People PEOPLE Diana: Her Life and Legacy

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13 min
losing diana

THE FIRST TIME PEOPLE MAGAZINE printed the name of Lady Diana Spencer, it was in a column in the fall of 1979 linking (via a single shooting excursion) the 17-year-old daughter of an earl to the Queen’s eligible middle son, Prince Andrew, then 19. She wouldn’t appear in these pages again until March 1981, with her engagement to Prince Charles. Our final story on Diana in her lifetime came 16 years later, in early August 1997. She had been legally single for a year, and on the eve of a trip to Bosnia for a land-mine charity, she dined in London with her new boyfriend Dodi Fayed. “Diana,” one royals watcher told People, “is besotted.” Further stories would certainly have been about this new romance, which Diana wasn’t coy about hiding,…

4 min
growing up in the shadow of the crown

DIANA SPENCER WAS BORN to a family with a centuries-old position at the top of the British aristocracy: titles, grand homes, exclusive boarding schools. And the first six years of her life were indeed an idyll of pet ponies and visits from royal Princes Andrew and Edward to her backyard pool at Park House, the 10-bedroom mansion the Spencers occupied on the Queen’s Sandringham estate. (Her majesty, unbelievably, was pool-less.) Then, in 1967, when Diana was 6, it all came to a shattering end with the acrimonious divorce of her father, Viscount Althorp (known as Johnnie), and her mother, Frances, and the contentious custody battle waged over Diana, older sisters Sarah and Jane and younger brother Charles. (Johnnie won, Frances having run off with a wallpaper magnate she would later marry.)…

3 min
a shy teacher steps onto the world stage

FOR A BRIEF SPELL, Diana Spencer was just another young working woman of means making her way in London. Having begged her parents to let her leave school and ditch rural Northamptonshire for the bustling capital, she decorated the Earls Court flat her mother bought her for her 18th birthday (paying around $100,000) with trendy touches from Conran’s and got three girlfriends to move in. “I laughed my head off there,” Diana said, but it wasn’t all just shopping and looking for Mr. Right in the trendy bars near Sloane Square. (“Sloane rangers” was the era’s term of art for her posh set.) Two days a week the future Princess of Wales was a nanny for an American oil executive and his family, earning a princely $5 an hour. “We…

3 min
the wedding of the century

HERE IS THE stuff of which fairy tales are made,” intoned the Archbishop of Canterbury on July 29, 1981. No one could disagree. Before him in the cavernous, baroque splendor of St. Paul’s Cathedral stood 21 TV cameras and a young bride, Diana Spencer, 20. Beside her was Britain’s Prince Charles, heir to the throne and nervous groom, 32. Behind the pair—who each, perhaps prophetically, flubbed a line during their vows—were 2,500 invited guests and thousands of deliriously happy Londoners (not to mention the 750 million TV viewers from 50 countries) gathered outside to gape at a level of pageantry not seen since the coronation of Charles’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in 1953. How could they not? Five months after Europe’s most eligible prince gave the blushing former kindergarten assistant a…

4 min
a young mum finds a place in public life

DESPITE THE SEEDS OF the trouble ahead—photos of Camilla Parker Bowles fell out of his datebook during their honeymoon—the early years of their marriage had happy times. Charles and Diana would “call each other darling, and they mean it,” said one observer. While she was all vivid emotion and he a study in royal reserve, the pair attempted to find a happy place where both could thrive. He would be at her side at film openings and galas, bemused as his increasingly confident young wife sent flashbulbs exploding. In turn Diana would deign to join Charles for rustic tramps on the grounds of his beloved country estate Highgrove or the rocky streams dotting the family’s private Brigadoon, Scotland’s Balmoral. Certainly it helped that the pair had common cause to celebrate: the…

4 min
happy in public, miserable in private

“I TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILITY THAT OUR MARRIAGE WENT THE WAY IT DID. I’LL TAKE HALF OF IT, BUT I WON’T TAKE ANY MORE THAN THAT, BECAUSE IT TAKES TWO TO GET IN THIS SITUATION”—DIANA TO THE BBC WHEN DOES A marriage that once lifted the monarchy’s popularity threaten to undo it? As would soon become apparent to more than just Diana: Charles was in love with Camilla Parker Bowles. An increasingly moody and depressed Diana grew more isolated in the palace and Charles more and more often sought refuge outside of it. “Why do you make Mummy cry so much?” a young William once reportedly shouted at his father. The Palace publicity machine worked overtime trying to keep the answer under wraps. Behind closed doors some blamed Charles. Schedule-wise, “he carries on…