The Real Princess Diana: Parts of Her Story You Didn’t Know

Diana, Princess of Wales, was one of the most high-profile figures of the late 20th century, and even decades after her tragic death, people continue to adore her and want to explore her life story. But even with all of the fanfare, there’s still an aura of mystery surrounding the People’s Princess. So today, we’re taking a look at some lesser-known parts of her story to get a better understanding of who Diana really was. Here’s our Take!


The world was introduced to Diana upon her engagement to Prince Charles in 1981, but she had quite an eventful young life before she joined the royal family. Born Diana Frances Spencer on July 1, 1961, she was the fourth of five children. Her middle name came from her mother, Frances Spencer, and ‘Diana’ from her great-aunt from the 1700s, Lady Diana Spencer – whose very influential grandmother had attempted to arrange a secret marriage between her and the Prince of Wales at the time, which would have also made her Diana, Princess of Wales. Thanks to the Spencer family’s long-time connection to the royal family, Diana grew up in Park House, which was leased from Queen Elizabeth II herself (whom Diana grew up calling Aunt Lilibet.) As a young child, Diana got the nickname ‘duch’ from her family due to her duchess-like attitude, and she continued using the nickname with only her closest friends and family into adulthood. Diana was quite shy in her youth but could also have quite the temper, once even pushing her stepmother (who she called a “bully”) down the stairs.

As Diana began branching out at school, she shed some of her shyness and started to foster her love of helping the community – once even receiving a community spirit award from her school. She had a whole host of interests and hobbies that she excelled at, from piano to swimming to dance. In fact, her dream was actually to become a ballerina, but unfortunately, at five foot ten, she was deemed too tall. She wasn’t a great student academically – she failed her O-levels twice and dropped out of the finishing school she attended in Switzerland after only one semester. You might think a Lady would be living the lavish life in London after leaving school, but her life was actually surprisingly relatable (for a Lady, at least.) She did a number of odd jobs like nannying for families, teaching dance, and working as a teacher’s assistant in a nursery, and lived with roommates in a flat in Chelsea. It was likely this time of her life, where she was living a relatively normal existence as a young woman, that helped her grow out of the ‘duchess attitude’ of her childhood. Instead of seeing herself as above it all and looking down on others, she started seeing everyone as equals, regardless of where they came from or how much money they had. And it’s this attitude that would go on to make her beloved by millions of people around the world.


Diana’s entry into the royal family is probably one of the more well-known parts of her life: Prince Charles was dating her sister, who dumped him – so then he decided to date Diana instead. Charles proposed on February 6, 1981, and at only 19 years old, Diana was on her way to becoming royalty. She was the first royal bride to have had a paying job prior to marrying into the royal family – a job she had to leave behind once she got engaged. Even before the big day, they could both feel that something was off – Prince Charles’ response to what should have been an easy question during their engagement announcement interview was the first of many red flags. Diana, too, was hesitant: she actually wanted to call the wedding off herself a week beforehand, but her sister told her that it was too late. Diana and Charles had only met thirteen times before they wed, so they hadn’t even really had time to get to know each other before saying, “I do.” However, due to pressures from their respective families, they both decided to continue on.

The wedding was a global event, with over 750 million people watching around the world (and over 600,000 lining the streets in person!) Her 25-foot train was instantly iconic, and the dress designers hid an 18-karat gold horseshoe in the gown’s label as a good luck charm. She ruffled feathers for the first of many times with her independent streak when she chose not to include that she would “obey” Charles in her vows. Charles also forgot to kiss Diana after their vows, which led to them doing the kiss on the balcony post-ceremony instead (which started a bit of a new tradition for royal couples.) While the wedding appeared to be straight out of a fairy tale, the marriage itself certainly was not.

