Beyond the Crown: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Princess Diana
By Jack Ripley | October 6, 2023
The People's Princess Is Born, 1961
Welcome to an extraordinary journey through the life of Diana, Princess of Wales - a woman who embodied compassion, broke boundaries, and became the People's Princess. Born into British nobility and catapulted onto the global stage through her marriage to Prince Charles, Diana's life was a constant intertwining of personal trials and public scrutiny. Yet, she navigated her world with a grace and humanity that resonated deeply with people from all walks of life.
This gallery will invite you to delve deeper into Diana's life - from her idyllic childhood to the dizzying heights of her royal engagement and wedding, the joyous birth of her two sons, and her brave stand for the causes close to her heart. You'll also witness the personal struggles she faced, the evolution of her relationship with the royal family, and her bold steps towards creating an independent identity.
Finally, we confront the tragic end that came too soon, in the form of a car crash in a Parisian tunnel that sent shockwaves around the world. Yet, even in death, Diana's legacy lives on. So, step inside and immerse yourself in the captivating life story of a woman who was not just a royal, but a force of nature, a beacon of hope, and an icon of the 20th century.
Born in July 1961 to the noble family of the Spencers, Diana's early childhood was spent in the stately grandeur of Park House, a Georgian-style manor in the small hamlet of Sandringham, Norfolk. Later, the family would move to the Althorp House in Northamptonshire, which Diana considered home - and where she would later be buried.
A former employee of the Althorp House reminisced on how they believed it's what the princess would have wanted:
Looking back, [living here] was probably the happiest time of her life. You get the sense that she is coming home. Her father is buried here. I’m sure it is what she would have wanted.
A Fractured Family, 1967
Her upbringing was not without its issues - her parents, John Spencer, Viscount Althorp, and Frances Shand Kydd, had a troubled marriage, and were divorced by the time Diana was six years old. Frances had fallen in love with another man, and John was awarded custody of Diana and all her siblings - her younger brother Charles, and two older sisters, Sarah and Jane. Charles, with whom Diana was very close, said their father was a "quiet and constant source of love". On the other hand, Diana never felt able to fully rely on her mother again after that, and kept her at an arm's length:
My mother let me down terribly...she drove me mad … It was me that was being strong and her sobbing the whole time.
Dreams of Dancing, 1973
While her early schooling was a combination of home tutors and Riddlesworth Hall, a preparatory boarding school in Norfolk, Diana's later school years were spent at West Heath Girls' School. Despite struggling academically, Diana flourished in her interpersonal relationships, and her innate kindness left a lasting impact on her schoolmates. She had a profound love for the arts, particularly dancing, and harboured dreams of becoming a ballerina.
She Was Just 16 When She Met Prince Charles, 1977
I remember thinking what a very jolly and amusing and attractive 16-year-old she was. I mean great fun, bouncy and full of life and everything.
His relationship with Sarah was short-lived, but he and Diana didn't reconnect till a few years later, at the house of a mutual friend.
Working Girl, 1980
Despite being a part of the British nobility, Diana led a relatively ordinary life for her status. By 1980 she had moved to London and lived with three flatmates in a modest apartment in Coleherne Court, a far cry from the opulence of her family's ancestral estate. She worked part-time at the Young England Kindergarten in Pimlico, a job she thoroughly enjoyed, and also did work nannying. Diana’s fondness for children was well-known, and the joy she found in her jobs hinted at the nurturing, maternal figure she would later become to her two sons.
A Chance Encounter, 1980
1980 was also the year that Diana reconnected with Prince Charles at a mutual friend's house during a barbecue. Charles, then under mounting pressure to marry, was struck by Diana's charm and empathy. A poignant moment during this meeting occurred when Diana comforted Charles over the death of his beloved great-uncle and mentor, Lord Mountbatten. Her sincere compassion during his moment of vulnerability left a deep impression on Charles, and he began courting her in the months that followed.
