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Diana, Princess of Wales

Diana, Princess of Wales (Diana Frances Mountbatten-Windsor, née 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 Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales and Countess of Chester, Duchess of Cornwall, Duchess of Rothesay, Countess of Carrick, Baroness of Renfrew, Lady of the Isles, Princess of Scotland, but styled Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales. She was almost always called Princess Diana by the media despite never having had the right to that title, as it would imply that she was a princess by birthright rather than by marriage.

Though she was noted for her pioneering charity work, the princess's philanthropic endeavors were overshadowed by a scandal-plagued marriage. Her bitter accusations of adultery, mental cruelty and emotional distress riveted the world for much of the 1980s and 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 preeminent 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. To her admirers, Diana, Princess of Wales was a role model -- after her death, there were calls for her to be nominated for sainthood -- while her detractors saw her life as a cautionary tale.


Personal life

Early years

The Honourable Diana Frances Spencer was born the youngest daughter of Edward Spencer, Viscount Althorp, and his first wife, The Honourable Frances Burke Roche. Partly American in ancestry -- a great-grandmother was the American heiress Frances Work -- she was a descendant of King Charles I. After her parents' acrimonious divorce over the viscountess's adultery with wallpaper heir Peter Shand Kydd, Diana and her siblings were raised by their father. On the death of her paternal grandfather, Albert Spencer, 7th Earl Spencer in 1975, her father became the eighth 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.

She was educated at Riddlesworth Hall [1] in Norfolk and at the West Heath School in Kent, where she was regarded as an academically below-average student having failed all of her O-level examinations. At 16 she 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 and 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, any potential bride had to have an aristocratic background, could not have been previously married, and be preferably a virgin. Also for Charles to remain in the line of royal succession, he could not marry a Catholic.

Reportedly, it was the prince's former girlfriend Camilla Parker Bowles (now his wife), who helped him select the 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer, who was working as an assistant at the Young England kindergarten in Knightsbridge. Buckingham Palace announced the engagement on February 24, 1981. Mrs Parker Bowles had been dismissed by Lord Mountbatten as a potential spouse for the heir to throne some years before, reportedly due to her age (she is 16 months the prince's elder) and her sexual experience.

The wedding took place at St Paul's Cathedral in London on Wednesday July 29 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, the future James II of England. Upon her marriage, Diana became Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales and was immediately ranked as the most senior royal woman in the United Kingdom, after the Queen and the Queen Mother.

Charles and Diana had two children, William Arthur Philip Louis Windsor on June 21, 1982 and Henry Charles Albert David Windsor (commonly called Prince Harry) on September 15, 1984.

After the birth of William, the Princess of Wales suffered from post-natal depression. She later developed bulimia nervosa, and made a number of suicide attempts. In one interview, released after her death, she claimed that, while pregnant with William, she threw herself down a set of stairs and was discovered by her mother-in-law.

It has been suggested that Diana did not, in fact, intend to end her life (or that the suicide attempts never took place) and that she was merely making a 'cry for help'. In the same interview where she told of the suicide attempt while pregnant with William, she said that Charles had accused her of crying wolf when she threatened to kill herself. But, if the suicide attempts did take place, there was certainly a significant risk that she would miscarry her baby.

In the mid 1980s her marriage fell apart, an event at first suppressed and then sensationalised by the world media. Both the Prince and Princess of Wales spoke to the press through friends, accusing each other of adultery. Charles had resumed his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles, while Diana had become involved with a series of men, including James Gilby , (the so-called Squidgygate affair). She later confirmed (in a television interview with Martin Bashir) that she had also had an affair with her riding instructor, James Hewitt. (Theoretically, such an affair constituted high treason by both parties.) Another of her lovers reportedly was a bodyguard assigned to the princess's security detail, as well as art dealer Oliver Hoare .

The Prince and Princess of Wales separated on December 9, 1992; their divorce was finalised on August 28, 1996. The Princess lost the style of Her Royal Highness, and became Diana, Princess of Wales, a titular distinction befitting a divorced peeress. However, Buckingham Palace at that time, and to this day, maintains that, 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. These tapes have not been broadcast in the United Kingdom.

Charity work

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 [2], 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 villages.

The pictures of Diana touring a minefield, in a ballistic helmet and flak jacket, were seen worldwide. But 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[3] 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. [4]

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 USA) to sign the Ottawa Treaty forbidding their production and use, for which Diana had campaigned. Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of 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". [5]


The Flame of Liberty, which sits above the entrance to the Paris tunnel in which Diana died. The public fly-posted the base with commemorative material for several years. The monument has now been cleaned up.
The Flame of Liberty, which sits above the entrance to the Paris tunnel in which Diana died. The public fly-posted the base with commemorative material for several years. The monument has now been cleaned up.


On August 31, 1997 Diana was involved in a car accident in the Pont de l'Alma road tunnel in Paris, along with her romantic companion Dodi Al-Fayed, their driver Henri Paul, and Al-Fayed's bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones.

