“I don’t go by the rule book…I lead by the heart, not the head.”
Diana, Princess of Wales, 1961-1997
Diana, Princess of Wales, 1961-1997
Known as “the People’s Princess,” Diana, Princess of Wales is remembered for her compassion, her love of children, and her fearless charity work for HIV/AIDS, leprosy and the banning of landmines. She had a human touch and charisma never seen before amongst the royal family and connected with people of all ages and backgrounds. Her charity work was so important to her life that upon her death, members of the organizations she worked with formed the funeral procession alongside the royal family and her sons William, 15 and Harry, 12.
Lady Diana Spencer was born into an aristocratic British family in Norfolk, England. As a child, she was musical, and became an accomplished pianist. Following boarding school and finishing school in Switzerland, Spencer moved out of her father’s stately family home to start what seemed like a normal life, living with roommates in a London flat, and working as a nanny, and later a kindergarten assistant. Spencer had known Prince Charles as a neighbour and family friend growing up, but was reunited with him at a weekend away. In 1981, when she was 20, it was announced they would marry, and her life—and modern British history—would never be the same.
With her beauty and innocent demeanor, Spencer became an instant media and public sensation, earning the sobriquet “Shy Di.” Hundreds of millions of people watched the televised wedding at St. Paul’s Cathedral, when Spencer became the first Englishwoman to marry an heir to the throne in 300 years. Her train was 25 feet long, she wore the Spencer family diamond tiara, and carried a bouquet of gardenias, lilies-of-the-valley, white freesia, golden roses, white orchids and stephanotis.
The Princess’s first official duty on her own was to attend the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco, who had died prematurely following a terrible car accident. A scriptwriter could not have penned a better example of foreshadowing.
The Prince and Princess had children right away, with Prince William arriving in 1982, followed by Prince Henry (Harry) in 1984. The young family travelled extensively in the British Commonwealth and beyond on official visits and the Princess became president or patron to more than 100 charities. During the 1980s she was undoubtedly one of the best known and beloved women in the world. The Princess also became a style icon, supporting young British designers, and her evolving hair styles were closely watched and copied.
But while she put on a happy face in public, there was sand in that oyster. The Princess was suffering from postnatal depression and an eating disorder, and there were admissions of infidelity on both sides of the troubled marriage.
In 1992 the Princess and Prince Charles agreed to separate, and she gave a much watched interview in which she expressed her unhappiness in her private life and with the public pressures of royal duties. After their divorce, she continued to be regarded as a member of the royal family living at Kensington Palace, and given her immense popularity, continued on in a public role, although in a more limited capacity. Famously, she brought sons William and Harry with her to hospitals and on humanitarian trips so that they would not be shielded from the tragedy and atrocities that she made it her life’s work to heal.
The Princess remained one of the most photographed women in the world, and was constantly pursued by the paparazzi. It was on one such occasion in Paris that the car she was riding in was involved in a high-speed chase that ended in a fatal accident, killing her companion Dodi Fayed, the car’s driver, and ultimately the Princess, after several hours of emergency surgeries, at the age of 36.
The entire world went into mourning. Pop icon Elton John rewrote his hit song “Candle in the Wind” in her memory, including these lyrics:
Goodbye England’s Rose;
May you Ever Grow in our Hearts.
You Were the Grace that Placed Itself
Where Lives Were Torn Apart.
It became the top single of all time, selling 30 million copies.