The Engagement Announcement, 1981
The official engagement announcement came in the form of a televised interview in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Diana was only 19, and Charles, 32. When asked if they are in love, Diana, her eyes gleaming, responded with a soft, "Of course," to which Charles added, somewhat infamously, "Whatever 'in love' means." This statement, though seemingly innocent in the moment, would later come to haunt the narrative of their relationship.
The Engagement Continues, 1981
Throughout their brief, six-month engagement, Prince Charles was still in constant and intimate communication with his ex-girlfriend, Camilla Parker Bowles - who was married, by the way, and had been for around seven years at this point. Sources even say he would call her at least once a day:
The Prince simply had to be in constant contact with Camilla or he couldn’t function properly. If he went without his daily phone call, he would become tetchy and ill-tempered.
A Royal Wedding, 1981
The 29th of July, 1981, dawned to a world abuzz with excitement. An estimated 750 million people around the globe tuned in to witness what seemed to be a real-life fairy tale unfolding - the Royal Wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles. 3,500 distinguished guests, from royalty to politicians, from celebrities to diplomats, filled the ornate St. Paul's Cathedral in London. The selection of this venue over the traditional Westminster Abbey symbolized the couple's desire for a touch of modernity amid centuries-old royal traditions.
Diana, only 20 years old, wore a gown designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, adorned with over 10,000 pearls and featuring a spectacular 25-foot train, the longest in royal history. During the ceremony, she notably omitted the promise to "obey" her husband, a decision that sent ripples through the traditionalist factions, yet hinted at Diana's quiet strength and independent spirit.
Sailing Off Into The Sunset, 1981
Their first destination on the royal honeymoon was the Broadlands in Hampshire, an elegant English country house that held sentimental value for Prince Charles. It was where his parents, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, had spent the first part of their own honeymoon. The couple spent three days there, then boarded the royal yacht Britannia for an eleven-day cruise through the Mediterranean. Following the cruise, Charles and Diana flew to Scotland, where they spent time at Balmoral Castle, the Queen's holiday home in the Scottish Highlands. Despite the idyllic locations and private moments, Diana later revealed that the honeymoon was a challenging time for her. Charles was still in contact with Camilla, and even receiving gifts from her while on the trip:
On our honeymoon, cufflinks arrive on his wrists, two C’s entwined like the Chanel ‘C’. Got it. One knew exactly. So I said, ‘Camilla gave you those, didn’t she?’ He said ‘Yes, so what’s wrong? They’re a present from a friend.’ And boy, did we have a row. Jealousy, total jealousy. And it was such a good idea – the two ‘C’s – but it wasn’t that clever.
Struggles Beneath The Surface, 1981
While Prince Charles continued his blatant affair with Camilla, Diana struggled with health issues alone. Dealing with the torment of the affair and the pressure of the public eye, the Princess developed bulimia during their engagement. Her bulimia only began to worsen after the honeymoon:
[During our engagement], my husband put his hand on my waistline and said: ‘Oh, a bit chubby here, aren’t we?’ and that triggered off something in me. And the Camilla thing. I was desperate, desperate. I remember the first time I made myself sick. I was so thrilled because I thought this was the release of tension.
Pink, Pregnant, Polo, 1982
Diana's first pregnancy was announced in November of 1981, just a few months after the wedding. She continued her royal duties throughout her pregnancy, her burgeoning baby bump visible beneath her fashionable maternity clothes. These appearances challenged the traditional perception of royal pregnancies, which had typically been a more private affair. However, Diana's pregnancy was not without difficulties. She suffered from severe morning sickness in conjunction with her preexisting bulimia:
Every time I stood up I was sick...sick the whole time, bulimia and morning sickness. Every time at Balmoral, Sandringham or Windsor, in my evening dress I had to go out I either fainted or was sick.
