Biography of the English princess Diana Spencer. The little girl – the count's daughter. Fantastic bride of Wales. The loving mother and the wife. Great princess of fashion and style of our days. Death in road accident, a funeral and national love.
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AN EARL'S DAUGHTER
Diana Frances Spencer was not royal by birth. She was born on 1 July 1961 at Park House on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. She was the third daughter of the future viscount Althorp and Frances Ruth, who was one of The Queen Mother's ladies-in-waiting.
Diana had two elder sisters, Sarah and Jane, and a younger brother, Charles; there was also a brother called John, born in 1960, who survived only ten hours.
Diana spent her early children's years in Sandringham, where she had home education. Her first teacher was Gertrude Allen, who taught Diana's mother. Life at Park House was orderly, traditional and aristocratic. The Spencer children saw their parents only for an hour in the morning and at tea time. When Diana was just six years old her parents separated and later divorced, the children remaining with their father.
Diana continued her education in Sulfide, in private school near the Kings Lynn, then in preparatory Ridlsuort School. When Diana was 12 years old, she went to the privileged school for the girls in West Heath, county Kent.
Her life changed a lot in 1975 when Viscount Althorp becoming 8th Earl Spencer, and Diana becoming Lady Diana, and they moved to the stately home at Althorp in Northamtonshire. The following year Earl Spencer married Raine, Countess of Dartmouth, whose mother was the romantic novelist, Barbara Cartland. Diana went to a finishing school in Switzerland, where she studied domestic science, typing and correspondence, and found plenty of time to enjoy skiing.
LADY DIANA SPENCER
When Diana returned to Britain from Switzerland she lived in London, sharing apartment with old school friends. She moved naturally in the society that was described by someone as `Sloane Rangers', so called because much of their leisure time was spend in the fashionable shops and restaurants around Sloane Square. Diana became a nanny to a number of children, and took a three-month cookery course, before joining the Young England Kindergarten as a helper. She enjoyed the social whirl, attending parties in the evenings and going to the country every weekend. Diana would stay with friends, or occasionally go back to Althorp where she would visit her sister Jane, and her husband Sir Robert Fellows, at their house on the estate.
Most of Diana's circle of friends came from similar backgrounds, and when her relationship with The Prince of Wales began they automatically provided her protection. Once the media suspected Lady Diana and Prince Charles' new romance, press reporters and cameramen pursued her relentlessly. They besieged her flat at Coleherne Court and followed her everywhere. It was a very testing time for the young Diana.
Diana learned to keep her head down, literally, becoming known as `Shy Di'. So the highly intensive media attention which was to continue throughout her life began. But ones the engagement was official, Diana moved into an apartment in Clarence House, home of the late Queen Mother, where she would be under the protection of the Royal Press Office.
A FAIRY-TALE BRIDE
The wedding of The Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer took place at St Paul's Cathedral on 29 July 1981, barely a month after the Brides 20th birthday. It was a day of joy for everyone: the bride and groom, their families and the millions of people watching on television all over the world. The occasion was a combination of pageantry, high emotion, formal ceremony and vociferous enthusiasm.
Diana was everyone's idea of a fairy-tail bride; her dress, designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, was a triumph of ivory silk taffeta, hand embroidered with thousands of tiny mother-of-pearl sequins and pearls, and with a 25-foot train trimmed with sparking old lace. Diana wore the Spencer family tiara, and diamond earrings borrowed from her mother.
She left Clarence House in the Glass Coach accompanied by her father, to the thunderous cheers of the crowds lining The Mall. At St Paul's the groom was waiting, dressed in uniform of a royal Navy commander, with a splendid blue sash of the Order of the Garter. Seated behind him were the 2,650 guests who had been invited to the wedding, including nearly all the crowned heads of Europe.
After the ceremony the couple returned to Buckingham Palace in the 1902 State Landau, while vast crowds pressed against the railings to catch a glimpse of the new Prince of Wales.
They left the Palace in a balloon-bedecked carriage, starting their honeymoon at Broadlands, the Hampshire home of the late Lord Mountbatten, then flying to Gibraltar to join the Royal Yacht Britannia for a Mediterranean cruise, and finally joining the Royal Family at Balmoral.
