Activist, Children’s Activist, Princess(1961–1997)
Princess Diana was Princess of Wales while married to Prince Charles. One of the most adored members of the British royal family, she died in a 1997 car crash.
Who Was Princess Diana?
Born Diana Spencer on July 1, 1961, Princess Diana became Lady Diana Spencer after her father inherited the title of Earl Spencer in 1975. She married the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, on July 29, 1981. They had two sons and later divorced in 1996. Diana died on August 31, 1997, from injuries she sustained in a car crash in Paris. She is remembered as the “People’s Princess” because of her widespread popularity and global humanitarian efforts.
British royalty Princess Diana Spencer was born on July 1, 1961, near Sandringham, England. Diana, Princess of Wales, was one of the most adored members of the British royal family. She was the daughter of Edward John Spencer, Viscount Althorp, and Frances Ruth Burke Roche, Viscountess Althorp (later known as the Honorable Frances Shand Kydd). Her parents divorced when Diana was young, and her father won custody of the children. Following her initial education at home, Diana attended Riddlesworth Hall School and then West Heath School.
She became Lady Diana Spencer after her father inherited the title of Earl Spencer in 1975. Although she was known for her shyness while growing up, she did show an interest in music and dancing. Diana also had a great fondness for children. After attending finishing school at Institut Alpin Videmanette in Switzerland, she moved to London. She began working with children, eventually becoming an assistant at Young England Kindergarten.
Marriage to Prince Charles
Diana was no stranger to the British royal family, having reportedly played with Prince Andrew and Prince Edward as a child while her family rented Park House, an estate owned by Queen Elizabeth II. In 1977, she became reacquainted with their older brother, Prince Charles, who was 13 years her senior.
As the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles was usually the subject of media attention, and his courtship of Diana was no exception. The press and the public were fascinated by this seemingly odd couple—the reserved, garden-loving prince and the shy young woman with an interest in fashion and popular culture. When the couple married on July 29, 1981, the ceremony was broadcast on television around the world, with millions of people tuning in to see what many considered to be the wedding of the century.
Family Life and Divorce
On June 21, 1982, Diana and Charles had their first child: Prince William Arthur Philip Louis. He was joined by a brother, Prince Henry Charles Albert David—known widely as “Prince Harry”—more than two years later, on September 15, 1984. Initially overwhelmed by her royal duties and the intense media coverage of nearly every aspect of her life, she began to develop and pursue her own interests. Diana served as a strong supporter of many charities and worked to help the homeless, people living with HIV and AIDS and children in need.
Unfortunately, the fairy tale wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles did not lead to a happily-ever-after marriage. The two became estranged over the years, and there were reports of infidelities from both parties. During their union, Diana struggled with depression and bulimia. The couple’s separation was announced in December 1992 by British Prime Minister John Major, who read a statement from the royal family to the House of Commons. The divorce was finalized in 1996.
How Did She Die?
Even after the divorce, Diana maintained a high level of popularity. She devoted herself to her sons and to such charitable efforts as raising awareness about the dangers of leftover land mines in war-torn Angola. She also continued to experience the negative aspects of fame, whipping the British tabloids into a frenzy when she began dating Egyptian film producer and playboy Dodi Fayed in 1997.
While visiting Paris, the couple was involved in a car crash after trying to escape from the paparazzi early in the morning of August 31, 1997. Fayed and the driver were pronounced dead at the scene; Diana initially survived the crash, but succumbed to her injuries at a Paris hospital a few hours later.
News of her sudden, senseless death shocked the world. Queen Elizabeth II, who was criticized for not immediately responding publicly to Diana’s death, made a televised address from Buckingham Palace on September 5, in which she said: “No one who knew Diana will ever forget her. Millions of others who never met her, but felt they knew her, will remember her. I, for one, believe there are lessons to be drawn from her life and from the extraordinary and moving reaction to her death. I share in your determination to cherish her memory.”
On the morning of September 6, Diana’s funeral procession commenced from Kensington Palace, her coffin resting on a gun carriage drawn by six black horses. Thousands of mourners packed the street to watch, with 15-year-old Prince William and 12-year-old Prince Harry joining the final stretch of the four-mile procession for their mother.
An estimated 2.5 million people tuned in on television to watch the ceremony at Westminster Abbey, which featured a powerful eulogy from Diana’s brother, Earl Charles Spencer, and a performance from Elton John. Afterward, her body was laid to rest on a small island at her family’s estate, Althorp.
Controversy and Legacy
Following an investigation into the fatal accident, a report released in 1999 determined that the driver was at fault for driving at a high speed while under the influence of alcohol and anti-depressant drugs. Charges were dropped against several photographers who were initially blamed for causing the crash.
Despite the report, rumors persisted for years about alternative reasons for the accident. One conspiracy theory held that it was part of an assassination arranged by the royal family, although no additional evidence emerged to support that theory.
In 2007, just before the 10th anniversary of her death, Princes William and Harry honored their beloved mother with a special concert that took place on what would have been her 46th birthday. The proceeds of the event went to charities supported by Diana and her sons.
Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton also remembered Diana when naming their second child, Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, who was born on May 2, 2015.
Continuing her charitable efforts, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund was founded after her death to provide resources for palliative care, penal reform, asylum and other issues. In 2013, the fund was incorporated into The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.