William is Born In Between Polo Matches, 1982
When we had William, we had to find a date in the diary that suited Charles and his polo. William had to be induced because I couldn’t handle the press pressure any longer, it was becoming unbearable. It was as if everyone was monitoring every day for me. Anyway, the boy arrived, great excitement. Thrilled, everyone absolutely high as a kite – we had found a date where Charles could get off his polo pony for me to give birth. That was very nice, felt grateful about that!
Harry Is Born, 1984
Two years after the birth of Prince William, the royal household was again filled with excitement and anticipation at the announcement of Princess Diana's second pregnancy. On September 15, 1984, Diana gave birth to her second son, Henry Charles Albert David, known to the world as Prince Harry. In an echo of William's birth, Harry was also born in St. Mary's Hospital, and the news of his birth was joyously received by the waiting public. However, according to Diana, around Harry's birth was when her strained marriage completely collapsed:
[Charles and I] were very, very close to each other the six weeks before Harry was born, the closest we've ever, ever been and ever will be. Then suddenly as Harry was born it just went bang, our marriage, the whole thing went down the drain.
Diana Was "The Best Mum", 1985
Came home [after William's birth] and then postnatal depression hit me hard and it wasn’t much the baby that had produced it, it was the baby that triggered off all else that was going on in my mind. Boy, was I troubled.
Despite her struggles, she excelled at raising her boys - both of them only speak fondly of her, referring to her as "the best mum in the world".
She Shocked An Audience With "Uptown Girl", 1985
In 1985, Diana wowed the audience of the Royal Opera House in London with a surprise dance routine. She had secretly rehearsed with ballet dancer Wayne Sleep to perform a routine to Billy Joel's hit song "Uptown Girl." It was a surprise planned for her husband, Prince Charles, who was in the audience that evening. The sight of the Princess of Wales, dancing with abandon and clearly enjoying herself, was a delightful surprise to all present, except Charles, according to one of Diana's biographers, Tina Brown:
It was embarrassingly clear that he had not been ravished by the spectacle of his wife en pointe. His disappointing response, when it leaked, was interpreted as frigid disapproval of Diana's lapse in royal etiquette.
Diana Fever, 1986
From the moment her relationship with Prince Charles was announced, Diana captivated the public imagination. She was young, beautiful, and seemed to represent a breath of fresh air in the often staid and traditional world of the British monarchy. The press and the public couldn't get enough of her. Diana Fever grew more intense as the years went on. She wasn't afraid to break royal protocol, to get her hands dirty, to connect with people on a deeply human level. She was seen as a royal who was in touch with the realities of everyday people, and this endeared her to millions.
In Pursuit of A Normal Life, 1987
Princes William and Harry have spoken nothing but fondly of their mother, saying that she was much more focused on being a mother rather than royalty. Diana was very focused on giving her children as normal a life as possible. Diana was determined to give her sons a taste of a life outside the royal bubble, to let them understand the world and its many varied experiences.
She took them to amusement parks and fast-food restaurants, rode the tube and the bus with them, and even took them to visit homeless shelters and hospitals. These weren't the typical experiences of royal children, but Diana was far from a typical royal. She wanted her sons to grow up understanding that privilege comes with a responsibility to give back. Despite her public duties and the media frenzy that constantly surrounded her, Diana made sure that her children were always her priority, according to her son William:
She always understood that there was life outside of palace walls. My mother cherished those moments of privacy and being able to be that mother, rather than the Princess of Wales.
Confronting Camilla, 1989
Diana didn't take Charles' ongoing affair with Camilla lying down. On at least one occasion, the People's Princess confronted Charles' affair partner face-to-face, although she was intimidated by her. Diana demanded respect at a birthday party, when she found Camilla and Charles chatting it up on a couch:
I'd just like you to know that I know exactly what is going on.
When Camilla remarked that Diana could have all the men she wanted, the Princess remarked that she simply wanted her husband.