Late in the evening of Saturday the 30th, Diana and Al-Fayed departed the Hôtel Ritz in Place Vendome, Paris, and drove along the north bank of the Seine. At 00:25 on the 31st, 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, some of the photographers continued to take pictures.

Dodi Al-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 from attempts to stabilize her at the scene, she was taken by ambulance to Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, arriving there shortly after 02:00 [6]. Despite attempts to save her, her internal injuries were too extensive. At 04:00 that morning, the doctors pronounced her dead. At 05:30, her death was announced at a press conference held by a hospital doctor, Jean-Pierre Chevènement (France's Interior Minister), and Michael Jay (Britain's ambassador to France).

Later that morning Chevenement, French prime minister Lionel Jospin, the wife of French President Jacques Chirac, and French health minister Bernard Kouchner visited the hospital room where Diana's body was laid and paid their last respects. After their visits, the Anglican archbishop of France, Father Martin Draper , said commendatory prayers from the Book of Common Prayer.

Around 17:00 the Prince of Wales and Diana's two sisters arrived in Paris to collect Diana's body. They left with her body 90 minutes later.

Subsequent events

Initial media reports stated that Diana's car had collided with the pillar at over 190 km/h (120 mph), and that the speedometer's needle had jammed at that position. But it was later announced that the car's actual speed on collision was about 95-110 km/h (59-68 mph), and that the speedometer had no needle as it was digital. The car was certainly travelling much faster than the legal speed limit of 50 km/h (30 mph), and faster than was prudent for the Alma underpass. In 1999 a French investigation concluded that the Mercedes had come into contact with another vehicle (a white Fiat Uno) in the tunnel. The driver of that vehicle has never come forward, and the vehicle itself has not been found.

The investigators concluded that the crash was an accident brought on by an intoxicated driver attempting to elude pursuing paparazzi at high speed.

In November 2003, Christian Martinez and Fabrice Chassery, the photographers who took photos of the casualties after the crash, and Jacques Langevin, who took photos as the couple left the Ritz Hotel, were cleared of breaching French privacy laws [7]

On January 6, 2004, an inquest into the death of Diana opened in London held by Michael Burgess, the coroner of The Queen's Household.

Accident or assassination?

Debate rages between those who believe she was assassinated, and those who believe she died as the result of an accident.

The French investigators' conclusion that Henri Paul was drunk was made largely on the basis of an analysis of blood samples, which were stated to contain an alcohol level that (according to Ambassador Jay's September 1997 report) was three times the legal limit. This initial analysis was challenged by a British pathologist hired by the Al-Fayeds; in response, French authorities carried out a third test, this time using the medically more conclusive fluid from the sclera (white of the eye), which confirmed the level of alcohol measured by blood and also showed Paul had been taking antidepressants. [8].

The samples also were said to contain a level of carbon monoxide sufficiently high as to have prevented him from driving a car (or even from standing up). Some maintain this strongly indicates that the samples were tampered with. No official DNA test has been carried out on the samples, and Henri Paul's family has not been allowed to commission independent tests on them.

The families of Dodi Al-Fayed and Henri Paul have not accepted the French investigators' findings. In the Scottish courts, Mohamed Al-Fayed applied for an order directing that there be a public inquiry and is to appeal against the denial of his application. Fayed, for his part, stands by his belief that the Princess and his son were killed in an elaborate conspiracy launched by SIS (MI6) on the orders of the "racist" Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, apparently believing that the duke abhorred the idea of his grandsons potentially having Muslim or half-Arab siblings. (Al Fayed has repeatedly claimed that Prince Philip controls SIS.)

Motivations which have been advanced for murder include suggestions that Diana intended to convert to Islam, and that she was pregnant with Dodi's child. In January 2004, the former coroner of the Queen's Household, Dr John Burton, said (in an interview with The Times) that he attended a post-mortem examination of the princess's body at Fulham mortuary in which he personally examined her womb and found her not to be pregnant.

Later in 2004, US TV network CBS showed pictures of the crash scene showing an intact rear side and an intact centre section of the Mercedes, including one of a unbloodied Diana with no outward injuries, crouched on the rear floor of the vehicle with her back to the right passenger seat - the right rear car door is completely opened. These pictures caused uproar in the UK, and spurred another lawsuit by Mohammed Al-Fayed.

Rumours and conspiracies aside, it must be noted that Diana, Dodi, and Paul were not wearing seat belts when the car crashed. Rees-Jones, the only survivor, had his seat belt on. Also, the underpass at the Place de l'Alma is known as an accident black spot; it is on a stretch of high-speed road but only has limited visibility ahead in places, and there are square-shaped pillars in the central reservation which could lead to collisions.

Funeral and public reaction

Diana's death was greeted with extraordinary public grief, and her funeral at Westminster Abbey on September 6 drew an estimated 3 million [9] mourners and worldwide television coverage. People in India saw the funeral, even though it was during the nine emotional days in their country that marked the death and state funeral of Mother Teresa, who had died the day before.

