Diana, Princess of Wales captivated the world when she married into the British Royal Family in 1981. The blonde beauty brought a breath of fresh air to the monarchy. Her humility, grace, and charity quickly made her “The People’s Princess” and one of the most beloved public figures in the world. Even though she met a tragic end, Princess Diana will always be remembered for her kindness, bravery, and unceasing determination to live life on her own terms.
Princess Diana Facts
1. The Weight of the Crown
In an infamous interview, Princess Diana revealed the brutal reality of living with the royal family. Courtly life was a waking nightmare, with people using your most intimate secrets and sensitive spots against you. For Diana, this meant that when she was diagnosed with depression, the palace would use her illness as an easy way to explain “attention-seeking” behavior. In reality, the Princess was incredibly distressed, but no one would listen or help.
2. A Princess’ Pain
In Princess Diana’s darkest moments, she turned to self-harm as a way to cope. The Princess explained that, “I didn’t like myself, I was ashamed…You have so much pain inside yourself that you try and hurt yourself on the outside because you want help.” Even though “people see it as crying wolf or attention seeking,” nothing could be further than the truth. As Diana said, “I wanted to get better.”
Diana was known to be incredibly charming and beautiful, so it’s not surprising that two Hollywood heavyweights nearly had a fist fight over the Princess. According to Elton John, he once hosted a dinner party with guests including Diana, Richard Gere, and Sylvester Stallone. After Stallone saw Gere and Diana cozying up by the fire, he got so riled up that he tried to start a fight with Gere.
Luckily, Elton John intervened and no one was hurt.
4. A Dream Outgrown
With her graceful gait and natural athleticism, Diana dreamed of becoming a ballerina. However, life had other plans in store for the Princess. When she shot up to 5’10”, she was deemed too tall to continue with her dance training. She would go on to become an avid supporter of the English National Ballet after she joined the royal family.
5. Unhappy Home
Diana did not grow up with a healthy idea of marriage. It was only as an adult that she revealed the extent of her parents’ unhappy marriage and her own heartbreaking childhood. The Princess said that her parents divorced because of cheating and, even worse, physical abuse. After their marriage ended, Diana was sent away to boarding school. She was just 12 years old.
6. The Bodyguard
In 1985, someone very special entered Princess Diana’s life: Her bodyguard Barry Mannakee. The Princess immediately bonded with her guardian, but by the next year, he was let go for a heartbreaking reason. The palace thought Mannakee and his charge shared “an unusually close relationship.” While we don’t know if they were a secret couple, Diana did say that she was deeply in love with someone at this time in her life. Many people believe she meant Mannakee.
7. Tragic Coincidence?
In an ominous twist, Diana’s ex-bodyguard and rumored lover Barry Mannakee suffered a tragic end when he passed away in a motorcycle crash in 1987. But the aftermath was even more disturbing than the crash itself. Many people don’t believe that his untimely death was just a tragic accident, including Diana. The doomed Princess herself thought there was foul play.
8. Poor Student, Good Heart
Diana didn’t exactly shine academically, failing her O-levels (British school exams) twice. In the end, she dropped out of school when she was just 16 years old. However, her outstanding community spirit and big heart were clear even a young age, leading her most begrudging teachers at West Heath School to give her an award. D’aww.
9. Her Secret Battle
Princess Diana was one of the first celebrities to reveal that she struggled with an eating disorder. When the Princess explained her years with bulimia, she described the mental illness as a “symptom” of a much bigger problem: Her loveless marriage and how unhappy it made her. For Diana, at her lowest points she felt like she wasn’t “worthy or valuable” which led her to seek comfort in bingeing and purging.
10. Not Afraid of Hard Work
After finishing school, a teenage Diana moved to London, where she did something that would make the royal family gasp. She took a series of low-paying jobs. She worked as a dance instructor, a nanny, a playgroup pre-school assistant, and even did some cleaning work. That helps explain why she was so refreshingly different from the hoity-toity royal family that surrounded her.
