Diana, Princess of Wales was the first wife of HRH The Prince Charles, Prince of Wales.
From her marriage in 1981 to her divorce in 1996 she was styled Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales. She was generally called Princess Diana by the media despite having no right to that particular honorific, as it is reserved for a princess by birthright rather than marriage. Though she was noted for her pioneering charity work, the Princess’s philanthropic endeavours were overshadowed by a scandal-plagued marriage. Her bitter accusations of adultery, mental cruelty and emotional distress visited upon her by her husband riveted the world for much of the 1990s, spawning biographies, magazine articles and television movies.
From the time of her engagement to the Prince of Wales in 1981 until her death in a car accident in 1997, Diana was arguably the most famous woman in the world, the pre-eminent female celebrity of her generation: a fashion icon, an ideal of feminine beauty, admired and emulated for her high-profile involvement in AIDS issues and the international campaign against landmines. During her lifetime, she was often referred to as the most photographed person in the world. To her admirers, Diana, Princess of Wales was a role model – after her death, there were even calls for her to be nominated for sainthood – while her detractors saw her life as a cautionary tale of how an obsession with publicity can ultimately destroy an individual.
The Honourable Diana Frances Spencer was born as the youngest daughter of Edward Spencer, Viscount Althorp, and his first wife, Frances Spencer, Viscountess Althorp. Partially American in ancestry – a great-grandmother was the American heiress Frances Work – she
was also a descendant of King Charles I. During her parents’ acrimonious divorce over Lady Althorp’s adultery with wallpaper heir Peter Shand Kydd, Diana’s mother sued for custody of her children, but Lord Althorp’s rank, aided by Lady Althorp’s mother’s testimony against her daughter during the trial, meant custody of Diana and her brother was awarded to their father. On the death of her paternal grandfather, Albert Spencer, 7th Earl Spencer, in 1975, Diana’s father became the 8th Earl Spencer, and she acquired the courtesy title of The Lady Diana Spencer. A year later, Lord Spencer married Raine, Countess of Dartmouth, the only daughter of the romance novelist Barbara Cartland, after being named as the “other party” in the Earl and Countess of Dartmouth’s divorce.
Diana was educated at Riddlesworth Hall in Norfolk and at West Heath School in Kent, where she was regarded as an academically below-average student, having failed all of her O-level examinations. At age 16 she briefly attended Institut Alpin Videmanette, a finishing school in Rougemont, Switzerland. Diana was a talented amateur pianist, excelled in sports and reportedly longed to be a ballerina.
Marriage and family.
Diana’s family, the Spencers, had been close to the British Royal Family for decades. Her maternal grandmother, the Dowager Lady Fermoy, was a longtime friend of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The Prince of Wales briefly dated Lady Sarah Spencer, Diana’s older sister, in the 1970s.
The Prince’s love life had always been the subject of press speculation, and he was linked to numerous women. Nearing his mid-thirties, he was under increasing pressure to marry. In order to gain the approval of his family and their advisors, including his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten of Burma, any potential bride had to have an aristocratic background, could not have been previously married, should be Protestant and, preferably, a virgin. Diana fulfilled all of these qualifications.
Reportedly, the Prince’s former girlfriend Camilla Parker Bowles helped him select the 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer as a potential bride, who was working as an assistant at the Young England kindergarten in Pimlico. Buckingham Palace announced the engagement on 24 February 1981. Mrs. Parker Bowles had been dismissed by Lord Mountbatten of Burma as a potential spouse for the heir to throne some years before, reportedly due to her age, her sexual experience, and her lack of suitably aristocratic lineage.
The wedding took place at St Paul’s Cathedral in London on Wednesday 29 July 1981 before 3,500 invited guests and an estimated 1 billion television viewers around the world. Diana was the first Englishwoman to marry an heir-apparent to the throne since 1659, when Lady Anne Hyde married the Duke of York and Albany, the future King James II. Upon her marriage, Diana became Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales and was ranked as the most senior royal woman in the United Kingdom after the Queen and the Queen Mother.
The Prince and Princess of Wales had two children, Prince William of Wales on 21 June 1982 and Prince Henry of Wales on 15 September 1984.
After the birth of Prince William, the Princess of Wales suffered from post-natal depression. She had previously suffered from bulimia nervosa, which recurred, and she made a number of suicide attempts. In one interview, released after her death, she claimed that, while pregnant with Prince William, she threw herself down a set of stairs and was discovered by her mother-in-law and that she was merely making a ‘cry for help’. In the same interview in which she told of the suicide attempt while pregnant with Prince William, she said her husband had accused her of crying wolf when she threatened to kill herself. It has also been suggested that she suffered from borderline personality disorder.
