Diana Frances Spencer, better known as Diana, Princess of Wales, was born 1 July 1961. Princess Diana was born into British nobility as the youngest child of Edward John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer. She grew up in close proximity to the British royal family on their Sandringham Estate but being born into nobility did not guarantee an easy life for Princess Diana and the divorce of her parents affected her greatly. It was a highly emotional time for her as a young adult, and so, in 1978 she moved to London where, due to financial constraints, she had to take up with roommates whilst she looked for employment. Although she was never what one might call an academic, she was highly talented when it came to music and dance and was also a talented athlete.
Her fortunes changed in 1981 when she became engaged to Prince Charles who is first in line to the British throne as the eldest child of Queen Elizabeth II. The couple had first met in 1977 as Charles was at the time dating Diana’s older sister, Lady Sarah, but started to take more of an interest in Diana and they began dating through 1980. The relationship developed and Charles introduced Diana to his family, including the Queen in November. Charles proposed in February 1981. Following a relatively short engagement, they were married in St. Paul’s cathedral on 29 July 1981 when Diana was 22 years old. The highly televised wedding along with Diana’s natural glamour and kindness created a wholesome and positive image that she would foster for the remainder of her career as the quintessential fairytale princess adored and loved by so many. From this point forward she was no longer Lady Diana, she was Princess Diana.
The couple had two children – Prince William, who was born on 21 June 1982 and Prince Harry who was born on 15 September 1984 – however the marriage was a very unhappy one. It was clear that the couple were not a good match and the age difference of almost 13 years also caused issues. Charles started seeing a former girlfriend, Camilla Parker Bowles and Princess Diana had an affair with Major James Hewitt. Due to these extramarital affairs and ultimately a significant clash of personalities it became clear that their differences were irreconcilable. The couple divorced in 1992.
Despite her divorce from Prince Charles, Princess Diana continued to be actively involved in the work of the royal family, regularly representing the royals at different state functions around the world which continued to build and grow her persona and media presence.
Part of Princess Diana’s popularity stemmed from her efforts associated with what many saw as unique but sincere charity work for youth and later for those afflicted with AIDS. Princess Diana became a patron and a champion for those in need which continued to swell her already huge popularity. Her work would ultimately include not just youth and those with AIDS but also those affected by cancer and mental illness leading Princess Diana to be one of the best-known philanthropists and figureheads for the needy and unwell. Her friendly and charismatic nature made her a natural star helping to raise millions of dollars and lending a celebrity face to these important causes.
It may not have been something that she was looking for, but Princess Diana was also a beautiful woman with great taste in clothes which led to her becoming a fashion icon in the UK and worldwide during the 1980’s and 1990’s. It was during this period that she essentially became the most photographed woman of the 20th century.
In 1993 Princess Diana announced that she would be retiring from public life, but her retirement lasted barely a year as by 1994 she had announced a partial return which in actuality became another full-time globe-trotting schedule full of meetings with various dignitaries and representatives. This new role was as vice president of the British Red Cross and on top of this she also continued her humanitarian and philanthropic work throughout the early to mid-90s, even forming a personal relationship with Mother Teresa.
Princess Diana was also patron of an organisation that moves in and removes dangerous materials, particularly landmines that have been left behind when wars have ended. Called the HALO Trust, the organisation and its patron were passionate about the work and Diana was famously photographed in January 1997 wearing a flak jacket and helmet in the middle of a minefield in Angola. Her work has increased awareness of the terrible suffering caused by anti-personnel mines and led to the signing of the Ottawa Treaty which banned their use.
Princess Diana, like so many celebrities the world over suffered from incessant intrusion on her personal and professional life by the paparazzi which followed and photographed her every move. On the fateful day on 31 August 1997, Princess Diana’s driver was attempting to escape pursuing paparazzi when the car crashed in a Paris tunnel. Princess Diana and two others were killed in the crash and in the blink of an eye the British people lost their beloved princess.
The death of Princess Diana was a shock and the entire country went into a deep period of mourning for the young and beautiful princess. Her state funeral was viewed in the UK by over 32 million people making it one of the most watched televised funerals ever and was viewed by many millions more around the world. It was a sad irony that Princess Diana’s dear friend Mother Teresa also died in that same week.
Although conspiracy theories abounded about her death, after 10 years’ worth of investigations and inquiry it was finally declared to have been an accident and all further pursuit of murder charges against anyone that may have been involved was ultimately abandoned.
Princess Diana, more than two decades after her death remains one of the most popular and influential British women in history. She was beautiful and stylish and was known for her charisma and compassion but was also hard working and could be defiant in the face of injustice.
She will also forever be remembered as the people’s princess.