Diana, Princess of Wales

by Scott Mehl

uk-diana1Diana, Princess of Wales

Diana, Princess of Wales was the first wife of Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales, and the mother of Prince William and Prince Harry. She was born The Honourable Diana Frances Spencer, youngest daughter of John Spencer, Viscount Althorp (later the 8th Earl Spencer) and The Honourable Frances Roche, on July 1, 1961 at Park House on the Sandringham Estate. She had two older sisters – Sarah and Jane – and two younger brothers – John (died in infancy) and Charles, 9th Earl Spencer.

She was christened at St. Mary Magdalene’s Church, Sandringham, on August 30, 1961. Her godparents were:

  • John Floyd, chairman of Christie’s
  • Alexander Gilmour, her father’s first cousin
  • Lady Mary Colman, a niece of The Queen Mother
  • Sarah Pratt, a friend and neighbor of her parents
  • Carl Fox, a friend and neighbor of her parents

Diana grew up at Park House, which her parents leased from The Queen for many years. In 1969, her parents divorced, and following a very contentious custody battle, Diana’s father was awarded full custody of the children. She was educated at Riddlesworth Hall and The New School at West Heath, graduating in 1977, and then attended L’Institut Alpin Videmanette, a Swiss finishing school.

In 1975, her father had succeeded to the Earldom, and Diana saw an ‘upgrade’ in her title as well. As the daughter of an Earl, she was now styled Lady Diana Spencer – a name which would soon become famous around the world when ‘Lady Di’ became involved with The Prince of Wales.

Following her schooling, Diana worked as a nanny, living in her mother’s apartment in London. The next year, her mother bought her an apartment at Coleherne Court, where Diana lived with some friends until the day her engagement was announced. She also worked as a dance teacher for children, a preschool assistant, a nanny for an American family living in London, and lastly as a kindergarten assistant at the Young England School.

Although they had known each other since her childhood, Diana and Charles really became reacquainted in the summer of 1980 when they were both guests at a country weekend. Charles had previously dated Diana’s older sister, Sarah. The two made several other trips and weekends away, including a visit to Balmoral in November of 1980. Charles eventually proposed to Diana on February 6, 1981, but they kept the engagement secret for several weeks.

On February 24, 1981, Buckingham Palace announced the engagement of The Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer. Diana had chosen a large engagement ring, featuring a 12-carat oval blue Ceylon sapphire surrounded by 14 solitaire diamonds. (This is the same engagement ring that her son, Prince William, gave to Catherine Middleton upon their engagement in 2010.) Diana left her job and moved into Clarence House. After several days, she took up residence at Buckingham Palace which would be her home until her wedding day.

Diana made her first official appearance on March 9, 1981, at a poetry reading in London by Princess Grace of Monaco. When she stepped out of the car in a black strapless gown, she began what would become a lifelong ‘role’ in the media spotlight – something she both loved and despised at different times in her life.

Diana and Charles married on July 29, 1981, at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Entering on her father’s arm as Lady Diana Spencer, she later emerged from the Cathedral as Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales, the 3rd highest ranked lady of the land. (Read more about the wedding HERE!) Following their honeymoon, the couple took up residence at Kensington Palace (occupying apartments 8 and 9 which had been joined together), as well as Highgrove, the Prince of Wales’s country home in Gloucestershire.

Soon it was announced that the Princess was expecting her first child. On June 21, 1982, Diana gave birth to Prince William. Two years later, on September 15, 1984, Prince Harry was born.

Diana became taking on official duties soon after her marriage, often accompanying her husband in the United Kingdom and abroad. She made her first solo overseas visit in September 1982, when she represented The Queen at the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco, with whom she felt a very strong bond. With her husband, she made numerous foreign visits, the last being to South Korea in 1992 shortly before their separation. She served as patron or president of over 100 organizations and charities, using her position to bring attention to, and support for, issues which were close to her heart. Some of these charities were:

  • The National AIDS Trust
  • Great Ormond Street Hospital
  • English National Ballet
  • Royal Marsden Hospital
  • Leprosy Mission
  • Centrepoint
  • Headway
  • Natural History Museum
  • Royal Academy of Music
  • Bernardo’s
  • British Red Cross
  • Chester Childbirth Appeal
  • British Lung Foundation
  • National Children’s Orchestra
  • Royal Brompton Hospital
  • The Guinness Trust
  • Royal School for the Blind
  • Welsh National Opera
  • Birthright
  • British Deaf Association

On December 9, 1992, after several years of media speculation, Buckingham Palace announced the separation of the Prince and Princess of Wales. The announcement stressed that the couple had no plans to divorce and that their constitutional positions were unaffected.

The following year, on December 3, 1993, Diana announced her withdrawal from public life. And following disastrous television interviews given by both Charles, in June 1994, and Diana, in November 1995, it was announced by Buckingham Palace that The Queen had sent letters to both Diana and Charles, advising them to divorce as quickly as possible. Following many private meetings and negotiations with Prince Charles and representatives of The Queen, Diana agreed to a divorce in February 1996. Their divorce became final on August 28, 1996. Diana received a payment of £17 million as well as an annual stipend to maintain her offices and retained the couple’s Kensington Palace apartments. A statement from Buckingham Palace established that she remained a member of the Royal Family and would continue to receive the precedence accorded to her during her marriage when attending state and national functions. With the Queen’s permission, she voluntarily relinquished all her honorary military appointments, and would continue to have access to the Royal Flight and the State Apartments at St. James’s Palace. She would also retain any orders, insigni, and titles received during her marriage. However, the one thing she would not retain was her style of Royal Highness. She became simply Diana, Princess of Wales. The day after her divorce became final, Diana announced that she had resigned from almost all of her charities and patronages. However, she continued her involvement with the six that were most important to her:

  • Centrepoint
  • The English National Ballet
  • Leprosy Mission
  • The National AIDS Trust
  • The Great Ormond Street Hospital
  • The Royal Marsden Hospital

She also remained very involved with the Red Cross Anti-Personnel Landmines Campaign, even though her formal patronage had ended. Her last public appearances were in early August 1997, when she visited several landmine projects in Bosnia.

After her divorce, Diana had a relationship with Dr. Hasnat Khan, a British-Pakistani heart surgeon, which ended in June 1997. She then became involved with Dodi Fayed, son of Mohamed Al-Fayed, the owner of Harrods and the Ritz in London. Diana and her sons joined the Fayed family in the south of France for a vacation that summer where she and Dodi reportedly began their romance. Following her trip to Bosnia, Diana again joined Dodi Fayed on a private cruise aboard the Fayed’s yacht, returning to Paris on August 30. Later that night, hounded by paparazzi, the couple left the Ritz to go to Dodi’s apartment in Paris. Just minutes later, their car crashed in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel, killing Dodi and the car’s driver, Henri Paul, instantly. Diana was critically injured and eventually taken to the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital. Diana, Princess of Wales was pronounced dead at 4 am. See Unofficial Royalty: Tragedy in the British Royal Family at the End of August (scroll down).

The Prince of Wales, along with Diana’s two sisters, flew to Paris to accompany her body back to England. Draped with the Royal Standard, Diana’s coffin was taken to the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace where it remained for several days, before returning to her home at Kensington Palace. On Saturday, September 6th, a procession began at Kensington Palace and ended at Westminster Abbey where Diana’s funeral was held. Following the funeral, the coffin was taken to Althorp, where it was interred privately on an island in the center of a lake on the grounds.

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