In the mid 1980s her marriage fell apart, an event at first suppressed, but then sensationalised, by the world media. Both the Prince and Princess of Wales spoke to the press through friends, accusing each other of blame for the marriage’s demise. Charles resumed his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles, whilst Diana became involved with James Hewitt and possibly later with James Gilbey, with whom she was involved in the so-called Squidgygate affair. She later confirmed the affair with her riding instructor, James Hewitt. Another alleged lover was a bodyguard assigned to the Princess’s security detail, although the Princess adamantly denied a sexual relationship with him. After her separation from Prince Charles, Diana was involved with married art dealer Oliver Hoare and, lastly, heart surgeon Hasnat Khan.
The Prince and Princess of Wales were separated on 9 December 1992; their divorce was finalised on 28 August 1996. The Princess lost the style Her Royal Highness, and became Diana, Princess of Wales, a titular distinction befitting a divorced peeress. However, at that time, and to this day, Buckingham Palace maintains, since the Princess was the mother of the second and third in line to The Throne, she remained a member of the Royal Family.
In 2004, the American TV network NBC broadcast tapes of Diana discussing her marriage to the Prince of Wales, including her description of her suicide attempts. The tapes were in the possession of the Princess during her lifetime; however, after her death, her butler took possession, and after numerous legal wranglings, they were given to the Princess’s voice coach, who had originally filmed them. These tapes have not been broadcast in the United Kingdom.
Starting in the mid-to-late 1980s, the Princess of Wales became well known for her support of charity projects, and is credited with considerable influence for her campaigns against the use of landmines and helping the victims of AIDS.
In April 1987, the Princess of Wales was the first high-profile celebrity to be photographed touching a person infected with the HIV virus. Her contribution to changing the public opinion of AIDS sufferers was summarised in December 2001 by Bill Clinton at the ‘Diana, Princess of Wales Lecture on AIDS’, when he said:
In 1987, when so many still believed that AIDS could be contracted through casual contact, Princess Diana sat on the sickbed of a man with AIDS and held his hand. She showed the world that people with AIDS deserved not isolation, but compassion. It helped change world opinion, helped give hope to people with AIDS, and helped save lives of people at risk.
Perhaps her most widely publicised charity appearance was her visit to Angola in January 1997, when, serving as an International Red Cross VIP volunteer, she visited landmine survivors in hospitals, toured de-mining projects run by the HALO Trust, and attended mine awareness education classes about the dangers of mines immediately surrounding homes and villages.
The pictures of Diana touring a minefield, in a ballistic helmet and flak jacket, were seen worldwide. In August that year, she visited Bosnia with the Landmine Survivors Network. Her interest in landmines was focused on the injuries they create, often to children, long after the conflict has finished.
She is widely acclaimed for her influence on the signing by the governments of the UK and other nations of the Ottawa Treaty in December 1997, after her death, which created an international ban on the use of anti-personnel landmines. Introducing the Second Reading of the Landmines Bill 1998 to the British House of Commons, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, paid tribute to Diana’s work on landmines:
All Honourable Members will be aware from their postbags of the immense contribution made by Diana, Princess of Wales to bringing home to many of our constituents the human costs of landmines. The best way in which to record our appreciation of her work, and the work of NGOs that have campaigned against landmines, is to pass the Bill, and to pave the way towards a global ban on landmines.
As of January 2005, Diana’s legacy on landmines remained unfulfilled. The United Nations appealed to the nations which produced and stockpiled the largest numbers of landmines to sign the Ottawa Treaty forbidding their production and use, for which Diana had campaigned. Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund, said that landmines remained “a deadly attraction for children, whose innate curiosity and need for play often lure them directly into harm’s way”.
On 31 August 1997 Diana was involved in a car accident in the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel in Paris, along with her romantic companion Dodi Fayed, their driver Henri Paul, and Fayed’s bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones.
Late in the evening of Saturday 30 August, Diana and Fayed departed the Hôtel Ritz in Place Vendome, Paris, and drove along the north bank of the Seine. Shortly after midnight on 31 August, their Mercedes-Benz S 280 entered the underpass below the Place de l’Alma, pursued in various vehicles by nine French photographers and a motorcycle courier.
At the entrance to the tunnel, their car struck a glancing blow to the right-hand wall. It swerved to the left of the two-lane carriageway and collided head-on with the thirteenth pillar supporting the roof, then spun to a stop.
As the casualties lay seriously injured in their wrecked car, the photographers continued to take pictures.
Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul were both declared dead at the scene of the crash. Trevor Rees-Jones was severely injured, but later recovered. Diana was freed, alive, from the wreckage, and after some delay due to attempts to stabilize her at the scene, she was taken by ambulance to Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, arriving there shortly after 2.00 a. m. Despite attempts to save her, her internal injuries were too extensive. Two hours later, at 4.00 that morning, the doctors pronounced her dead. At 5.30, her death was announced at a press conference held by a hospital doctor, Jean-Pierre Chevènement and Sir Michael Jay.