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Nannies tell new details of Princess Diana's childhood

  • Story Highlights
  • Princess Diana was born into life of privilege but grew up in broken home
  • At 9, Diana told her nanny, "I never intend to be divorced"
  • Diana had a crush on Prince Charles when she was 13
  • The future princess's openness, vulnerability evident from an early age
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By Kristi Keck
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(CNN) -- Before she was a princess, she was a child - shy but affectionate, respectful but mischievous.

Diana Spencer, shown on her first birthday, grew up at Park House, a country estate leased from the royal family.

Ten years after the death of Princess Diana, two women who helped raise the future princess are providing a new, intimate portrait of the girl who would become the "People's Princess."

Diana Frances Spencer was born into a life of privilege. She grew up at Park House, a country home leased from the royal family's Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England. Her parents, Johnnie and Frances Spencer, were well-known members of the English aristocracy.

Inge Crane came to Park House as an au pair when Diana was just 3 years old.

"There's always been something special about Park House. It's difficult to put a finger on what it is," she said in her first interview, given exclusively to CNN.

Life at the house wasn't entirely normal -- the queen's estate was about a mile away, and the young Princes Andrew and Edward (Diana's future in-laws) frequently visited to swim in the pool.

When the butler would ring the gong for dinner, the children would rush to the stairs, slide down the wooden banister and run into the dining room.

Despite growing up in the shadows of royalty, Crane and Mary Clarke, Diana's nanny starting at age 9, describe an "ordinary" childhood for Diana, a tomboy who loved going outdoors, climbing trees and playing with animals.

"She was quite a lovable child," Crane said. "She was very, very cuddly." Video Watch Crane share her memories of the young Diana »

Inside Park House, however, the marriage of Diana's parents was falling apart. The divorce was finalized in 1969. Clarke said the failed marriage had a resounding effect on Diana.

"When Diana walked towards me at school, she had these downcast eyes," Clarke said of their first meeting, when Diana was just 9.

Diana's broken home made her feel different from her classmates, Clarke said. Divorce was uncommon at that time in England. Even more unusual -- Diana's father got custody of their four children.

Nearly 40 years later, Clarke still remembers their first conversation.

"She said, 'I will never marry unless I'm really in love because if you're not in love, you're going to get divorced -- and I never intend to be divorced,' " Clarke said. "This was quite a profound statement for a little girl to come out with."

"Diana's dreams all through her childhood really were just to be happily married and to have a large family," Clarke said.

Her dream, specifically, was to marry Prince Charles, 12 years her elder. While other 13-year-olds loved pop stars, Diana's boarding school room was decorated with pictures of Charles. See family photos as CNN's Soledad O'Brien recounts friends' stories of Diana »

The young child's dreams seemingly came true when she married him just seven years later, but, like her parents' relationship, her marriage unraveled.

From that first candid conversation about her aspirations, Clarke and the future princess of Wales connected.

"We always clicked from the word go," Clarke said. "We worked together as a team."

Clarke had heard rumors about a mischievous Diana -- how a flurry of nannies had come and gone, including the one she locked in a bathroom. But, Clarke said, the Diana she knew never gave her "any headaches whatsoever."

Clarke, who was 21 and had no previous experience, was given "sole charge" of Diana and her younger brother Charles. Diana often helped around the house and was especially nurturing toward Charles.

Charles would describe his sister as the "very essence of compassion" at her funeral.

Diana's motherly instincts were evident as she matured. As a teenager, she would become a nanny, then an assistant kindergarten teacher, and then a mother of two sons, William and Harry.

Clarke remembers observing Diana's impartial love at a young age. She played with children from royalty as well as children from the village.

"They were all treated completely as equals, which is why I feel that in Diana's adult life, she ... found it so easy to interact and to mix with everyone, because to her, each person was an individual," Clarke said.

Diana would become famous for that openness. She was photographed holding hands with a patient who was HIV positive in 1987 -- when many still believed the virus could be spread by touch. Diana devoted herself to her volunteer work, visiting the sick and campaigning for an international ban on landmines.

Even as a teenager visiting patients at a mental hospital, she bonded with people -- ordinary people, disabled people -- in a way no other student could.

In his funeral oration, Charles said his sister told him "it was her innermost feelings of suffering that made it possible for her to connect with her constituency of the rejected." She remained, he said, a "very insecure person at heart."


As the Princess of Wales, Diana captivated the world with the same qualities that stood out to her nannies -- her affection, her vulnerability and her private misery.

These qualities changed the face of the monarchy, and they keep the shy girl from a broken home just as much in the public eye, a decade after her death. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Soledad O'Brien contributed to this report

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