11. Big Sis Cupid
Diana was first introduced to Charles, Prince of Wales in November 1977 through her older sister, Lady Sarah. Three years later, Charles began wooing Diana in 1980. The royal pair had Lady Sarah’s blessing, and upon their engagement, she remarked, “I introduced them. I’m Cupid.” But that’s not exactly the whole story. Sarah and Charles had a fling earlier on, meaning Diana got her big sis’ sloppy seconds.
12. She Said Yes
Charles and Diana got engaged in February 1981. On the one hand, the couple had been courting for a year, which sounds like a respectable amount of time. However, the truth was more complicated. The duo had only met about a dozen times before Charles proposed. The meetings were just spaced out over a year. Suddenly, a year of courtship seems like a very short time indeed.
13. An Older Man
At the time of her marriage, Diana was only 20 years old; Charles was 12 years her senior. When they began their courtship, Diana was just 19.
When Charles and Diana were divorced, Diana was stripped of her “royal highness” status. This meant she had to curtsy to those who had it, including her own children.
15. All the Boys Love Diana
After her divorce, Diana dated a few big-name celebrities including John Kennedy Jr. and the singer Bryan Adams. However, it was the Pakistani surgeon Hasnat Khan who became the love of her life. Diana called him “Mr. Wonderful” and he broke her heart when he decided that life in the royal family would make him too miserable to continue their relationship.
16. The Happiest Day
Diana became Princess of Wales on July 29th, 1981 when she married Prince Charles in St. Paul’s Cathedral. While royals generally use Westminster Abbey to marry, it was deemed too small for the occasion. Described as a “fairytale wedding,” it was watched by an international television audience of 750 million while 600,000 people lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the couple en route to the ceremony.
Royal brides are usually given custom-made engagement rings by Garrard jewelers, but Diana selected her less-extravagant ring from a Garrard catalogue. The now-iconic (and still rather extravagant) ring consisted of 14 solitaire diamonds elegantly surrounding a 12-carat oval blue Ceylon sapphire set in 18-carat white gold. In today’s money it would cost around £94,800.
18. Altar Flub
In her wedding vows, Diana accidentally reversed the order of Charles’s first two names, saying “Philip Charles Arthur George” instead of “Charles Phillip Arthur George.”
19. A Deliberate Choice
In a decision that has gone down in royal history, Diana omitted one key detail from her vows. The Princess refused to say that she would “obey” Charles. The traditional vow was left out at the couple’s request, which caused some comment at the time. Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle would adopt the same change in their vows when they wed Diana’s sons, William and Harry.
20. Up in Flames
As young Princess Diana struggled with her husband’s infidelities, she sought comfort in the arms of James Hewitt, a cavalry officer. Hewitt and the Princess saw each other for five years between 1986 to 1991, but even after Diana confirmed the affair in an interview, the scandalous couple had more secrets in store. Hewitt was so devastated by their break-up that he contemplated suicide. Even more controversial, to this day, people wonder if the redheaded Hewitt might be Prince Harry’s father, though both Hewitt and Diana deny the idea.
21. Time Warp
Apparently, Diana was a huge fan of the Rocky Horror Picture Show! Upon meeting actor Tim Curry, she thanked him and told him that the movie had “quite completed” her education.
22. Crowded Marriage
Despite Charles and Diana’s beautiful wedding, their marriage would be marked by profound unhappiness. Charles was still strangely close to an ex-girlfriend named Camilla and, in one of the most notorious revelations about the royal family, the true nature of their relationship would be revealed to all. When Diana and Charles were still married, a mysterious person recorded a secret phone call between Charles and Camilla. In it, they are frank about their attraction to each other, with Charles saying that he wants to be as close to Camilla as her tampons. Ouch and also, gross.
23. Strong Woman
In her famous bombshell interview with the journalist Martin Bashir, the Princess revealed why she shook the royal family to their core. Diana explained, “I think every strong woman in history has had to walk down a similar path and I think it’s the strength that causes the confusion and the fear. Why is she strong? Where does she get it from? What’s she going to do with it?”
24. Broken Traditions
Before Princess Diana came along, the British royal family would give birth inside their palaces. In another example of Diana’s forward-thinking, she refused to do so and demanded to give birth in a hospital. The Princess got her wish: Both William and Harry entered the world in St. Mary’s Hospital’s Lindo Wing in 1982 and 1984. In a touching tribute, this is also where Kate Middleton gave birth to her and William’s children.