More than one million bouquets were left at her London home, Kensington Palace, while at her family estate of Althorp the public was asked to stop bringing flowers as the volume of people and flowers in the surrounding roads was causing a threat to public safety.

The reaction of the Royal family to the death of Diana caused unprecedented resentment and outcry. The House of Windsor's rigid adherence to protocol was intepreted by the public as a lack of compassion; the refusal of Buckingham Palace to fly the Union Jack at half staff provoked angry headlines in newspapers. "Where is our Queen? Where is our Flag?" asked The Sun. The Queen, who returned to London from Balmoral, agreed to do a television broadcast to the nation. At the urging of Downing Street, what was to be a recorded piece became a live broadcast and the script was revised by Alastair Campbell to be more "human".

Mourners cast flowers at the funeral procession for almost the entire length of its journey. There was something of a festive atmosphere outside Westminster Abbey as the crowds cheered the dozens of celebrities who filed inside, including singer Sir Elton John (who performed a re-written version of his song Candle in the Wind), actor Tom Cruise, director Steven Spielberg, and British tycoon Richard Branson. The service was televised live throughout the world, even in India, which lost Mother Teresa just the day before, and loudspeakers were placed outside so the crowds could hear the proceedings. Tradition was defied when the guests applauded the speech by Diana's brother, Lord Spencer, who bitterly attacked the press, and indirectly criticised the royal family, for their treatment of her. (Lord Spencer had earlier refused Diana permission to use Althorp, the Spencer Estate, as a sanctuary due to his fears about press intrusion into his family home.)

She is buried at Althorp in Northamptonshire on an island in the middle of a lake on her family's estate. A visitors' centre allows visitors to see an exhibition about her and walk around the lake [10].

During the four weeks following her funeral, the overall suicide rate in England and Wales rose by 17%, compared with the average reported for that period in the four previous years. Researchers suggest that this was caused by the "identification" effect, as the greatest increase in suicides was by people most similar to Diana: women aged 25 to 44, whose suicide rate increased by over 45% [11].

In the aftermath of her death, interest in the life of Diana remains high. Numerous manufacturers of collectibles continue to produce Diana merchandise. Some suggested making Diana a saint, stirring much controversy.

As a temporary memorial, the public co-opted the Flamme de Liberté (Flame of Liberty), a monument near the Alma Tunnel, and related to the French donation of the Statue of Liberty to the United States. The messages of condolence have since been removed, and its use as a Diana memorial has discontinued, though visitors visit and still leave messages at the site in her memory. However, the concrete wall at the edge of the tunnel is still used as an impromptu memorial for people to write their thoughts and feelings about Diana. A permanent memorial, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain was opened in Hyde Park in London on July 6, 2004, but it has been plagued with problems and has been declared off-limits to the public at least once for repairs.

Diana was ranked third in the (2002) Great Britons poll sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the British public.

In 2003, Marvel Comics announced it was to publish a five-part series entitled Di Another Day (a reference to the James Bond film Die Another Day) featuring a resurrected Diana, Princess of Wales as a mutant with superpowers, as part of Peter Milligan's X-Statix title. Amidst considerable (and predictable) outcry, the idea was quickly dropped. Heliograph Incorporated produced a roleplaying game Diana: Warrior Princess by Marcus L. Rowland about a fictionalised version of the twentieth century as it might be seen a thousand years from now.

After her death, the actor Kevin Costner claimed that he had been in negotiations with the divorced princess to co-star in a sequel to the thriller film "The Bodyguard," which starred Costner and Whitney Houston.


  • From 1961 until 1975, Diana was known as The Honourable Diana Frances Spencer.
  • From 1975, when her father inherited the Earldom of Spencer, until 1981, Diana was known as The Lady Diana Frances Spencer.
  • From her marriage to His Royal Highness The Prince Charles, Prince of Wales on Wednesday, July 29, 1981 until their divorce was finalized on August 28, 1996, Diana was officially known as Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales.
  • From August 28, 1996 onwards, she was officially known as Diana, Princess of Wales.

She was dubbed "Princess Diana" by general acclaim. This form, however, implies she was a blood Royal, which she was not, and during her lifetime, Diana made a point of correcting people who used it.


Prior to her marriage, much research was done into Diana's lineage by genealogists. It was much publicized that her ancestry included links to individuals such as Hollywood screen legend Humphrey Bogart (who was her 7th cousin), and poet Edmund Spenser, the author of The Faerie Queen [12]. Actor Oliver Platt is more closely related; both he and Diana, Princess of Wales are descendants of Frances Work, a late 19th-century American heiress who was briefly the wife of the Hon. James Burke Roche, later 3rd Baron Fermoy.

Preceded by:
Mary of Teck
Princess of Wales Followed by:
Camilla Parker Bowles

See also

External links

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