She was once the most photographed woman in the world. Her sense of style, her shy demeanour, her famously failed marriage to Prince Charles and her subsequent assertion that “there were three of us in this marriage” has given her iconic status.
Yet Princess Diana was much much more than that.
Lady Diana Spencer was born on 1st July 1961. The family was no stranger to royalty and nobility as they had close ties with the royal family for many generations; both of Diana’s grandmothers had served as ladies in waiting to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
Diana enjoyed a humble and rather ordinary teenage period working numerous jobs such as a dance instructor, cleaner to her sister and friends and even hostess at their parties. When she met Prince Charles at 16, she was working as a nursery assistant and Charles was dating her older sister Sarah.
Diana came into the limelight when she became
romantically involved with the heir apparent to the British throne and the couple was engaged in February 1981.
Prince Charles was one of the world’s most eligible bachelors and the princess won millions of hearts as his blushing bride.
The world watched and sighed at this gorgeous young woman who captured attention not through flamboyance but through the slight tilt of her head or the glances from under shy eyelashes.
Diana’s wedding to Charles was a global phenomenon watched by an estimated 750 million global audience. Her ivory bridal dress valued at 9,000 pounds is iconic to this day with its 25 feet silk train cascading down the steps of St Paul’s cathedral.
The Royal Wedding
But as Diana said to her friends and sister Sarah, she knew she was making a mistake and on the eve of the wedding claimed that she couldn’t go through with it. Her sister however insisted that it was too late to pull out as, the famous answer goes, ‘your face is on the tea towels now’. According to Prince Charles autobiography published in 1994 ‘Charles: Heart of a King’, the Prince also had his own reservations.
Remembering the ultimatum given to him by his father of ‘marry her or dump her’ Charles claimed to have married Diana in a confused state of mind.
He was reported to be wailing on the eve of his wedding that he had made a huge mistake and he didn’t even know the girl he was marrying. Catherine Mayer’s biography, written with the full support from Charles, quoted his friends as saying that he was desperate.
He had discovered that Diana was not the jolly country girl he had assumed, she was but a vulnerable complicated woman with an eating disorder he barely understood. The book also claims that Diana had already discovered a bracelet with the letters G,F engraved on it, which was a gift meant for another woman – Camilla Parker Bowles.
The Other Woman
Prince Charles, like all eligible men before him, had dated several women before he met Diana. Amongst them was Camilla who he wanted to marry and indeed did much later on.
Camilla herself had dated before Charles making her less ‘appropriate’ for the British Royal family at that time.
However, as the royal marriage started to crumble under the weight of an intense public fascination, Diana’s own insecurity and poor health, Charles found himself retreating into Camilla’s arms once again; herself now a married woman.
Diana, desperately alone in her crumbling marriage, surrendered further to bulimia throwing it into the public eye. Her shrinking frame was the subject of much discussion with documentaries and articles surfacing to explain eating disorders raising awareness in the UK.
Five years into the fairytale marriage, dogged by cheating allegations, the cracks in the royal marriage became all too apparent and the couple eventually separated and divorced.
Diana – The Style Icon
However, the fashion sense of the princess continued to hog the limelight and covers of high end publications across the globe.
The famously short blonde cut became the rage and the princess became an increasingly popular figure as she abandoned the royal protocol to establish her own identity, most famously waltzing with John Travolta.
As Prince Charles went on TV to confess to his affair to Camilla in 1984, it was Diana who hogged the headlines the next day as she broke the royal protocol in every way she could.
The royal ladies are required to wear nude tights and pale nail polish which is the preference of the Queen. At the Vanity Fair party that evening, Diana wore black tights with a short black figure hugging dress with red nails to underline the rebel she now was.
The editor of Instyle put it perfectly:
“Diana had bought this dress while she was still Princess of Wales, and she felt it was too sexy. But after her separation from Prince Charles, and after the fairytale crashed… Well, out came the dress and the highest shoes she could find. And who wound up on the front page the next day? It was Diana, rocking out.”
This media attention also contributed to the ego clash between the couple whilst they were still married.
Charles’s biography painted a picture of a fragile Diana combing the newspapers every day to find her pictures and references to see if she still had her own identity.
The book claimed that even the Falklands war had little interest for Diana as she rather “narcissistically” wished the attention was focused back on her but, there was no denying that Diana truly understood the power of the media and she controlled the medium.
This was perhaps none so more evident than in 1997, when Diana was photographed frolicking with the Al Fayad family during a vacation in St Tropez.
As the world puzzled over this association and the relationship scrutinized, her inner circle had another story to tell.
Most dismissed Dodi Al Fayad as a summer fling and a way to make her ‘Mr. Wonderful’ Hasnat Khan jealous.
Author Sally Bedell writes in her book: ‘Diana in search for herself’ that ‘the pictures and relationship was meant for only one man and that was Hasnat’, the Pakistani doctor with whom Diana had a two year clandestine affair with.
The relationship was on and off whilst Diana pushed him to accept her publicly; Dr Khan could not for fear of rebuttal from his strict Muslim mother and the public scrutiny that would follow.
So, Diana used Dodi and the media to send out a clear message to Dr Khan that he would lose her.
Little did we know, that we would all lose her.
How Diana became the Queen of Hearts?
Her public profile meant that anything she did had unmatched attention and in many ways she had more power than any other member of the royal family due to her powering popularity. Diana had built up this following over years of insights into her life that fascinated the British public.
Her beauty helped but most of all it was her friendly personality that warmed her to the crowd.
During the couples’ public visits as Charles and Diana would split so each royal could shake hands with members of public, most clamoured for Princess Diana and called her name which alienated Charles from his own subjects.
Princess Diana then started her own crusade by becoming the first celebrity to remove the stigma of AIDS and HIV by shaking hands with and embracing AIDS patients.
She became a pioneer in raising alarm on the use of landmines across the globe and embraced the homeless of London as if they were her own.
The royal family was always involved in charity work but, none so much as the Princess who made regular visits to the 100 charities she supported slowly becoming the Queen of hearts.
Following her divorce, Diana did not shrink from the public eye. She was allowed to support 6 charities and as the mother of the future King still enjoyed some privileges but, by this time she had her own identity. She was no longer the wife of a Prince but had grown into what she called the Queen of hearts.
Diana’s untimely death in a Paris tunnel was shrouded in the same mystery her life had been.
Accompanied by Dodi fayed, her car plunged into the Pont De Alma tunnel in Paris as the papperazzi gave chase.
Dodi and the driver, Henri Paul were pronounced dead at the scene and Diana died later from injuries in hospital.
The death was controversial with some claiming that Henri was drunk at the time and may even have been drugged.
Others blamed the paparazzi for being aggressive causing the party to flee at high speeds. Whatever the reason, the world was robbed of its Queen and her two sons lost their mother.
Princess Diana is survived by her two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry.
Prince William is married to Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. The couple has three children and are very popular with the British public.
Catherine has followed Diana’s profile extremely closely often seen in jewellery left by her mother in law and taking cues from her style book.
Prince Harry, after a rather troubled teenage period, has now married American actress Meghan Markle and has taken on the title Duke of Sussex.
He has immersed himself into charity work often speaking about mental health.
The couple married with much fanfare and the entry of Meghan, an independent woman of colour, into the royal family heralds a new era.
Both of Diana’s sons have taken up her legacy, William is the softer of the two reflecting Diana’s warmth whilst Harry has inherited her rebellious side. Prince Harry left a chair vacant in his family’s side during his wedding and that space will be left empty forever.