Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Jake Frost
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Stanton Daily. Posted by Jake Frost
July 1, 1961
Currently Known For:
Princess of Wales
“I knew what my job was; it was to go out and meet the people and love them.” The youngest daughter of the well-known Spencer family of Park House, Sandringham, Norfolk, Diana Frances Spencer was born on July 1, 1961 and already had ties to the British royal family since both her grandmothers had served as ladies-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. The Spencers also leased their home in Park House from the Royal Family and, as a result, Diana spent much of her childhood playing with Prince Andrew and Prince Edward when the Royal Family holidayed at the neighboring Sandringham estate.
Diana’s parents divorced when she was seven years old after years of tension and strain after the death of her infant brother, John. Although the divorce was ideally meant to make her parents happier, life didn’t improve for Diana who later described her childhood as “very unhappy and very unstable.” At 14 years old, Diana became known as Lady Diana Spencer when her father inherited the title of Earl Spencer in 1975, which ignited the family’s move from Park House to Althorp. Once she was old enough, Lady Diana attended an all-girls boarding school and later joined her sisters at West Heath Girls’ School in Sevenoaks, Kent where she struggled academically but discovered her passion for community service. At 16 years old, she left the school despite showing great promise as a pianist, dancer, and swimmer.
Spending one term at the Swiss Institut Alpin Videmanette in 1978, Diana later returned to London but had no real plans for her future as she moved in with two friends and took a handful of low-paying jobs hosting parties, working at a preschool, and giving dance lessons. By then, she had already met Charles, Prince of Wales, who was dating her older sister, Lady Sarah. However, it wasn’t until 1980 that Charles took real notice of Diana when she spent a weekend at the family’s country estate and watched him play polo. Despite the 13-year age difference, Charles saw something in Diana and invited her for a weekend of sailing to Cowes aboard the royal yacht, Britannia. Their courtship flourished from there as Diana met the Royal Family in November 1980. Shortly after, Charles followed her to London before he secretly proposed on February 6, 1981.
Lady Diana and Prince Charles officially announced their engagement on February 24, 1981 as Diana wore a 12-carat oval sapphire set in 18-carat white gold. After the announcement, Diana left her position as a kindergarten aide and lived briefly at Clarence House and Buckingham Palace as the Queen Mother oversaw plans for the wedding of the century. After all, Diana was the first Englishwoman in over three centuries to become the spouse of an heir apparent. She was also the first royal bride to have a paying job prior to her engagement, which set the tone for Diana’s future philanthropic work as well as her independence outside the Royal Family’s strong sense of tradition.
The wedding took place on July 29, 1981 with over 3,500 guests in attendance at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Over 4,000 police and 2,200 military officers secured the streets as two million spectators anxiously watched Diana’s procession from Clarence House to the cathedral in the Glass Coach alongside her father, John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer. By the time she arrived at the church, nearly one billion people around the world had tuned in to watch or listen to the ceremony that began with Diana’s three-and-a-half-minute walk down the aisle with a 25-foot train flowing elegantly behind her. The gown itself was absolutely stunning and was made of ivory silk taffeta trimmed in lace, hand embroidery, sequins, and 10,000 pearls. Truly resembling a princess, Diana wore her family’s heirloom tiara as she exchanged vows with Charles, her Prince.
Following the fairytale wedding and their honeymoon, the couple didn’t waste any time in starting a family and announced Diana was pregnant on November 5, 1981. She gave birth to Prince William Arthur Philip Louis on June 21, 1982 and, much to the dismay of the royal family, took her newborn son on official tours of Australia and New Zealand only months after his birth. Three years later, she gave birth to Prince Henry Charles Albert David on September 15, 1984 and made an even greater promise to stay active in her children’s lives. Politely declining the royal family’s chosen nanny and long-established traditions of hands-off parenting, Diana took her boys to school as often as she could and organized their activities and outings around her busy schedule.
Despite embracing the gift of motherhood and her passion for charitable work, Diana was incredibly unhappy and saw her marriage decline as Charles resumed his relationship with his former girlfriend, Camilla Parker Bowles, and Diana started dating Major James Hewitt, the family’s former riding instructor. By the 1990s, the truth finally came out and, in 1992, the couple announced their amicable separation as controversy ensued with media outlets around the world desperately trying to get the truth of their extramarital affairs, the children, and Queen Elizabeth II’s reaction. After a two-year media frenzy and widespread speculation, Diana and Charles were officially divorced in August 1996 and, by the hand of Prince Charles, Diana, Princess of Wales was stripped of her title as “Her Royal Highness.”
Apart from the controversy surrounding her failed marriage, Diana was known for her incredible heart and passion for helping others, which led her to work with charities around the world to shed light on HIV and AIDS, landmines, cancer, and many other topics. “Nothing brings me more happiness than trying to help the most vulnerable people in society,” she once said. “It is a goal and an essential part of my life—a kind of destiny. Whoever is in distress can call on me. I will come running wherever they are.” Doing her best to answer those many calls of distress around the world, Diana remained faithful to dozens of causes and organizations including the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, the Natural History Museum, the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal School for the Blind, the National Children’s Orchestra, and many others.
Her incredible work around the world gave Diana happiness in the darkest moments of her marriage and, ultimately, introduced her to even greater love in the form of British-Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan, who called Diana “the love of his life” after her death. Dating in secrecy for two years at Khan’s request, Diana broke things off with Khan in July 1997 and started dating Egyptian film producer and billionaire Dodi Fayed. At the time, Diana was still looking for lasting love and sheepishly told reporters, “I don’t want expensive gifts. I don’t want to be bought. I have everything I want. I just want someone to be there for me, to make me feel safe and secure.”
Sadly, Diana never found that because her life was tragically cut short when the 36-year-old mother of two was killed in a car cash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris on August 31, 1997. Fayed and the driver, Henri Paul, were also killed in the crash in a devastating event the left people around the world in mourning. She was laid to rest on September 6, 1997 with the Royal Family and the Spencer family issuing heartfelt tributes to a woman gone too soon.
Over two decades after her death, Diana’s legacy lives on in her sons—Prince William and Prince Harry—both of whom have found true love of their own. In 2010, Prince William used his mother’s iconic sapphire ring to propose to Kate Middleton, now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. In May 2018, Diana’s memory will surely be present as Prince Harry marries American actress Meghan Markle, a woman outside of the British Royal Family much like Diana was herself so many years ago.