PRINCESS OF WALES
From the moment they were married, The Prince and Princess of Wales became the focus of public attention to an extent never before experienced in Britain, even by the Royal Family. They became the most closely watched couple in the world, and while Prince Charles was used to being in the spotlight, for Diana it was a new experience. She coped impressively, and soon became the most photographed woman in the world.
Her early days as Princess of Wales were not always easy. She was coming to grips with being a working member of the Royal Family, finding ways to impress her own style upon her new homes at Kensington Palace and Highgrove, and also getting used to the idea that she was now public property, with very little private life.
For one so young, Diana displayed an extraordinary sense of duty, yet she insisted that her prime role in life was to be a good mother to her children. When she and Prince Charles visited Australia in 1983 she refused to leave Prince William behind, saying she was not going to be separated from her baby for such a long period and miss what she regarded as one of the most important parts of his life. It showed that The Princess had a mind of her own and was not prepared to be merely a pretty accessory.
A DEVOTED MOTHER
Diana's natural role in life was motherhood. She had always had a special affinity with children of all ages and she never doubted for a moment that she was intended to be a mother. Speaking about her children she once said, `They mean everything to me' and later added, `I always feed my children love and affection -- it's so important'.
Although the royal marriage ended in divorce there were many times when the couple enjoyed great happiness together. One such time was at 9.03 p.m. on 21 June 1982, when Diana gave birth to her first son, Prince William, in the private Lindo Wing of St. Mary's Hospital in London. Prince Charles broke with royal tradition by being present at the birth, and it was also the first time that an heir-presumptive had been born in hospital. Both Diana and Prince Charles were overjoyed.
They were affectionate parents and Diana said she had found her true destiny. She was never happier than when she was playing with William, whom she called Wills. Two years later, on 15 September 1984, Harry was born.
Off duty Diana would attempt to shrug off the rigid controls of royal protocol and relax with her sons. She was determined that, although they would never forget who they were, they should have as normal an upbringing as possible. She took them to the cinema, letting them choose the films they wanted to see, and introduced them to the delights of fast food hamburger cafes, where she queued with other parents to serve herself. She was a thoroughly modern mother who refused to allow her royal role to interfere with the ordinary, every day joys of bringing up her children.
Diana turned up at the prices' annual sports day, kicked off her shoes and ran barefoot in the mothers' race -- which the won, to her sons' great delight. When the time came for Prince William to go away to school, Diana expressed a very clear reference for Eton. It was near enough to London that she could see him frequently, while allowing him to become an ordinary boarder. Both she and Prince Charles insisted that he should be treated the same way as the other pupils.
Diana impressed upon her sons their connection with the principality whose name they shared, telling them never to forget what they were: Prince William and Prince Harry of Wales. She took William on his first official visit to Wales -- on St David's Day 1991 -- and later took both boys to Cardiff to watch the Welsh rugby team in action.
She instilled in her sons her own sense of public awareness from an early age, and showed them, at first hand, how the underprivileged are forced to live by taking them with her to a Seamen's Mission centre for the homeless. It was a salutary experience for the young princes, but one which she felt was necessary in their ongoing training for their future lives.
Diana will be remembered in many different ways, but undoubtedly the most important legacy of her extraordinary life is her two sons, William and Harry.
A SPECIAL TOUCH
As she freely admitted, Diana was not an intellectual. But despite her lack of academic achievement she possessed a quick wit and an understanding that enabled her to survive those early years and adapt to her new role, while her empathy with the public prevented her from being dismissed as merely a `walking clothes-horse'.
Diana believed that the monarchy should be in touch with the people, and she won many hearts with her spontaneity and genuine warmth. She was a tactile person who loved to give a hug or a kiss, whether to a child in a Nigerian village or an old lady in a British geriatric ward. People from all walks of life and of all ages identified with her, for her sense of style as well as for the compassion she showed to the sick and the suffering, and to those who had been the outcasts of society.
The public turned out in droves whenever and wherever she appeared, and she always found time to stop and talk, often delaying her official programme in order to chat with people who had waited hours to see her.
