Diana Spencer, the Princess of Wales, has always been a person of interest to Great Britain and the world. The young bride of Prince Charles-turned-dynamite public figure, Princess Diana intrigued just about everyone. She went from a shy, quiet teenager who was chosen to marry a prince to one of the royal family’s most dynamic members. She greeted people with warmth and hugs, she broke royal protocol, she used fashion to her advantage, and she furthered the work of over 100 charities while doing so.
But Diana’s life in the royal family was anything but a fairytale. Her husband’s reported years-long affair with Camilla Parker Bowles left her marriage in tatters. She suffered from an eating disorder, had major mental health problems, and felt incredibly isolated, all while she did her very best to put on a brave face for her sons and those watching.
Diana tragically passed away in a car accident in 1997, but her life contained horrifically sad situations that have since come to light. Her life has served as a testament to what can be accomplished in the royal family and how dangerous living in the spotlight can be.
Princess Diana had a very lonely childhood
Before she was a princess, Diana Spencer was already a lady. She inherited a title within the British nobility at birth, making her — on paper — a perfect match for a prince. Think rolling hills, beautiful gardens, and polo matches. But Diana’s childhood was not all what you’d think it would have been.
As noted by Vogue, Princess Diana had a tragically lonely childhood. Despite the large countryside estate she lived in, the title she had, and the money that her family possessed, things were not easy. Diana’s mother left her and her siblings for another man when Diana was only 6. Tragically, Diana thought that her mother was simply on vacation, and her brother, Charles Spencer, recalled that Diana used to sit on the doorstep of the house, waiting for her mother to return.
Due in part to the cracking family foundation, the Earl of Spencer, Diana’s father, reportedly entered a dark phase of depression and left all the raising of his children to a variety of nannies. Diana herself recalled that her childhood was “very unhappy” and that she considered her 20 stuffed animals as her family.
Diana barely knew Prince Charles when she married him
Imagine marrying someone you’ve only ever met a dozen times. The thought makes us shudder, but that was the reality for Diana Spencer. As noted by Elle, Princess Diana and Prince Charles met just 12 times before they got married.
So how did that happen? Well, Diana and Charles met when they were 16 and 29, respectively, as Charles was close to Diana’s older sister at the time. By the time it’d been decided that Diana was to be a romantic interest of the prince’s, she was caught up in a whirlwind.
“The next minute he leapt on me, practically. It was strange. I thought, ‘This isn’t very cool’…but I had nothing to go by because I’d never had a boyfriend,” Diana said about their early courtship, as noted by O, The Oprah Magazine. But it certainly was not all roses. In the 1992 biography Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words, written by Andrew Morton, Diana recalled that the situation was far less than romantic. “He’d found the virgin, the sacrificial lamb,” she said.
The Princess of Wales wasn't prepared for the British media
The British tabloids are infamously known for their intrusive tactics, and when Diana Spencer emerged, they were obsessed with her. Diana was just 19 when she and Prince Charles became an item. She was living in London at the time, working as a part-time teacher, and the press went absolutely crazy.
“It took a long time to understand why people were so interested in me, but I assumed it was because my husband had done a lot of wonderful work leading up to our marriage and our relationship,” Princess Diana recalled in a 1995 interview with the BBC. “But then I, during the years you see yourself as a good product that sits on a shelf and sells well, and people make a lot of money out of you.”
The press attention was not something that Diana was prepared for, and although she learned how to maneuver the tabloids, it was never a relationship that was desired. As noted by The Washington Post, Diana had to fend for herself in the royal family and in the papers, and although the public “couldn’t get enough of her,” she was left to navigate an incredibly difficult situation alone.
Princess Diana received little guidance on being royal
Even if you’re not a fan of the royal family, you know that there are protocols they have to follow. There’s a lot to learn, and Diana Spencer was left to figure it out on her own. Diana recalled in an interview with the BBC that she was pretty much abandoned by the royal family, and had to learn the ropes without guidance.
“It was isolating, but it was also a situation where you couldn’t indulge in feeling sorry for yourself: you had to either sink or swim,” Princess Diana said. “And you had to learn that very fast.” When asked if there was a time in her life as a royal that forced her to learn on the go, Diana said that her royal tour of Australia changed just about everything.
“We had a six-week tour … and by the end, when we flew back from New Zealand, I was a different person,” she said. “I realized the sense of duty, the level of intensity of interest, and the demanding role I now found myself in.” But needless to say, things would’ve been a lot less painful if her husband had offered more help.
