”, with 100,000 people a day visiting Kensington Palace where Diana had lived. Her mother stated, “I thank God for the gift of Diana and for all her loving and giving. I give her back to Him, with my love, pride and admiration to rest in peace.”
An estimated 2.5 billion people watched Princess Diana’s funeral on television, nearly half the world’s population.
Diana is laid to rest at the Spencer family estate at Althrop, their ancestral home for almost 500 years and the current home of the 9th Earl of Spencer, her brother.