Diana, Princess of Wales (Diana Frances Mountbatten-Windsor,
Spencer) (1 July 1961 - 31 August 1997) 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
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 (formerly the Honourable Frances Burke Roche). 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
Diana was educated at Riddlesworth Hall in Norfolk and at West Heath
School (later reorganized as the New School at West Heath) 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 (and, eventually, his second
wife) 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 (16 months the Prince's
senior), her sexual experience, and her lack of suitably aristocratic
The wedding took place at St Paul's Cathedral in London on Wednesday
29 July 1981 before 3,500 invited guests (including Mrs. Parker Bowles
and her husband, a godson of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) 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 (commonly called Prince
Harry) 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 (that is, Queen Elizabeth II. It has been suggested
she did not, in fact, intend to end her life (or that the suicide attempts
never even took place) 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 (in a television interview with
Martin Bashir) the affair with her riding instructor, James Hewitt. (Theoretically,
such an affair constituted high treason by both parties.) 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
The pictures of Diana touring a minefield, in a ballistic helmet and
flak jacket, were seen worldwide. (Mine-clearance experts had already
cleared the pre-planned walk that Diana took wearing the protective equipment.)
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 (China, India, North Korea, Pakistan,
Russia and the United States) 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 (UNICEF), 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 (France's Interior Minister) and Sir Michael Jay (Britain's
ambassador to France).