Early on in her royal life, Princess Diana suffered from bulimia
Princess Diana was still a teenager when she and Prince Charles became a couple, and not only was she followed by pretty much every camera in Great Britain, but her sense of self and her relationship with food drastically changed.
As noted by Vogue, Diana lost an extreme amount of weight before her wedding — going from a 27-inch waist to a 23-inch waist– and she quickly developed bulimia. Her eating disorder has been linked to her sense of isolation as well as her deteriorating relationship with Prince Charles, and she later spoke about it with the BBC. “When no one listens to you, or you feel no one’s listening to you, all sorts of things start to happen,” Diana said. “For instance you have so much pain inside yourself that you try and hurt yourself on the outside because you want help, but it’s the wrong help you’re asking for.”
Diana said that people around her saw her cries for help as “attention-seeking,” but all she wanted was to get better. She said, “I didn’t like myself, I was ashamed because I couldn’t cope with the pressures.”
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website or contact NEDA’s Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).
While her husband was having an affair, Princess Diana fell in love with her security guard
Possibly the worst kept secret throughout Princess Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles was his infidelity. Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles had been together for years, and although she was not the ideal person for him to marry in the eyes of the royal family, their relationship continued. So it really should come as no shock that Diana fell into the arms of another man, and that just so happened to be her security guard.
As noted by O, The Oprah Magazine, Diana and her bodyguard, Barry Mannakee, were rumored to have a serious romantic relationship. Diana even spoke about her connection to her (at the time) unnamed security guard in tapes that were recorded by her voice coach, Peter Settelen. Diana called the relationship the “greatest love” she had ever experienced, and said she was “deeply in love.” Diana also said that she would’ve been “quite happy to give all this up and to just go off and live with him. And he kept saying he thought it was a good idea too.”
Mannakee was removed from Diana’s security detail in 1986 and died in 1987 during a motorcycle accident (via PopSugar).
Princess Diana and her husband had little in common
At the beginning of their marriage, Princess Diana and Prince Charles looked like they were living the fairytale dream. In all honesty, who wouldn’t want to marry a prince? But the romantic situation that looked amazing from the outside was really just filled with two people who had nothing in common, and former royal household employee and relationship expert Karen Mooney shared that the couple was doomed from the start.
“They had nothing in common,” Mooney told The Sun. “She was in awe of him and he was the Prince of Wales. It was a bit like a fairy tale for her. But, of course, it ended up being completely the reverse.”
When asked by the BBC in 1995 about what Charles thought about her independent interests, Diana spoke to the limitations that she faced during her marriage. “Well, I don’t think I was allowed to have any [interests],” she said. “I think that I’ve always been the 18-year-old girl he got engaged to, so I don’t think I’ve been given any credit for growth. And, my goodness, I’ve had to grow.”
The Princess of Wales lost her title and security when her marriage ended
Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ marriage ultimately came to a tragic end. After a lengthy separation, they finally got divorced, but that came with some immense losses for Diana. As noted by Reader’s Digest, much of the security and privacy that Diana had been granted as a royal were taken away. She was stripped of her royal title, her pride certainly took a hit, and her public dignity was in tatters.
Let’s start with the royal title. Diana was formally known as Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales. When she got divorced from Charles, he made a point of stripping her title away from her. This hurt for a number of reasons. First, Queen Elizabeth reportedly was fine with Diana keeping her title, but it was Charles who pushed for her to give it up. Second, it meant that Diana would have to curtsey to her ex-husband, the royal family, and to her sons. Ouch.
As part of the divorce repercussions, Diana also lost her police protection. She was only protected while attending public events, but she was essentially at the whim of any danger that came her way.
Princess Diana struggled to receive help for her mental health
Mental health was not something that was talked about in 1980s Great Britain, and it certainly was not something that the royal family addressed. So it came as an absolute shock when Diana Spencer addressed her mental health problems in public for the first time, and she revealed that she wasn’t given any help or guidance from the royal family throughout her struggles.
“Well maybe I was the first person ever to be in this family who ever had a depression or was ever openly tearful. And obviously that was daunting, because if you’ve never seen it before how do you support it?” Princess Diana told the BBC in 1995. She went on to share that her depression was used as a new target in her marriage. “It gave everybody a wonderful new label — Diana’s unstable and Diana’s mentally unbalanced. And unfortunately that seems to have stuck on and off over the years,” she said.
