Royals, Part 2: Fairytale and nightmare
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Diana Frances Spencer, the future princess, came into the world on July 1, 1961.
She was born to Frances Roche, daughter of a baron, and Lord Althorp, who would become the 8th Earl of Spencer.
She had older sisters, Sarah and Jane, and a little brother, Charles. The Spencers lived a life of luxury, spending their early years at Park House, a 10-room mansion on the queen's country estate in Sandringham, Norfolk.
The boy next door was her future husband. Charles was 12 years older than Diana, so she played with royal children more her own age -- Charles' younger brothers, Princes Andrew and Edward.
Diana's privileged upbringing did not guarantee a happy childhood. In 1969, her parents dragged the Spencer children through a bitter divorce.
"She was being pulled back and forth between both parents, who were using her and (her brother) Charles in a war of attrition," says Diana biographer Lady Colin Campbell. "She was a hostage in this war."
Her father, by then Earl Spencer, won custody of the children. So when Diana was 13, she and her siblings moved to the Spencer family home at Althorp, a 14,000-acre country estate 75 miles north of London.
"I remember one of her great fads for a couple of years was tap dancing," says Charles Spencer. "The main hall is called Wooten Hall, and that's got this wonderful marble floor, and it was perfect for that."
At age 16, Diana's path once again crossed that of the Prince of Wales, who was then 28.
"It was 1977," Diana once told an interviewer. "Charles came to stay at my sister's house for a shoot. ... We met in a field." Diana said she found Charles "pretty amazing."
Two years later, at 18, Diana was bored with life at Althorp. She moved to London and found work, first as a nanny, then as a kindergarten teacher.
Call from Charles
In the summer of 1980, a phone call changed the course of her life -- it was Prince Charles asking her for a date.
She watched the prince play polo and spent time with him on the royal yacht. Soon Diana was seeing the prince -- and that meant dealing with the press.
"Can you imagine coming out of a door and seeing 16 flashes in your face and not having seen this before?" says royal genealogist Marlene Eilers. "No matter what she did, the press wanted to be there."
Just six months after their polo outing, Charles proposed to Diana after a candlelit dinner for two at Buckingham Palace.
"I'm amazed that she's been brave enough to take me on," Charles told a reporter then. When asked if she was in love, Diana replied, "Of course!"
Buckingham Palace announced the engagement. Diana was the first English woman in 300 years asked to become the Princess of Wales.
The world got more than a glimpse of Diana. Crowds packed London streets, and millions watched worldwide on television as Charles and Diana exchanged vows at St. Paul's Cathedral on July 29, 1981.
"Everybody had gone completely Diana mad. It was amazing the sort of mania about her," says royal photographer Jayne Fincher.
The Diana madness didn't end with the wedding.
"I don't think she understood the worldwide demand. I don't think she realized how famous she was," says London photographer Mark Saunders.
Less than a year after the royal wedding, Diana gave birth to an heir to the throne -- William Arthur Philip Louis -- on June 21, 1982.
Two years later, his brother, Prince Harry -- Henry Charles Albert David -- came into the world.
'She looked miserable'
These appeared to be happy times for the royal couple. But soon there were indications of strains in the marriage.
"There were signs from about '86 onwards," says Fincher. "You would see them and they would look really miserable at times. She looked really miserable."
Adds Campbell: "She felt that she was in a prison, behind bars. She couldn't stand being caged any longer."
Compounding the princess' frustration, tabloids buzzed with news of an affair between Prince Charles and his old flame, Camilla Parker Bowles.
Meanwhile, the princess struggled with an eating disorder and depression.
"She started to collapse and crack," says Campbell. But instead of completely collapsing, Diana decided to use her fame -- and the media -- to her advantage.
There were magazines, fashion shows, celebrities and public appearances. Diana became an activist for dozens of causes. She raised money for cancer, the homeless, leprosy, and the English National Ballet.
But she was most passionate about children and AIDS charities.
"The image of her holding hands with (someone with) HIV/AIDS ... shattered the stigma, prejudice and fear that surrounded HIV/AIDS in the early days," says Andrew Parkis of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.
Princess Diana was a driving force in philanthropy. She had the adoration of the masses and two loving sons. Still, she was unhappy. As her marriage continued to crumble, dark clouds formed over the Windsors.
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