Princess Diana

A privileged youth, a tragic death

by David Johnson

Biographies of the Royal Family


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The tragic death of Princess Diana in a Paris car crash on August 31, 1997, generated an intense outpouring of grief. Millions of people said they identified with her quest for happiness and her sense of altruism. In her memory, the Diana, Princess of Wales' Memorial Playground opened in June 2000 in London. That was one of the many tributes to the beloved princess.

A Privileged Youth

Diana was descended from the Stuart kings, and her family, the Spencers, is one of the more illustrious in England. They have lived at Althorp, the family estate, since 1508.

Born on July 1, 1961, Diana had two older sisters, Sarah and Jane, and a younger brother, Charles. When she was just six years old, her parents went through a bitter divorce. Her father, Earl Spencer later remarried Raine, Countess of Dartmouth.

Diana was educated at Riddlesworth Hall, a preparatory school in Norfolk, and later at the West Heath school. She excelled at music, dance, and home economics. She also attended the Institut Alpin Vidermanette in Switzerland.

Diana's Work With AIDS Charities
By publicly shaking hands with an AIDS patient, Diana helped dispel the myth that the disease was spread by simple contact. She remained an active supporter of AIDS charities for the rest of her life. In addition, the Princess of Wales took special interest in the homeless, disabled children, lepers, and the elderly. An enthusiastic ballet fan, Diana also supported the English National Ballet.

A Shy Kindergarten Teacher

In 1979 Diana moved into a London apartment, working as a nanny and then as a kindergarten teacher at the Young England School in the Pimlico section of London.

Her 1981 engagement to Prince Charles captivated the world. The image of the inexperienced, gawky teacher dubbed "Shy Di" meeting her prince charming delighted even the most jaded observers.

One billion people around the world watched Lady Diana Spencer marry Prince Charles in a splashy ceremony at St. Paul's Cathedral July 29, 1981. Diana's youth, style, and sympathetic manner made her the most popular royal and sparked new interest in the monarchy.

The Marriage Disintegrates

Diana and Charles had two sons, Prince William, born in 1982, and Prince Henry, born in 1984. However, by the time of Henry's birth, the marriage was under serious strain.

Charles had resumed his old romance with Camilla Parker Bowles, the wife of his friend Andrew Parker Bowles. Diana increasingly resented the relationship. The obligations and rituals of royal life also took a toll. Diana later admitted severe psychological problems.

The royal couple separated in 1992, while the Queen and her advisers hoped for a cooling-off period.

A Divorce Settlement

After months of negotiations, Diana received a generous settlement consisting of a lump sum of $28 million, $600,000 per year. However, Diana did not retain the right to be called Her Royal Highness. The divorce was finalized in August 1996.

Andrew Morton's Blockbuster Book
Andrew Morton's sensational 1992 bestseller, Diana: Her True Story, shocked the nation with its details of her bulimia, suicide attempts, and depression. The ensuing uproar nearly destroyed Charles' reputation since he was widely vilified as the cause of Diana's misery. The book was also the first step toward ending Diana's marriage, since Buckingham Palace was disturbed to learn the extent of Diana's cooperation with Morton.

Cruising with Dodi

During the summer of 1997, Diana embarked on the fateful vacation with her new boyfriend, Emad Mohamed "Dodi" al-Fayed, the playboy son of an Egyptian-born tycoon. Fayed, the owner of the Ritz Hotel in Paris and Harrod's department store in London, represented the sort of jet set notoriety that the royal family took great pains to avoid.

After their death, Fayed's father insisted Dodi and Diana were going to marry. Friends of Diana's were not so sure. The pair had only known each other for six weeks and virtually none of Diana's friends had even met Dodi.

For more information, visit the royal family's website which has a section devoted to Diana.

Did you know?
For more than a billion Muslims around the world, Ramadan is a "month of blessing" marked by prayer, fasting, and charity.