It was her common touch, combined with her grace and aristocracy, which made her so popular with the press. They adored her, and followed her wherever she went, knowing that she would always provide them with a winning picture or story. She never let them down. Some of them whom she grew to trust, and took into her confidence, became personal friends who would mourn her in death as much as they had respected her in life.
PRINCESS OF STYLE
If ever a person could rightly claim to be a one-woman fashion industry, that person mast have been Diana, Princess of Wales. Almost single-handed she rejuvenated the British fashion scene, practically from the moment she first stepped onto the royal stage.
Legions of women, from Japan to Jersey, faithfully copied her style down to the tiniest detail. When she appeared in a `Robin Hood' type of hat in the early 80s, identical copies were bought in their thousands, and when she, mischievously, wore a diamond necklace as a headband, jewelers throughout the world were inundated the next day with enquiries for replicas.
Diana never saw herself as a fashion icon and she disliked the description, believing it detracted from more serious side. She said she never followed fashion, only dressing `for the job in hand'. It is true that she was not a follower but a trend-setter, and if she was set up as an icon it was only because women so admired her innate sense of style and her ability to choose what was right for her. She managed to combine a modern look with the requirements of royal dignity and cool elegance. The demands of her position necessitated a large wardrobe, and Diana was determined to show the very best of British design and manufacture wherever she went on her overseas tours, performing an extraordinary service for the fashion industry and bringing a new glamorous image to the Royal Family.
She was not dressed exclusively by British designers. Diana was often seen, in recent years, in outfits by Christian Dior, John Galliano, Gianni Versace and Jacques Azagury, as well as those she wore from Bruce Oldfield and Catherine Walker.
Diana was fascinated by showbusiness and the arts and missed no opportunity to mix with stars of stage and screen. Ballet was her first love, and as Patron of the English National Ballet she played an active role in the organization, often turning up to watch rehearsals and staying behind to talk with the dancers. She once wistfully remarked that she would have loved to have been a ballet dancer but `at 5ft joins I'm too tall'. So when she sprang a surprise Christmas present for Prince Charles in 1985 by dancing on stage with Wayne Sleep, she was also achieving a life-time ambition. Some years later at a reception at the White House in Washington she partnered John Travolta on the dance floor and afterwards both said it was a `dream come true'.
It was Diana's first change in hairstyle that seemed to transform her the most. Just after the birth of Prince Harry her pageboy hair-cut was replaced by a new style that was classic, sophisticated and totally stunning. The Diana look had arrived; the photographic image had been created.
In June 1997, responding to a suggestion by Prince William, Diana assigned Christie's to auction 79 of her dresses, raising Ј1,960,150 for charity. They ranged from short cocktail dresses to formal ball-gowns and included her favourite: a Victor Edelstein creation in duchesse satin with matching bolero jacket, which sold for Ј54,436.
A MODERN PRINCESS
With the collapse of her marriage in 1992 -- separation, followed in 1996 by divorce -- Diana set out to find a new life for herself as a single parent. She wanted to create an independent role outside the Royal Family but, as the mother of a future King, she was never completely able to shed her responsibilities, or her imagine throughout the world as `Princess Di'.
She formed a number of unfortunate relationships which were quickly terminated and she realized that unqualified love and loyalty would come only from her sons. Diana worked hard at keeping physically fit by visiting a gymnasium most days, and she sought the company of people whom she believed would not try to exploit her.
She made many visits to the United States where her popularity never waned, and where she continued to be treated as royalty. Americans saw her as both an innocent victim and a winner in the divorce battle, and acclaimed her as a great survivor and the successful single mother.
Once the publicity of the marriage break-up had died down Diana began to working towards her goal, which was to be taken seriously in her own right. She had discussions with political leaders, such as President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, and finally she achieved her aim, talking a role of the international stage as an unofficial but highly influential ambassadress.
Her crusade for the world-wide banning of landmines touched the public conscience in a way that nothing else had done. She had picked on exactly the right subject at precisely the right moment.
A QUEEN OF HEARTS
At one time the Princess of Wales was involved with over a hundred charities, which she liked to call her `Family of Organizations'.
