Princess Diana was born The Honorable Diana Frances Spencer on July 1, 1961. She was the third female child to Viscount and Viscountess Althorp. Diana had two older sisters, Sarah and Jane and one younger brother, Charles. Her family was well off and Diana had a privileged childhood. The Spencer’s made their money as successful sheep traders in the 15th century. With their fortune they built Althorp House in Northamptonshire and acquired a family crest and motto – “God defend the right” (Morton 10).
The Spencer’s occupied various offices of State and Court.
When Diana’s was born her father was disappointed she was a girl. He was hoping for his third children to finally be a male heir to carry on the Spencer name. Diana’s father and the rest of the family wanted to know why her mother was only producing girls. Because of this, her mother was sent to a clinic for tests (Morton 10). She was only 23 at the time.
This is ironic because today we now know the sex of the baby is determined by the father. Even though she was too young to understand, Diana believed she was to blame for her father’s disappointment. Finally, a few years later her mother delivered a boy to carry on the Spencer name. Although Diana had a beautiful christening at Sandringham Church with well-to-do Godparents, her brother Charles’s christening was a major event at Westminster Abbey. The Queen was the principal Godparent.
The Spencer children were privileged but not snobbish. They were taught to accept people for what they are and not their position in life. The children never understood their titles until they went to school. Occasionally one of the royals would make a visit to the Spencer home and once in a while they would play with Princess Margaret’s sons, Princes Andrew and Edward. Diana remembers not liking to go to the Royal home, because it was big and spooky.
Diana’s mother’s family, the Fermoy’s, were responsible for acquisition of Park House, Diana’s childhood home. King George V granted Diana’s grandfather Park House which was originally built for overflow guests from the Royal Sandringham House. It was a spacious property with an outdoor pool and a tennis court. (Morton 11). Diana loved to swim and play tennis at a child.
The Spencer’s were linked by blood to King Charles II. They are also said to be linked by blood to seven American Presidents including Franklin D. Roosevelt, and also Humphrey Bogart and gangster Al Capone (Morton 11).
Diana’s parents divorced when she was six. It was shock to society. Diana believes the tension put on her mother to produce a boy is when the marriage began to break down. The separation caused a custody battle over the children. This was very disruptive to the four children. After the legal battle their father eventually received custody due to his title and nobility. Diana’s mother remarried one month after the divorce was settled to Peter Shand Kydd. The trauma of divorce may have been the cause of what led to Diana’s eating disorders of anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Diana’s oldest sister, Sarah, also suffered the same eating disorders. These diseases are linked to mother and daughter relationships, anxiety and a malfunctioning family. Diana’s parents would fight endlessly and the children would overhear their fights. The four children were cared for primarily by nannies. They went through many nannies in their childhood. This led to a cool relationship with both parents and affection from them was non-existent. The children even ate their meals with their nannies. Holiday’s were spent shuffled between the two parents. Diana’s father buried himself in his work while her mother was only allowed to see them on the weekends. In all, the Spencer children had a very unstable and loveless childhood. Diana says all she craved were cuddles and kisses.
Diana learned from an early age to put a smile on her face when family life at home was troublesome. From early on, Diana had a maternal instinct. She cared for her brother, dressing him every day. After her parents divorced, Diana remembers her and her brother lying awake at night in the dark afraid and wanting their mother.
Like her sisters, Diana was sent to a boarding school. Her parents were the only divorced parents of her friends, which made Diane feel inadequate. Diana didn’t get good grades as she wasn’t very scholarly. However, she excelled in swimming in dancing. She especially loved ballet and wanted to pursue it but her height of 5’ 10 1/2” made her too tall to dance professionally. At her boarding school, West Heath, she visited the mentally and physically handicapped. This is where Diana discovered she had a natural aptitude for this type of work. These efforts gave her a sense of achievement.
Diana’s grandfather, the 7th Earl Spencer died when Diana was 14. This caused the family to receive new titles. The girls now became Ladies and Diana’s brother became Viscount Charles. Her father inherited the 13,000-acre Althorp House (Morton 28).
Diana’s father remarried in 1975 to Raine, the Countess of Dartmouth. The children instantly disliked her. She was a loud character and the children felt she didn’t have the best intentions for her father.
After high school, Diana went to a finishing school in Switzerland. Although she loved skiing, her grades were still poor and she missed home. She begged her parents to send her home. At first they wouldn’t allow it, but after Diana’s persistent requests that they were wasting their money by sending her there, they allowed Diana to return home. Diana was happy to be home and have her schooling behind her. Her oldest sister’s friends starting to take notice of Diana saying she was maturing and was fun to be around. Sarah became jealous of Diana because she wanted to be the spotlight of London.