25. Royal Humanitarian
Diana was one of very few public figures to stand up for AIDS victims early in the epidemic. Though most people were afraid of touching people with HIV and AIDS patients, Diana knew better. In a famous photograph, the Princess shakes hands with an ill man, using her platform to encourage everyone to be kinder to AIDS patients. In a heartbreaking speech, she revealed her reasons, saying, “HIV does not make people dangerous to know. You can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it.”
26. Dangerous Fall
While 12-weeks pregnant with her first child, Diana suffered a terrible accident. The Princess fell down a staircase at Sandringham in January 1982. Out of concern for the future heir to the throne, the royal gynecologist Sir George Pinker was summoned. Although he found she had suffered severe bruising, the fetus was protected and healthy.
27. Impending Doom
Only five years into the marriage of Charles and Diana, cracks began to show. The almost 13-year differences in ages between the two, plus Charles’ possibly-too-close friendship with Camilla Parker-Bowles became visibly damaging to their marriage. In a famous quip, Diana sadly said, “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”
28. “I Don’t”
Diana’s marriage to Charles was extremely strained, and the media began reporting about both of their infidelities. Queen Elizabeth wrote each of them a letter with one chilling demand. The Queen urged Diana and Charles to get a divorce. By August of 1996, her will was done. The young couple went their separate ways after a notoriously stressful marriage.
29. Passed Down
In 2010, when Diana’s son Prince William proposed to his longtime girlfriend Kate Middleton, he presented Diana’s sapphire engagement ring to her. It now sits on her finger; she is now known as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
30. Super Mom
When Prince William, Diana’s eldest son, was younger, he had a bit of a secret crush on Cindy Crawford. So what did Diana do? She played a hilarious prank on her pre-teen soon. Diana invited Crawford, along with fellow models Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington, to Kensington Palace. William recounted, ”I was probably a 12 or 13-year-old boy who had posters of them all on his wall, and I went bright red and didn’t know quite what to say, and sort of fumbled and I think pretty much fell down the stairs on the way out.”
31. A Regular Mom
Diana didn’t want her sons, William and Harry, to grow up in a bubble of royal privilege. She worked hard to give them the kinds of experiences that she had enjoyed as a child. The Princess took her beloved sons to fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s, made them wait in line with everyone else at theme parks, and even dropped them off at school herself.
32. Prolific Good
In addition to her activism for HIV/AIDS, Diana supported over 100 charities. These included Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which won the Nobel Peace Prize after her death. In a moving gesture, both of her sons continue her work with these charities to this day.
33. A Fatal Crash
On August 31st, 1997, Diana was fatally injured in a car crash in Paris, in which her companion, Dodi Fayed, and the driver, Henri Paul, also died. Twenty years after the fatal car crash, a firefighter named Xavier Gourmelon revealed Princess Diana’s last words. As she was pulled from the wreckage:, she said, “My God, what’s happened?” She suffered cardiac arrest shortly after being loaded onto a stretcher. She was resuscitated but died later in hospital of her injuries.
34. If Only
Even though she’s known as “the People’s Princess,” Diana never thought that she would be Queen. She once said, that the royal family would never accept her as Queen “because I do things differently, because I don’t go by a rule book, because I lead with the heart, not the head…but someone’s got to go out there and love people and show it.”
35. Goodbye, English Rose
Diana’s funeral took place in Westminster Abbey on September 6th, 1997. In addition to being attended by her family, it was attended by 2,000 members of the public and watched by over 32 million people on television. The Union Flag at the palace was also lowered to half-mast to show the royal family’s grief at their monumental loss.
36. Final Resting Place
After the funeral, Diana was buried privately on an island in the middle of Oval Lake on the grounds the Spencer family home of Althorp Park. While she was originally meant to be interned in the Spencer family vault, her fame meant that her family wished to find a more private place.
37. Candle In The Wind
Sir Elton John rewrote his song “Candle in the Wind” in a moving tribute to Diana when she died. The iconic singer performed this version exactly once live: Fittingly, the one occasion was Princess Diana’s funeral. The song was originally written for another beauty who passed long before her time, Marilyn Monroe.
