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Princess Diana Biography

The "People's Princess"


Princess Diana 1995

Princess Diana received the 1995 United Cerebral Palsy Humanitarian Award in December, 1995.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Prince and Princess of Wales leave St Paul's Cathedral.

Prince and Princess of Wales leave St Paul's Cathedral after their wedding, 1981.

Getty Images / Princess Diana Archive / Jayne Fincher
Princess Diana in Australia, November 1996

Diana, Princess of Wales, at Sacred Heart Hospice in Sydney, Australia, November 1996.

Getty Images / Patrick Riviere

Known for: charity work; press focus on her fashion image; public scandals

Occupation: consort, Charles, Prince of Wales; charity worker; celebrity

Dates: July 1, 1961 - August 31, 1997

Also known as: The "People's Princess," Lady Diana Frances Spencer, Lady Diana, Lady Di

Proper title is Diana, Princess of Wales, rather than Princess Diana, though the latter is how so much of the world knows her.

Family Background:

  • Diana Spencer was a direct descendant of King Charles II
  • Father: (Edward) John Spencer, Viscount Althorpe, later Earl Spencer. He was a personal aide to King George VI and to Queen Elizabeth II, and was a godson of Queen Mary
  • Mother: the Hon. Frances Shand-Kydd, formerly the Hon. Frances Ruth Burke Roche
  • Parents divorced in 1969. Mother ran away with a wealthy heir, and father gained custody of the children. Father later married Raine Legge, whose mother was Barbara Cartland, a romance novelist.
  • Diana was the third of four children. Her siblings:
    • Lady Sarah, married Neil McCorquodale; before she married, Sarah and Prince Charles dated
    • Lady Jane, married Robert Fellowes, assistant secretary to Queen Elizabeth II
    • Charles Spencer, Earl Spencer: godson of Queen Elizabeth II


spotty, undistinguished educational career

  • educated at home to age 9
  • Riddlesworth Hall (age 9-12)
  • West Heath School (Kent) (age 12-16); dropped out
  • finishing school in Switzerland, Chateau d'Oex; left after a few months

Marriage, Children:

  • husband: Charles, Prince of Wales (married July 29, 1981; divorced August 28, 1996; heir-apparent to the throne of Great Britain)
  • children:
    • William Arthur Philip Louis, Prince William, born June 21, 1982
    • Henry Charles Albert David, Prince Harry, born September 15, 1984

Princess Diana Biography:

Diana Spencer was born into British aristocracy, though a commoner, not royal. She grew up practically next door to Queen Elizabeth II and her family, at Park House, a mansion next to the Sandringham estate of the royal family. Prince Charles was 12 years older, but Prince Andrew was closer to her age and was a childhood playmate.

After Diana's parents divorced bitterly when Diana was eight, her father gained custody of the four children. Diana did not get along well with her stepmother, nor did she do well in school, finding an interest in ballet and, according to some reports, Prince Charles, whose picture she had on the wall of her room at school. When Diana was 16, she met Prince Charles again. He had dated her older sister Sarah. She made some impression on him, but she was still too young for him to date.

After Diana left school, she moved to London, and worked as a housekeeper, nanny, and kindergarten teacher's aide. She lived in a house purchased by her father, and had three roommates. In 1980, Diana and Charles met again when she visited her sister, whose husband worked for the queen. They began to date, and six months later he proposed. They were married July 29, 1981, in what's been called the "wedding of the century." She was the first British citizen to marry the heir to the British throne in almost 300 years.

Diana immediately began making public appearances, despite her awkwardness about being in the public eye. One of her first official visits was to the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco. Diana rather quickly became pregnant, giving birth to Prince William in 1982 and then to Prince Henry in 1984. Dropping in weight by thirty pounds after the birth of Prince William, she began to struggle with bulimia, but also became more popular as a fashion figure.

Early in their marriage, Diana and Charles were seen to be publicly affectionate; by 1986, their time apart and coolness when together were obvious. The 1992 publication of Andrew Morton's biography of Diana revealed the story of Charles' long affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, and alleged that Diana had made suicide attempts. By December, the couple, obviously with the consent of the Queen and consultation with government officials, agreed to a legal separation, though disclaiming plans for a divorce.

By 1996, the dueling television interviews by Charles and then Diana, revealing photographs, and continuing scandal coverage by the press, all made clear that a divorce was imminent. Diana announced her agreement to a divorce in February, surprising the Queen whom she had not informed before making the announcement.

The divorce was final in August of 1996. Settlement terms reportedly included about $23 million for Diana, plus $600,000 per year. She and Charles would both be active in their sons' lives. She continued to live at Kensington Palace, and was permitted to retain the title "Princess of Wales" but not the styling of "Her Royal Highness." At her divorce, she also gave up most of the charities she'd been working with, limiting herself to only a few: working with homelessness, AIDS, leprosy, the ballet, a hospital for children, and a cancer hospital.

In 1996, Diana became involved in the campaign to ban landmines. She visited several nations in her involvement with the anti-landmine campaign, an activity more political than the norm for the British royal family.

In early 1997, Diana was linked romantically with the 42-year-old playboy "Dodi" Fayed (Emad Mohammed al-Fayed). His father, Mohammed al-Fayed, owned Harrod's department store and the Ritz Hotel in Paris, among other holdings. Both father and son had somewhat spotty ethical reputations.

Late on August 30, 1997, Diana and Dodi left the Ritz Hotel in Paris, accompanied in a car by an al-Fayed family driver and Dodi's bodyguard. They were pursued by paparazzi, and crashed in a tunnel in Paris. Diana died in the early hours of August 31.

Diana's funeral on September 6, 1997, was seen by billions worldwide via television. She is buried on an island on the Spencer family estate.

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