When Diana came home she begged her parents to rent her an apartment. Her parents were worried because she had no high school or college education and only a vague idea that she wanted to work with children. Since Diana had come home from school without a degree, her parents hoped her to marry soon. This was the norm for girls her age to begin searching for a suitable husband. Diana was also interested in finding her Prince Charming. For her coming-of-age present Diana’s parents rented her an apartment at Coleherne Court in London (Morton 42). She shared it with three of her friends. This is where she lived during her courtship to Prince Charles. For work, Diana worked at a kindergarten and also looked after an American oil executive’s children a few days a week. Diana says these carefree days were the happiest of her life (Morton, 43). Diana had a few boyfriends at the time, but none turned into serious relationships.
Diana’s older sister Sarah started dating Prince Charles in 1977. They dated for nine months. Diana first met Prince Charles at her home when she was 16. Her sister’s relationship with the Prince ended because Sarah loved the publicity too much and often said the wrong things to the press. Towards the end of their romance, Sarah was invited to Charles’s 30th birthday party at Buckingham Palace. Surprisingly, Diana was also invited. Diana had no idea the Prince had taken notice of her and was interested in her bubbly character. Charles was using Sarah for her bring her younger sister to his 30th birthday party. Diana went to the party but Charles was dating an American actress at the time.
Diana started seriously dating the Prince in July of 1980. He was 33 and she was 19. Their early dates consisted of Diana watching Charles play polo and then there was always a barbeque afterwards. Since he was in his thirties, Prince Charles was getting pressure from his family to marry and start a family. His duty was to marry to produce and heir to the throne. Andrew Morton notes that as Charles got older it would be difficult to find a suitable, Protestant, virginal bride (48). Charles has said if it weren’t for his duty as the future King he probably wouldn’t have ever married. He felt his duty to marry was just that, a duty. He once said “If I’m deciding on whom I want to live with for fifty years – well, that’s the last decision I want my head to be ruled by my heart” (Morton 49). At this point, Charles there was no reason not to pursue Diana to be his wife. Whether he really loved her was questionable. While dating, he lavished her with expensive gifts as well as said and did all the right things. Diana was smitten and in awe of the Prince. He addressed her as Diana but she must address him as “Sir” (Morton 55.) She felt his age made him mature and that he would make a suitable husband. Since she never had a serious boyfriend, she had no way to compare Charles’s behavior.
From this point on, Diana was never left alone by the press. She would give them polite, short answers about her relationship to Prince Charles. She began to feel suffocated and relayed this to Charles. He brushed her off, as did Buckingham Palace when Diana phoned the press office there for help (Morton 53). They told her she was on her own. Charles and Diana were never left alone together. This bothered Diana. There were always other guests around, including Camilla Parker-Bowles. Diana was suspicious of Camilla from the beginning. Charles told Camilla everything, even his intimate conversations with Diana. Camilla often gave Diana advice on Charles, which Diana found confusing.
On February 6, 1981 Charles asked Diana to be his bride and on February 24, 1981 their engagement was officially announced to the public (British Royal Government website). Although Diana was very happy she did have doubts about the marriage. Diana’s grandmother once said to Diana “You must understand that their sense of humor and lifestyle are very different” (Morton 55). Also, Diana sensed Charles’s devotion to Camilla.
During the engagement, Diana’s bulimia started to flare up. One week before the wedding Charles gave Camilla a bracelet. Diana found out about it and was upset. She even considered calling off the wedding but felt too far involved to back out now.
On July 29, 1981 Diana became the Princess of Wales. She was the first Englishwoman to marry an heir to the throne for 300 years. She wore a silk wedding dress with a 25-foot long train. The wedding was watched by 750 million people (Morton 66).
After their honeymoon, the Royal couple lived at Highgrove House and also had an apartment at Kensington Palace. Diana believed now that the wedding was over the press would leave her alone.
The following October she became pregnant. On New Years day, when Diana was three months pregnant she tried to commit suicide by throwing herself down a flight of stairs. Morton believes that the Princess was not really trying to kill herself but was crying out for help she never received (Morton 74). Prince Charles did not try to understand the emotional turmoil Diana was feeling trying to fit into his family. The baby was unharmed and on June 21, 1982 Prince William was born. Diana and Charles were happy for a short time and again when Diana became pregnant again in 1984. Charles was desperate for a girl and Diana already know she was having a boy and didn’t’ tell Charles. When Prince Harry was born on September 5, 1984, Charles sarcastically said, “Oh, it’s a boy, and he’s even got rusty hair.” (Morton 88). Diana felt this was the end of their marriage.