The People's Princess, 1991
Connected to over 100 different charities, Princess Diana's humanitarian work was one of the defining aspects of her life. Though her work with HIV/AIDS and landmines is the best known, she was also a patron of the Leprosy Mission, an organization dedicated to leprosy care and research. As a mother, she had a particular affection for children and worked with numerous children's charities, serving as President of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. Homelessness was another cause that was close to Diana's heart: She was a patron of Centrepoint, a UK-based charity providing housing and support to homeless young people, and often brought her sons to volunteer at the shelters, which inspired William to continue with his own patronage:
My mother introduced that sort of area to me a long time ago. It was a real eye-opener and I am very glad she did. It has been something I have held close to me for a long time
A Royal Separation, 1992
By 1992, Diana and Charles were separated, and though they wouldn't divorce for several years, they proceeded to carve out separate lives for themselves. The official announcement said that the separation was amicable, but it seemed to be pushed, both by the media and by Charles:
Were we going to stay together or were we going to separate? The word separation and divorce kept coming up in the media on a daily basis. We could see what the public were requiring. They wanted clarity of a situation that was obviously becoming intolerable...My husband asked for the separation and I supported it.Afterwards, Diana pursued her own interests, threw herself into her charity work, and became increasingly independent. She continued to visit with leprosy and HIV/Aids patients, working to dispel the stigma surrounding their illnesses. In the meantime, Charles, of course, continued his pursuit of Camilla.
Not Afraid of Fun, 1993
Both before and after her separation with Charles, Diana remained a hands-on and devoted mother. She made sure to expose William and Harry to all walks of life, which was something new to the royal family. She brought them to theme parks - and even made them wait in line! Both of her children recall her being full of fun and enthusiasm, with a strong zest for life:
Our mother was a total kid, through and through. When everybody says to me, 'So she was fun, give us an example,' all I can hear is her laugh in my head. That sort of crazy laugh of where there was just pure happiness shown on her face.
The Camillagate scandal was centered around a private telephone conversation between Charles and Camilla that was widely leaked to the public in 1993, but recorded in 1989 - when Diana and Charles were still very much together. The conversation was intimate in nature, and its release was deeply embarrassing for both parties involved, making it clear that Charles and Camilla had been having an affair while he was still married to Diana. In the recording, Charles speaks of wanting to "fill [Camilla's] tank", and wanting to "live inside her trousers", among other things. Camillagate sparked a backlash against Charles and Camilla, and sympathy grew for Princess Diana. However, despite the damage caused by Camillagate, Charles and Camilla's relationship continued.
The Revenge Dress, 1994
As Diana was preparing to attend the Serpentine Gallery Summer party in 1994, Prince Charles's televised documentary was being aired. This was an attempt to gain some sympathy for him following their separation, but his confession of infidelity did the opposite. In the documentary, Charles admitted to his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, effectively putting an end to the long-standing speculation surrounding his relationship. While Britain was tuning into the documentary, Diana made a decision. She would go to the party as planned, but with a change in her wardrobe.
She chose a black, off-the-shoulder dress designed by Christina Stambolian. The form-fitting dress was a far cry from the conservative outfits she had previously favored. The press went into a frenzy, and the dress quickly became known as the "revenge dress" for its symbolic defiance of the royal family's conservative style and as an assertion of Diana's independence during a moment of personal crisis.
Divorced But Coparenting, 1996
In August 1996, following Queen Elizabeth II's suggestion for the couple to formally end their marriage, Prince Charles and Princess Diana arrived at a final settlement. Diana accepted a sizeable financial agreement, which also allowed her to maintain her Kensington Palace apartments and her "Princess of Wales" title. However, she agreed to give up the title "Her Royal Highness" and relinquished any prospective rights to the British monarchy.
The official announcement stated that the decision to separate had been amicable and mutual, and that they would share custody of their two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. The boys split time between the two parents, although there aren't any fun pictures with them with Charles at a theme park, just saying.
