Princess Diana Facts and Biography
Real Name: The Honorable Diana Frances Spencer
Profile: Former kindergarten teacher, Princess
Birthdate: July 1, 1961
Birthplace: Park House estate in Sandringham, Norfolk, England
Date of death: August 31, 1997, in Paris, France
Sign: Sun in Cancer, Moon in Aquarius
Education: West Heath, a boarding school in southern England; finishing school in Switzerland
Relations: Ex-husband: Charles, Prince of Wales; Sons: Princelings William and Harry
Quote: Being a princess isn't all it's cracked up to be. --Princess Di
Princess Diana Biography
FROM time immemorial the inappropriately placed affections, sordid family secrets, vicious feuds, epicurean excesses, and sorrows of the "royals" have utterly absorbed us commoners. In these last years of the twentieth century, the life and tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, encapsulated all of these. Despite the scandals surrounding her marriage to and eventual divorce
from Prince Charles, Diana was always greatly beloved for her charity, her grace, her regal bearing, and for being a wonderful mother to her two sons.In the wake of her sudden and violent death in an automobile crash, the Princess acquired cult status the likes of which sprang up following the untimely passings of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and John F. Kennedy.
OPENLY criticized for its badly demoralized state, the House of Windsor has seen its fair share of inglorious days, but it wasn't so very long ago that the world watched with childlike wonder as the merry wives of Windsor were united to their phlegmatic mates. The announcement, in 1981, that Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, was affianced to a kindergarten teacher of aristocratic birth, Lady Diana Spencer, twelve years his junior, set off a media blitzkrieg that effectively rekindled a long-dormant international interest in the 1,000-year-old British monarchy. Finally, Charles had done right by his future subjects, and it was cause for national celebration.
MOST observers agreed that Charles was wise to select a virginal young Protestant of suitable pedigree and a spotless past--someone who could endure the forensic scrutiny of the media to which she would certainly be subjected. Diana, the unsophisticated, "inexperienced," and malleable daughter of one of Queen Elizabeth's oldest friends--the Earl of Spencer--and the younger sister of one of Charles' former girlfriends, Sarah Spencer, seemed the likeliest and most suitable choice to act as his Royal Ambassador and mother of a legitimate heir. On July 29, 1981, before 2,650 guests and a worldwide television audience of 750 million spectators, "Shy Di," the new shining hope of the people, rode to St. Paul's Cathedral in a glass coach for the wedding of the century; its fanfare and pageantry doubtless will never be matched by any other extravaganza, royal or otherwise.
HER Royal Highness the Princess of Wales comported herself somewhat less than regally from the beginning--Di's unabashed interest in pop music and her status as a fashion icon after so many generations of frumpy figureheads (a 1993 accounting of Di's capacious closet tallied eighty suits, fifty daytime dresses, and more than one hundred evening gowns--all with matching accessories and managed by two full-time royal dressers) flew in the face of the tea, crumpet, and polo set--for which her serious-minded husband acted as poster child. One of Charles' aides remarked on Diana's singular approach to princesshood, "She was always waving and smiling--like a film star. But there is a difference between being a film star and being a member of the royal family. Everything has to be more discreet." Indeed. How telling those word would prove in the wake of the House of Windsor's recent welter of transgression, confession, scandal, and heart-breaking calamity.
THE royal family welcomed the heir apparent and first of two sons, William Arthur Philip Louis, into the world on June 21, 1982, and Diana's hands-on mothering skills stood her in good stead with the royal family and a watchful planet. By the time Prince Harry arrived on the scene a little over two years later, in September, 1984 (the British referred to Princes William and his younger brother as "an heir and a spare"), the royal couple's estrangement had worked its way into every corner of their private lives. By any measure, each was unfaithful to the other. Charles had betrayed his ruling passion from the beginning of the marriage. In love with Camilla Parker-Bowles, the wife of one of his dearest friends, since he was a mere lad of twenty-three, Charles had no compunctions about continuing their long-term affair post-betrothal. Diana--who was truly in love with her prince--had even threatened to call off the wedding just days in advance of the event when she discovered an expensive bracelet that Charles intended to give to his perma-paramour as a token of his continuing dedication to her in the face of his impending nuptials. Diana successfully hid her deep anguish for a surprising number of years--each embarrassing, attention-grabbing antic (how little the repressed and introspective Prince must have liked her numerous monikers, like the tacky "Disco Di," and her chokehold on the world's affections), each emotional breakdown, and each "suicide" attempt in private was counterbalanced by outward manifestations of dedication to family, the greater glory of Great Britain, and "good works." Not your typical layabout princess, Diana had applied herself to touring the Commonwealth; inspecting the troops; and visiting drug abuse centers, lepers, and AIDS patients (on whose behalf she acted as patron of the National AIDS Trust), among hundreds of other official duties.