But Diana’s candidness, although tragic, had lasting impact on mental health in Great Britain. As noted by Time, Diana’s openness allowed for empathy and a new public perspective on mental health and eating disorders.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
The Princess of Wales reportedly felt her husband was disappointed by Harry
This comes as a tragic shock, but Princess Diana reportedly felt that Prince Charles was ashamed of Prince Harry. Yes, you read that correctly. As noted by Vogue, friends and family of Diana shared that Charles’ reaction to Harry was less than fatherly. Just hours after Diana came home after giving birth to Harry, Charles went and played in a polo match. To make the situation even more tragic, Charles reportedly complained at the time that Harry “looked like a Spencer,” and said that his red hair was a dead giveaway.
It’s hard to know just how Harry’s relationship with his father progressed later in his life, but Harry did give some incredible insight into his fractured bond with Charles. In a March 2021 sit-down with Oprah Winfrey (via Elle), Harry shared that Charles had stopped taking his calls “because [he] took matters into [his] own hands.”
“It’s really sad that it’s got to this point, but I’ve got to do something for my own mental health,” Harry shared. Why do we feel like Diana wouldn’t be surprised that this is the reality of Harry’s relationship with Charles?
Princess Diana turned to the media to bring attention to the ways she was suffering
Diana Spencer turned to the press to share her side of the story in 1995, and things were that bad. The sit-down interview that she did with the BBC still marks one of the most expository admissions against the royal family, and Princess Diana really did not hold back. She shared that there had been “three of us” in her marriage. She talked about her mental health, her eating disorder, and the struggles she faced within the royal institution.
The interview marked one of the saddest parts of Diana’s life, as she faced the media alone. Perhaps what makes Diana’s 1995 interview that much more tragic are the parallels between it and the interview that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle did with Oprah Winfrey in 2021.
After abuse from the British tabloids and eerily similar treatment from the royal family, the Harry and Meghan stepped back from their roles and leveled some very serious claims about racism and favoritism within the royal family. “Touching back on what you asked me — what my mum would think of this — I think she saw it coming,” Harry said, as reported by The New York Times.
Princess Diana's relationship with Prince William suffered for this reason
Princess Diana’s life really began to unfold in the latter half of the 1990s. She gave the expository interview with the BBC, her marriage came to an end, and unfortunately, she experienced a tragic falling out with her son, Prince William. As noted by Vanity Fair, Diana’s friend Simone Simmons shared that Diana regretted the interview because of what it did to her relationship with William.
“William was absolutely livid,” Simmons said. “Of course it was in all the papers and William told me he was teased at school because of it. He felt really bad for his mum because of what she had gone through, but he was furious with her.”
Simmons also shared that Diana only told William about the interview after it had been recorded, leading to more tension between them. “The weekend after it went out they had a big row at Kensington Palace,” Simmons shared. “William was furious and Diana was distraught. I was there the day after she spoke to him and Diana was in a terrible state.” While the two did reconcile, their relationship really took a hit.
Princess Diana's death was a global tragedy
Princess Diana’s storied and difficult life came to a tragic end when she was killed in a car crash on Aug. 31, 1997. She was just 36 years old. As noted by History.com, Diana was in Paris, France at the time and, at the time of the accident, she was accompanied by her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed; her bodyguard; and her driver, Henri Paul.
The four were rushing through a tunnel, trying to escape paparazzi, when the car collided with a pillar. Fayed and Paul were found dead at the scene, and Diana was pronounced dead at 6 a.m. that morning after having been transported to the hospital. Her bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, survived after enduring serious injuries.
It’s safe to say that the world went into a state of shock. Flowers began to pile up in front of Buckingham Palace the following morning, and hundreds of mourners gathered at Kensington Palace. The People’s Princess, as Diana was often called, was survived by her two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, who were 15 and 12 at the time.
The royal family initially refused to give Princess Diana a royal funeral
To make matters even more tragic, Diana Spencer was reportedly not going to be given a public funeral by the royal family. As noted by HuffPost, Queen Elizabeth wanted Princess Diana’s funeral to be a private gathering without the pomp and circumstance of a public ceremony. But outcry from the British people mounted, and things got really sad and very tense.
As noted by PopSugar, it took the palace five days to make a statement about Diana’s death, which incurred a huge amount of public backlash. It appeared as though the palace bowed to public pressure, because Diana was eventually given the royal funeral that so many were demanding. Diana’s funeral saw massive crowds lining the streets, and it was watched worldwide by about 2.5 billion people. Her funeral consisted of a viewing at St. James’s Palace and a formal ceremony at Westminster Abbey.
Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, delivered the eulogy and all but blamed the royal family for her death: “Of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest was this — a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age.”
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