Diana Challenged The Stigma of HIV/AIDS, 1996
In the 1980s and 90s, there was a huge, deadly stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, and Diana was one of the first high-profile figures to publicly interact with people living with the disease. In 1987, she opened the UK's first purpose-built HIV/AIDs unit at London Middlesex Hospital, and continued her work with HIV/AIDS awareness until her death in 1997. Diana famously would shake hands with patients without wearing gloves, challenging the widespread myth that HIV/AIDS could be passed via casual contact. Her speech in 1991 urging people to compassion was, at the time, groundbreaking:
HIV does not make people dangerous to know. You can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it. What's more, you can share their homes, their workplaces, and their playgrounds and toys. We all need to be alert to the special needs of those for whom AIDS is the last straw in already heavy burden of discrimination and misfortune.
She Celebrated Her Last Birthday At A Gala, 1997
Princess Diana's final birthday, on July 1, 1997, was celebrated amidst a significant turning point in her life. It came less than a year after her divorce from Prince Charles had been finalized and just two months before her untimely death. In the months leading up to her 36th birthday, Diana had been focused on continuing her longstanding humanitarian work and rebuilding her life, but that night, she attended a fundraiser celebrating the Tate Gallery's Centenary in London. She took time outside to warmly interact with fans and well-wishers, as always, who gifted her flowers and cards. This was the last time her brother, Earl Spencer, saw her alive:
The last time I saw Diana was on July 1, her birthday in London, when typically she was not taking time to celebrate her special day with friends but was guest of honor at a special charity fundraising evening. She sparkled, of course.
She Walked Through Landmines, 1997
In January 1997, the People's Princess made headlines once again - this time for walking through an active minefield. Diana was working with the Red Cross in Angola to raise awareness about the danger of unexploded landmines in war-torn countries. This effort contributed to the signing of the Ottawa Treaty in December 1997, which aimed to eliminate the use of anti-personnel mines globally. Activist Chris Whatley says that Diana's walk is still showing effects:
You could see that the presence of all that infrastructure, all those people, the houses on one side, people on their balconies cheering, all of that is a result of her presence 25 years ago. Had she not showed up there, this would still be a bombed-out hulk of a street... The imagery of that visit itself was just so compelling. Every American put that image in their head even if they're not that interested in foreign affairs.
Diana's Last Moments, 1997
The world was shaken to its core on August 31, 1997, by the tragic news that Princess Diana had died in a car crash in Paris at only 36 years old. The accident happened in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel in Paris when the Mercedes-Benz carrying Diana and her partner Dodi Fayed, along with their bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, crashed while attempting to escape from pursuing paparazzi. Diana and Fayed were fatally injured in the crash; Rees-Jones was the only survivor.
Prince Harry, then twelve years old, was shellshocked when his father told him the news of his mother's death:
What I do remember with stunning clarity is that I did not cry. Not a tear. My father did not hug me.
Diana's Funeral and Legacy, 1997
The week following Diana's death was a tumultuous one for Britain. Thousands of mourners gathered outside Kensington Palace, Diana's residence, laying mountains of flowers, candles, and personal notes. Diana's funeral on September 6, 1997, was watched by an estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide. A sombre procession through London led to Westminster Abbey, where the funeral service was held. Princes William and Harry were 15 and 12 respectively, and made to hold back their tears as they joined the funeral procession, as they were allegedly warned by father, "don't cry, you walk".
Elton John performed a reworked version of "Candle in the Wind", a song originally dedicated to Marilyn Monroe, now with lyrics adapted for Diana. Diana was later laid to rest at Althorp, her family's estate, on a private island in the middle of a lake. Her legacy, Prince Harry says, lives on through her sons, her charity work, and her influence on the royal family:
In the 12 short years I was lucky enough to have with her, I saw and felt the energy and lift she got from helping others, no matter their background, ailment or status. Her life and theirs was better for it, however short theirs or hers was. I honor my mother in everything I do. I am my mother's son.
Diana's life, though short, made an impact that continues to resonate with people worldwide. The People's Princess will forever be remembered for her radiant spirit and her compassionate heart.