DIANA and Charles's marital undoing began in earnest in 1992, when a tell-all biography of Diana's private hell hit the shelves. Reading about the turmoil of her palace life left a bewildered populace wondering how Charles could possibly give the cold shoulder to that gorgeous paragon of motherhood and fashion he claimed as a wife. Despite efforts to suppress the details of their marital attrition, it was not long after the biography became public that British intelligence released to a London tabloid a taped telephone conversation--the so-called "Squidgy" tape--that agents recorded during their surveillance of Diana's close male friend, James Gilbey, in which Gilbey passionately declared his love for Diana, his "Squidgy." The realm had just barely recovered from its disappointed shock when a second seismic disturbance rocked Buckingham Palace. In November, an Australian publication printed a transcript from an alleged conversation between Charles and Camilla, in which Charles fantasized about living "inside [Camilla's] trousers or something." The release of the tit-for-tat bombshell revelations left the Prince and Princess with little choice but to give the prime minister leave to announce an official separation that December. The following year provided a cooling-off period for both halves of the embattled couple, and Diana withdrew for a time from her official duties, if not from the public eye.
IN June of 1994, Prince Charles admitted on an internationally broadcast TV documentary that he in fact had committed adultery, and in October of the same year, the release of a trio of inflammatory new books detailed the minutiae of Charles' and Di's sham of a marriage and extramarital trysting. The sensationalistic chronicles ranged from Life Guards officer James Hewitt's "memoirs" about his torrid five-year affair with Princess Diana, to a purportedly authorized biography of Charles' marriage to Diana (a union he harshly referred to as an experience akin to being "trapped in a rather desperate cul-de-sac"), to yet another candid biography of Diana's life. Diana had her day in media court in November of 1995: on a BBC news show, Panorama, she soberly admitted that Charles' affair with Camilla had incited in her "rampant bulimia," that the Hewitt affair did in fact happen, and, furthermore, that she wouldn't "go quietly."
WITH irrefutable proof of the instability of Buckingham Palace, a prominent British bookmaker set new odds on the monarchy's collapse by the turn of the century at 5 to 1. Meanwhile, the royal solicitors undertook the monumental task of hammering out an agreement to deliver the Prince and Princess from their albatross of a marriage. In July of 1996, an agreement was struck: though technically-speaking Diana would no longer be a member of the royal family, she was to remain Diana, Princess of Wales, and to continue to enjoy some royal perks. Of course, she was as involved as ever in the lives of her two very adored sons. As for Charles, it was determined that the divorce would not affect his right to be king, though he will be the first royal in 280 years to assume the throne as a divorcÚ.
DIANA left her fifteen-year palace duty as a much stronger and smarter woman, cashing out of the princess business with a healthy bottom line (she received a $26-million settlement). In the year following her divorce, Di, the "most photographed woman in the world," remained as much a favorite subject of the meddlesome media as ever, her every move expeditiously documented: accounts of her elbow-rubbing with the world's elite on trips abroad, her reputed romances, her many charitable endeavors (a charity auction of her Charles-era evening duds netted $3.25 million), and her activist urgings (she tirelessly lobbied for a worldwide ban on the manufacture and sale of landmines) kept the tabloids well stocked with fodder. Always incensed by this constant intrusion of the press in her life, Diana confided to the French daily Le Monde in August of 1997 that, were it not for her sons, she would have left her native country long ago, and she further lashed out by saying, "The press is ferocious. It pardons nothing, it only hunts for mistakes. Every motive is twisted, every gesture criticized."
NOT even a week after her scathing comments were published, Diana and her new beau, millionaire movie producer Dodi Fayed, were killed when the car in which they were attempting to evade paparazzi crashed into the wall of a Paris traffic tunnel at 120 miles per hour. Also killed was the couple's chauffeur, who was later (allegedly) determined to be legally drunk at the time of the accident. Doctors labored for several hours to bring the Princess out of cardiac arrest, but she had sustained massive chest and lung injuries that resulted in internal bleeding, which finally took her life. Her tragic demise plunged a shocked world into grief, tinged with fury at the press which aggressively hounded her in life and may have contributed directly to her death. French police detained seven of the pursuing photogs in connection with the tragedy (some of the paparazzi at the scene started taking pictures of the horrendously crushed vehicle in the aftermath of the crash, instead of offering aid to the injured parties). Prince Charles escorted the body of his ex-wife back to London, where dignitaries turned out to mark the solemn occasion. Prime Minister Tony Blair, a staunch supporter of the "people's princess" even after her acrimonious divorce from the Prince, commented, "People everywhere . . . They liked her, they loved her, they regarded her as one of the people."