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Princess Diana: The Earl's daughter, born to life of privilege

 

In this story:

The royal romance that enchanted the world
Diana reigns as glamorous royal
Irreconcilable Differences: the royal divorce

The woman who became known worldwide simply as Diana knew nothing but a life of privilege and royal association from the outset.

The Honorable Diana Frances Spencer was born July 1, 1961, to an aristocratic family. Her father, then Lord Althorp, became the 8th Earl Spencer upon his own father's death in 1975, and her title in turn changed to Lady Diana Spencer.

Her parents' unpleasant divorce, in 1969, hit the young girl hard and was thought to have made her determined to have a happier marriage of her own. Her father won custody of the children: Diana, her brother and two sisters. After her parents each remarried, Diana remained close to both of them.

Diana never excelled academically but was recognized at her school, West Heath, in Kent, with a special award for service in 1977. She was described there as "a girl who notices what needs to be done, then does it willingly and cheerfully."

Diana attended finishing school briefly in Switzerland. She returned to London, where she worked for a short time as a nanny and governess before becoming a kindergarten teacher.

Diana and her siblings, growing up at her father's house on the royal estate at Sandringham and the family home at Althorp, knew the royal family from a young age, with Charles' younger brothers, Edward and Andrew, as playmates.

She and Charles began dating in 1980, when their romance at first remained a secret from the media. But soon the cameras caught up with "Shy Di," who at 19 charmed the world with her fresh beauty and innocence. Charles proposed marriage in February 1981.

The royal romance that enchanted the world

The fairy tale romance of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles raised worldwide interest in Britain's royal family.

Engagement pictures showing the smiling couple -- and showing off Diana's ring, an 18-carat sapphire surrounded by diamonds -- were splashed across everything from newspapers to commemorative coffee mugs.

The heir to Britain's ancient throne and his beautiful princess-to-be obliged admirers by holding a glittering storybook wedding with all the royal trappings imaginable.

Crowds packed London streets and millions watched worldwide on television as Charles, 32, and Diana, 20, exchanged vows at St. Paul's Cathedral on July 29, 1981. The public soaked up all the pomp and circumstance of the royal family, out in force and looking its best.

The couple honeymooned in Hampshire and aboard the royal yacht Britannia in the Mediterranean.

The spectacle of the young, attractive and privileged couple starting life together touched well-wishers at a personal level, and the prince and princess's relationship became, in a sense, public property.

The 12-year age difference between the prince and princess seemed to matter little at this stage in their relationship.

The royal couple didn't keep their public waiting on the all-important question of producing an heir to the throne. Diana gave birth to William Arthur Philip Louis on June 21, 1982, less than a year after the wedding.

Diana reigns as glamorous royal

Princess Diana blossomed publicly in the early years of her marriage, throwing herself into the duties of royal life with a liveliness that reinvigorated the royal family's image.

Diana actually seemed to enjoy the work of ribbon-cuttings and charity fund-raisers. As princess, she conveyed royal authority, while as a person, she conveyed warmth and concern in a direct, unpretentious way to charity recipients as well as to the crowds who thronged to see her.

The princess, tall, slim and glamorous, indulged herself in clothes and made a point to wear British fashion. Pictures of her were snapped up by a public increasingly eager for news of this unusually approachable and modern royal.

Diana also promptly fulfilled her duty to provide heirs to the throne, giving birth to Prince Harry (Henry Charles Albert David) in 1984, two years after Prince William's birth. She was a devoted mother, and made an effort to expose her sons to life outside the palace.

But by the mid-1980s, signs began to emerge that Diana and Charles were less than happy together. The 12-year age gap between them began to take its toll, as their interests diverged.

By 1986, Charles began again to see his old love, Camilla Parker Bowles, while Diana developed bulimia nervosa and reportedly even attempted suicide. Charles and Diana continued making public appearances together, but privately began to lead separate lives.

The rumors and reports about the couple's unhappiness abruptly became official in 1992, when then-Prime Minister John Major announced to Parliament that Charles and Diana were separating.

Irreconcilable Differences: the royal divorce

In July of 1996, less than three weeks before the royal couple's 15th wedding anniversary, Prince Charles and Princess Diana formally announced plans to end their troubled marriage.

By then, the "fairy tale" union had disintegrated into tabloid spectacle, with both prince and princess admitting adultery.

Some observers said the marriage was ill-fated from the beginning. The couple was often described as incompatible: Charles was aristocratic, an airy intellectual whose passions were horses, gardening and architecture. Diana loved pop music, fancy dresses and gossip. By the late 1980s, the couple's private troubles had become clear in their public appearances -- the strain barely concealed as they stood apart while attending to their royal duties.

It did not help that Charles maintained a close relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles, whom he described in 1986 as "the love of my life."

In 1992, British "royal watcher" Andrew Morton published "Diana: Her True Story," which stated that Diana had suffered bouts of depression and bulimia and even attempted suicide while living a life of what one observer called "plush solitude."

The book -- which was authorized and some say co-authored by Diana -- outraged Charles, and just as importantly, his mother, Queen Elizabeth. More revelations of troubles from both sides followed, and in December of 1992 the couple agreed to a formal separation.

Lonely and embattled and hounded by the ever-present tabloid press, Diana struggled to define herself in the aftermath of the separation.

In November of 1993, she stunned observers when she took the stage during a London charity event and made an unscheduled announcement. "Ladies and gentleman," she said, "I was supposed to have my head down the loo (toilet) for most of the day. I'm supposed to be dragged off the minute I leave here by men in white coats. (But) if it's all right with you, I thought I might postpone my nervous breakdown."

In 1995, Diana gave her extraordinary BBC television interview -- describing her bulimia, admitting adultery and accusing the royal family of being uncaring. For Queen Elizabeth, it was to be the last indignity. She demanded that her son end his marriage.

Under the July 1996 divorce agreement reached only after testy negotiations, Diana gave up the right to be Queen of England and to be called "Her Royal Highness." In return, she reportedly received a lump sum payment of more than $20 million in cash, another $600,000 a year to maintain her private office, and equal access to her children, Prince William and Prince Harry.

What the agreement did not give Diana was a private life to call her own -- far away from the telephoto lenses of a prying press. She died alongside her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, in a high-speed car crash on Aug. 31, 1997 reportedly after being chased by photographers who were trying to snap photographs of the princess.

Ironically, Diane might have gained her greatest fame since her wedding day 16 years earlier at her funeral on September 6, 1997. London streets were filled with mourners, while millions worldwide watched her funeral on television.



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