As Andrew Morton explains, Diana couldn’t believe how on her trips to other countries, millions of people turn out to see her but when she returns home, no one in the Palace says “Well done” (112). Diana felt she was tired of living a life where the only thing she is noticed for is her sense of style. She felt she had more to offer the world but Charles did not. He felt her only duty was to accompany him on his public appearances and be well dressed. The fact was, the crowds turned out to see Diana, not Charles.
As the tension in the marriage grew, Diana focused her energy outside the home doing AIDS counseling, work with leprosy and drug addiction (Morton 113). She felt she had a natural aptitude towards this type of work. She became President or Patron for over 100 charities.
The Prince and Princess began to live separate lives and the public was noticing this. They would appear in public to maintain a façade of unity but in private they had separate bedrooms (Morton 124). They mutually decided to separate in December of 1992. Diana lived at Kensington Palace and Charles lived in Highgrove. In November of 1992 Diana gave a candid television interview about her unhappy private life within the Royal system. She confessed about her adultery during her marriage and her eating disorders. The Queen was not happy and felt Diana betrayed the monarch by this interview.
The Prince and Princess officially divorced in August of 1996. They both shared in the upbringing of their sons. Diana was to be referred to as Diana, Princess of Wales. She was stripped of her “Her Royal Highness” title after the divorce became official (British Royal Gov. website). Diana would still appear with the Royal family on certain occasions. She received an estimated 17 million settlement (Morton 252).
After the divorce Diana felt freer and also felt she now had the best of both worlds. She was still able to have a say in her son’s upbringing and was able to live her life as she wanted. This was important to her, as she wanted her sons to see more of the world than boarding schools and palaces. One of the first things she did after the divorce was fire her bodyguard. She never liked their constant presence.
Diana wanted to show her country she wanted to continue doing good works even though she was no longer married to Prince Charles. Diana has repeatedly said she wishes to be known as the “Queen of Hearts”. Diana never liked the royal formalities and she had a knack of being able to relate to the common person on the street. This was part of why she was so well liked by the entire world.
Diana decided after the divorce to cut down on her public appearances. She decided to focus her attention to five charities and cut out the rest as she felt her time was being wasted on too many dinners and not enough of the actual charity work. The charities that she chose were the Leprosy Mission, Centrepoint (a charity for the homeless), the National Aids Trust, the Royal Marsden NHS Trust (a cancer hospital) and the Ormond Street Children’s Hospital (Morton 253). She also continued to devote some time to the English National Ballet. Diana also sold some her dresses and suits worn on engagements and gave the profits to her various charities.
In the summer of 1996 Diana met Dodi Fayed, a Hollywood film producer and son of a billionaire from Egypt. They started dating and soon their relationship turned serious.
In the year before her death, the Princess was an active campaigner for a ban on the manufacture and use of land mines (British Royal Government website). In fact, this was her last public engagement, which took place in Bosnia. Diana was able to met Mother Teresa in New York in the summer of 1997 before her death. Mother Teresa congratulated her for her charitable works.
Diana died on August 31, 1997 in a terrible car crash in Paris, France. The vehicle she was in was involved in a high-speed accident and struck a concrete pillar under a bridge shortly before midnight on August 30, 1997. The driver of the car, Henri Paul was said to being trying to outrun the paparazzi. He was also known to have been drinking and taking drugs that evening. The Princess underwent hours of surgery before she was pronounced dead (British Royal Government website). Dodi Fayed also died in the car crash, as did the driver of the vehicle. Their bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones survived the crash.
The Queen spoke to the public on Friday before Diana’s funeral. She expressed her sadness to lose Diana.
Princess Diana’s funeral took place on Saturday, September 6, 1997. It was estimated 31 million people in Britain and two and a half billion people around the world watched the funeral on television. Her brother, Earl Spencer gave a tearful eulogy for Diana. His closed the eulogy by saying “Above all we give thanks for the life of a woman I am so proud to be able to call my sister, the unique, the complex, the extraordinary and irreplaceable Diana whose beauty, both internal and external, will never be extinguished from our minds” (Davies 304). The Princess was buried in sanctified ground on an island in the center of an ornamental lake in the Spencer home at Althorp. Her grave faces east, towards the rising sun (British Royal Government website).
Princess Diana will be missed not only by her two sons but also by many around the world. Perhaps the best lesson she taught was all people, even those in high positions such as hers are able to help make a difference in the world. She will be missed.
British Royal Government Website. .
Davies, Nicholas. Diana, The People’s Princess. New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group, 1997.
Morton, Andrew. Diana, Her True Story. New York and Great Britain: Simon & Schuster, 1992.
Morton, Andrew. Diana, Her True Story, In Her Own Words. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
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