At the height of her working life, her patronages included such disparate bodies as Barnardos, Birthright, and the British Deaf Association (for whom she leant sign language), the Leprosy Mission, the Malcolm Sargent Cancer Fund for Children, The Princess of Wales Children's Health Camp in Rotorua (New Zealand), Turning Point, Help the Aged, Centrepoint, AIDS Crisis Trust and the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children.
When the accepted an invitation to become patron of a charity, she became a tireless worker.
Turning Point was perhaps one of the most unlikely groups for a member of the Royal Family to support. It was the largest national voluntary organization providing help for men and woman with drug and alcohol-related problems, and for people recovering from mental illness. When Diana was asked to join them she agreed without hesitation, on the condition that she was not to be merely another royal figurehead, but an active participant in all their work. She raised the profile of Turning Point dramatically and as their Chief Executive, Les Rudd, explained, `We have an unpopular client group and without The Princess's personal involvement we would never have attracted the public's sympathy to such an extent'.
Diana chose to become actively involved with Centrepoint, a charity which concentrates on providing accommodation for homeless young people who are considered to be at risk. She said `Nothing dives me greater pleasure than to try to help the most vulnerable people in society'.
In 1993 Diana announced her retirement from public life and relinquished her position with nearly all her charities. She retained and handful which she continued to support and work for until the day she died.
One of the most courageous and important of Diana's public appearances was undoubtedly when she decided to open the first specialist AIDS ward in Britain. AIDS was, at the time, the unmentionable disease and few people were prepared to be associated with its care and treatment. The Princess sent shock waves throughout the world when she shook hands with patients suffering from AIDS -- and did so without wearing gloves. By that single action she demonstrated that people had no need to fear that the disease might be transmitted simply by touch. From that moment her commitment to the cause was total; she helped raise millions of pounds and, more importantly, she increased the public's awareness and understanding at a time when fear and prejudice were commonplace.
When Diana visited a leprosy hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia and another in Nigeria, and comforted those suffering from this most disfiguring of diseases, she never once flinched or drew away from close contract. She said, `I'm trying to show in a simple action that they are not reviled, nor we repulsed'.
It is difficult to overestimate the impact that Diana made on the causes she espoused. As a fundraiser she was unequalled; her presence at a function ensured that all the tickets would be sold in hours.
She worked indefatigably for the Royal Marsden Hospital Cancer Fund and insisted that part of the proceeds of the auction of her dresses in New York should go to the hospital. The rest of the money went to another of her favourite charities, AIDS Crisis Trust.
Diana's concern for the dispossessed and the under-privileged knew no national boundaries. Together with her friends Imran and Jemima Khan she visited Pakistan to support their efforts in famine relief; and after meeting Mother Teresa in New York, she traveled to India to see for herself the living conditions of some of the poorest people in the world.
But it was when she visited Angola and Bosnia that people realized how sound her instinct was. She had begun her campaign for the banning of landmines without any official backing, but soon governments around the world were responding to her call. In Bosnia she met and comforted mutilated victims and bereaved widows and orphans with a sensitive professionalism that showed clearly how much she understood the anguish all around her. It was to be her last crusade.
When she was accused of interfering in political issues, Diana replied, `I'm a humanitarian, I lead from the heart'.
Diana died in a car crash with Dodi Fayed on 31 of August 1997, in Paris. Few events in Britain's history have produced a sense of national dismay and bewilderment that followed. People traveled for all parts of the country to pay tribute to The Princess. Thousands of flowers were placed at the gates of Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace, and people queued for up to twelve hours to sign the books of condolence at St. James's Palace.
The Queen appeared on television and spoke movingly of her former daughter-in-law. `She was an exceptional and gifted human being. In good times and bad, she never lost her capacity to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with her warmth and kindness'.
The funeral, described by Buckingham Palace as `a unique service for a unique person', was an inspiring combination of traditional ritual and informality. The coffin containing Diana's body was carried on a First World War gun-carriage drawn by six black horses and nine members of The King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery, and flanked by a bearer party of Welsh Guardsmen.
Thousands, many of whom had camped out overnight in order to get a good position, watched silently, and threw flowers into their path. As the cortege passed thought Wellington Arch and down Constitution Hill, The Queen and three generations of the Royal Family emerged from Buckingham Palace.
