Biography of Diana, Princess of Wales

Diana with sons Prince William and Prince Harry
Anwar Hussein / Getty Images

Princess Diana (born Diana Frances Spencer; July 1, 1961–August 31, 1997) was the consort of Charles, Prince of Wales. She was the mother of Prince William, currently in line for the throne after his father, Diane's former husband, and of Prince Harry. Diana was also known for her charity work and her fashion image.

Fast Facts: Diana, Princess of Wales

  • Known For: Diana became a member of the British royal family when she married Charles, Prince of Wales, in 1981.
  • Also Known As: Diana Frances Spencer, Lady Di, Princess Diana
  • Born: July 1, 1961 in Sandringham, England
  • Parents: John Spencer and Frances Spencer
  • Died: August 31, 1997 in Paris, France
  • Spouse: Charles, Prince of Wales (m. 1981–1996)
  • Children: Prince William (William Arthur Philip Louis), Prince Harry (Henry Charles Albert David)

Early Life

Diana Frances Spencer was born on July 1, 1961, in Sandringham, England. Although she was a member of the British aristocracy, she was technically a commoner, not a royal. Diana's father was John Spencer, Viscount Althorp, a personal aide to King George VI and to Queen Elizabeth II. Her mother was the Honourable Frances Shand-Kydd.

Diana's parents divorced in 1969. Her mother ran away with a wealthy heir, and her father gained custody of the children. He later married Raine Legge, whose mother was Barbara Cartland, a romance novelist.

Childhood and Schooling

Diana grew up practically next door to Queen Elizabeth II and her family, at Park House, a mansion next to the Sandringham estate of the royal family. Prince Charles was 12 years older, but Prince Andrew was closer to her age and was a childhood playmate.

After Diana's parents divorced, her father gained custody of her and her siblings. Diana was educated at home until she was 9 and was then sent to Riddlesworth Hall and West Heath School. Diana did not get along well with her stepmother, nor did she do well in school, finding an interest instead in ballet and, according to some reports, Prince Charles, whose picture she had on the wall of her room at school. When Diana was 16, she met Prince Charles again. He had dated her older sister Sarah. She made some impression on him, but she was still too young for him to date. After she dropped out of West Heath School at 16, she attended a finishing school in Switzerland, Chateau d'Oex. She left after a few months.

Marriage to Prince Charles

After Diana left school, she moved to London and worked as a housekeeper, nanny, and kindergarten teacher's aide. She lived in a house purchased by her father and had three roommates. In 1980, Diana and Charles met again when she went to visit her sister, whose husband worked for the queen. They began to date, and six months later Charles proposed. The two were married on July 29, 1981, in a much-watched wedding that's been called the "wedding of the century." Diana was the first British citizen to marry the heir to the British throne in almost 300 years.

Diana immediately began making public appearances despite her reservations about being in the public eye. One of her first official visits was to the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco. Diana soon became pregnant, giving birth to Prince William (William Arthur Philip Louis) on June 21, 1982, and then to Prince Harry (Henry Charles Albert David) on September 15, 1984.

Early in their marriage, Diana and Charles were seen to be publicly affectionate; by 1986, their time apart and coolness when together were obvious. The 1992 publication of Andrew Morton's biography of Diana revealed the story of Charles' long affair with Camilla Parker Bowles and alleged that Diana had made several suicide attempts. In February 1996, Diana announced that she had agreed to a divorce.

Divorce and Life After

The divorce was finalized on August 28, 1996. Settlement terms reportedly included about $23 million for Diana plus $600,000 per year. She and Charles would both be active in their sons' lives. Diana continued to live at Kensington Palace and was permitted to retain the title Princess of Wales. At her divorce, she also gave up most of the charities she'd been working with, limiting herself to only a few causes: homelessness, AIDS, leprosy, and cancer.

In 1996, Diana became involved in a campaign to ban landmines. She visited several nations in her involvement with the anti-landmine campaign, an activity more political than the norm for the British royal family.

In early 1997, Diana was linked romantically with the 42-year-old playboy "Dodi" Fayed (Emad Mohammed al-Fayed). His father, Mohammed al-Fayed, owned Harrod's department store and the Ritz Hotel in Paris, among other properties.

Death

On August 30, 1997, Diana and Fayed left the Ritz Hotel in Paris, accompanied in a car by a driver and Dodi's bodyguard. They were pursued by paparazzi. Just after midnight the car spun out of control in a Paris tunnel and crashed. Fayed and the driver were killed instantly; Diana died later in a hospital despite efforts to save her. The bodyguard survived despite critical injuries.

The world quickly reacted. First came horror and shock. Then blame—much of which was directed at the paparazzi who were following the princess's car, and from whom the driver was apparently trying to escape. Later tests showed the driver had been well over the legal alcohol limit, but immediate blame was placed on the photographers and their seemingly incessant quest to capture images of Diana that could be sold to the press.

Then came an outpouring of sorrow and grief. The Spencers, Diana's family, established a charitable fund in her name, and within a week $150 million in donations had been raised.

Princess Diana's funeral, on September 6, drew worldwide attention. Millions turned out to line the path of the funeral procession.

Legacy

In many ways, Diana and her life story paralleled much in popular culture. She was married near the beginning of the 1980s, and her fairy-tale wedding, complete with a glass coach and a dress that could not quite fit inside, was in synch with the ostentatious wealth and spending of the 1980s.

Her struggles with bulimia and depression shared so publicly in the press, were also typical of the 1980s' focus on self-help and self-esteem. That she seemed to have finally begun to transcend many of her problems made her loss seem all the more tragic.

The 1980s realization of the AIDS crisis was one in which Diana played a significant part. Her willingness to touch and hug AIDS sufferers, at a time when many in the public wanted to quarantine those with the disease based on irrational and uneducated fears of easy communicability, helped change how AIDS patients were treated.

Today, Diana is still remembered as the "People's Princess," a woman of contradictions who was born into wealth yet seemed to have a "common touch"; a woman who struggled with her self-image yet was a fashion icon; a woman who sought attention but often stayed at hospitals and other charity sites long after the press had left. Her life has been the subject of numerous books and films, including "Diana: Her True Story," "Diana: Last Days of a Princess," and "Diana, 7 Days."

Sources