38. Say Yes To The Dress
At her wedding, Diana wore a gown designed by David & Elizabeth Emanuel. The ivory, silk taffeta, and antique lace dress was embellished with 10,000 hand-sewn pearls and came with a glorious 25-foot train—it was the longest train in royal history! Before her wedding, Diana spent five months getting comfortable in the puffy gown. The dress remains one of the most famous wedding dresses in history.
39. Parting Gift
Diana was buried with a set of rosary beads, which were a gift to her from Mother Teresa. Tragically, Mother Teresa died of natural causes in the same week as Diana.
40. Long Lineage
The Spencer family (Diana’s maiden name) has been well-known to the British Royal Family for several generations. Both of Diana’s grandmothers served as ladies-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. When Diana became Queen Elizabeth II’s daughter-in-law, it was quite the promotion for the family.
41. Common Courtesy
Diana took her duties as a royal very seriously, and tried to set a good example. She was known for sending thank you notes for the smallest of kindnesses, and taught her children to do the same. When her correspondence was put up for auction in 2010, it included a handwritten thank you note from the young Prince William, reportedly to their chauffeur, Davies: “Thank you for the James Bond video it is brilliant. Thank you. See you soon. With love from William.”
42. Charitable Legacy
Diana, who was known as “the People’s Princess” due to her charitable works, also made sure to teach her children the value of philanthropy. Shortly before her death in 1997, Diana put her most iconic dresses up for auction. This was reportedly the idea of her son, 15-year-old William. The sale of 79 dresses raised $5.76 million for AIDS and breast cancer charities.
43. Royal Relations
Even if she hadn’t married into the British royal family, Diana would have still had some pretty interesting family members. The Princess was seventh cousins with hard-boiled Hollywood actor Humphrey Bogart. Her ancestor Georgiana Cavendish (recently played by Keira Knightley in The Duchess) also mimicked Diana’s tragic royal life. She too struggled with restrictive etiquette and had an unhappy marriage when she was very young.
44. Classy Move
After her marriage to Prince Charles, Camilla Parker-Bowles could have used the title “Princess of Wales.” Instead, she chose to use “Duchess of Cornwall” so that the public could continue to associate the title with Princess Diana.
45. Cover Girl
During her lifetime, Diana was featured on the cover of People magazine more than 50 times, the cover of Time magazine eight times, and on the cover of Newsweek seven times.
46. Girl Friends
The actress Tilda Swinton also attended school at West Heath, and she and Diana were friends.
47. Real Estate Connection
Diana grew up in Park House, situated on the Sandringham estate. The Spencers leased the house from its owner, Queen Elizabeth II. The Royal Family frequently holidayed nearby at Sandringham House. Diana played with Princes Andrew and Edward as a child. Little did young Diana know, she’d join the family on a much closer basis soon enough.
48. History Repeats Itself
In January 2020, Diana’s youngest son Prince Harry abruptly announced that he and his wife, Canadian actress Meghan Markle, were taking a step back from the royal family. The decision made headlines all over the world, but after the initial shock wore off, Harry’s reasons became clear. The press began to wonder if Harry was retreating from public life to make sure that his child wouldn’t experience the kind of tragic loss he went through.
Like Diana, Harry’s wife Meghan has shaken up the royal family, been hounded by the press, and struggled with the restrictive life of a duchess.
49. Conspiracy Theories
To this day, Mohamed Al-Fayed (the father of Diana’s romantic partner Dodi Fayed, who also perished in the crash) maintains that his son’s death was the result of a murder plot by MI6. An inquest running between 2004-2008 blamed the crash on Henri Paul, and others still continue to blame the pursuing paparazzi for their part in the accident.
50. “Will You Walk With Me?”
Amidst the royal family’s polarizing response to Diana’s death in 1997, it was William’s grandfather, Prince Philip, who convinced William and Harry to walk behind her coffin with a few heartbreaking sentences. When the young princes were apprehensive, Philip reportedly told his eldest grandson, “If you don’t walk, I think you’ll regret it later. If I walk, will you walk with me?”
At the funeral, Philip, William, Harry, Charles, and Diana’s brother followed the bier all the way from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace, as millions watched.