The Prince of Wales, Prince Philip, Prince William and Prince Harry, together with Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, joined the cortege and walked behind the coffin to Westminster Abbey. They were followed by a throng of representatives of many of her charities.
The service was simple and dignified, with Diana's favourite hymns and poems read by her sisters. Diana's brother gave a penetrating and passionate address. The 2,000-strong congregation included politicians, showbusiness celebrities, personal friends and representatives from her charities.
For many the most poignant element of the ceremony was the Princes' wreath on the coffin: a small ring of white roses bearing the word `Mummy'.
As the choir sang a haunting anthem the coffin was carried away. At the door the procession stopped and an absolute silence descended -- a silence that was respected by millions throughout the world.
Diana's body was laid to rest at Althorp, on a peaceful and secluded island in the middle of a lake.
THE PEOPLE'S PRINCESS
The death of Diana, Princess of Wales unleashed an expression of public feeling on an unprecedented scale. Nothing had prepared the people for the shock of losing such a vital, beautiful young women who had everything to live for. People of all ages had been able to identify with this member of the Royal Family, as a glamorous leader of fashion, a dedicated mother and more recently as the undisputed champion of the under-privileged, the handicapped and the elderly. She did more than had ever been done before to focus attention on what were previously unmentionable subjects, and the practical and constructive way in which she displayed her compassion and sympathy was a fine demonstration of modern royalty at work.
Diana was star quality, of that there was no doubt. She became the most pursued woman in the world and gave the impression of enjoying her celebrity status, even though she claimed not to understand why so many people felt so affectionate towards her. Perhaps it was this very innocence that made her so attractive. She occasionally gave the outward appearance of being tough, and she herself said she would `fight like a tiger' for what she believed in. But another of the qualities that emerged was her vulnerability, and it was this made so many people spring to her defence. She never lacked friends to take her part and champion her cause, and there was never a shortage of volunteers anxious to protect and cherish her. Much of her international appeal came about because those who came into contract with her felt a natural instinct to look after her, even when she protested that she did not need protecting.
Diana was always a woman who acted from the heart, and the world loved her for it. She possessed a natural aura of accessibility, and was never afraid to show her emotion. Ordinary men and woman felt they could approach her without any fear of rebuttal; she positively encouraged people to talk to her and touch her.
Diana has been described as one of the nation's greatest assets and her appearance was one of her most important attributes. Even when her behaviour was unpredictable, she was forgiven because of her beauty and style.
Her most important role was raising her small family. Everything else was secondary to the welfare of her sons and no one was ever left in any doubt as to her priorities. William and Harry came first and in spite of the pressures she lived under -- that would not have change. She knew that the encouragement and help she could give him. She was prepared to subjugate her own ambitions to his happiness and security. princess diana spencer biography
If Diana seemed to rebel against a protocol and tradition that appeared to be stuffy and restrictive, it struck a chord with young people, who felt she was striking a blow for them as well as for herself. And when she comforted the sick, the maimed and the abused, those around her knew that this was not an act, neither was she merely going though the routine of a well-rehearsed and programmed public appearance. Although her duties were necessarily choreographed down to the last detail, her concern was obviously genuine and she managed to communicate her true feelings.
How will she be remembered and what were her most significant achievements? It would be invidious to single out from her many good works just one and name it as the most important. On the international scene, if there is a successful conclusion to her landmines campaign, that would be a fitting memorial; or if there is a breakthrough in the treatment of AIDS or cancer. Perhaps her involvement in child care and famine relief will result in greater public awareness.
Diana will be remembered as an inspirational woman who once said she wanted to be known as a `Queen of Hearts'. Perhaps in death that is exactly what she has become.
By Mother Teresa
I see a bird in flight,
Or a baby's gentle smile.
The beauty that I see in them
Reminds me of your face.
The compassion and the caring
So softly chiseled there.
The love and understanding
Painted on by God's own hand.
Your face is a priceless treasure,
With a perfection of its own.
I look into your face
To see Love's own eyes
gazing back at me.
1990 - By me
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