Diana was quite a free spirit, and becoming a royal meant she had to essentially give up those parts of herself to become a cog in the royal machine. As the New York Times article about the wedding stated, “At the age of 20 she has renounced forever spontaneity and privacy, freedom and independence, her red Mini Metro and her Chelsea apartment, past friendships and future intimacies other than those deemed appropriate for royal confidences.” Charles’ heart was elsewhere, with his ex-girlfriend-cum-mistress Camilla Parker Bowles, and he seemingly had no interest in helping Diana adjust to royal life. She was alone in her new gilded cage. But while Charles paid no attention to his new bride, the entire rest of the world certainly did.
Diana began getting hounded by the press and members of the public in England as soon as the media caught wind of her and Charles’ relationship, but full-on Dianamania began around the world after the wedding. Everywhere the couple went, people were clamoring to see Diana, which allegedly ticked off Charles, who thought that as the heir, he should be the sole center of attention. People were, of course, drawn to Diana’s beauty and charm, but she became such a huge sensation because she was the first relatable royal. She didn’t position herself as being above everyone else. In fact, just the opposite: she treated everyone as equals and would have a chat with anyone. Even things that might seem insignificant, like the fact that she didn’t like to wear gloves like other female royals, actually helped her build connections with people – literally – because she liked to actually connect with people when she shook or held their hands. She loved writing thank you notes herself and would send them out to everyone who sent her a gift or letter. And even within the royal palace, she found ways to make new connections: she wasn’t afraid to pop into the kitchen and have a chat with the staff. This was quite peculiar and certainly not something that other royals did, but Diana didn’t see the people that worked for the family as beneath her and genuinely enjoyed hanging out with them.


Diana was the first royal to give birth in a hospital, as previously, all royals were born in the palace. Charles actually required that William’s birth date be set so that he didn’t have to miss a polo match. But, regardless of Charles’ interest in her and the boys (or lack thereof,) she really aimed to give her children as normal a life as possible from the jump: sending them to public school, taking them on public transportation and to amusement parks, letting them eat fast food, and anything else that she could get away with that would allow William and Harry to feel like normal kids having fun. She also was an active parent, once even participating in a barefoot sports day race at the boys’ school (which she won!) These attempts at normalcy in very not normal circumstances endeared her to the public even more.

Diana’s fashion choices were also a favorite topic of conversation among the media and fans alike. She was always fashion-forward and crafted her own signature style with the help of designer Catherine Walker. She was also close friends with iconic designer Gianni Versace. Knowing that she was always going to be photographed as soon as she stepped outside, Diana took to using what she called her ‘cleavage bags’ to keep photographers from seeing too much – she’d use her clutch purses to hide her chest until she was safely inside a venue and away from the flashbulbs. Diana is also credited by many as creating the athleisure style – combining workout wear with fancy bags and accessories. She was often snapped going to and from the gym in the style that’s still popular to this day.

Along with all of the wonderful things that made Diana relatable, many of her biggest struggles were ones that any of us could encounter. Diana suffered from depression and an eating disorder for much of her life, both of which were made worse upon having to endure the constant scrutiny of being a member of the royal family. Her pregnancy with William was incredibly stressful, leading her to once even throw herself down the stairs (thankfully, both she and the baby were unharmed.) Then she was hit with postpartum depression following William’s birth – for his book Diana: Her True Story, she told Andrew Morton, “Came home and then postnatal depression hit me hard and it wasn’t so much the baby that had produced it, it was the baby that triggered off all else that was going on in my mind.” When the full extent of Diana’s mental troubles became more widely known after the release of the book and other interviews, some people did complain that she shouldn’t be sad since she had a fancy life. But, it created a deeper connection between her and many of her fans – as they realized that even for all of the differences they might have with the Princess, she was dealing with many of the same problems they were.
Diana and Charles’ marriage was never really a happy one, and it wasn’t long before both gave up trying. Once Diana realized that Charles wasn’t going to leave Camilla behind, she started having affairs of her own. She was in a relationship with the family’s riding instructor, James Hewitt, for a time – some even think he’s secretly Harry’s father, but Diana didn’t start dating James until two years after Harry was born, so that’s likely not the case. She also had a very close relationship with James Gilbey, which led to the so-called “Squidgygate” when tapes of their phone conversations in which they referred to each other as “Squidgy” were released. It’s also been alleged that she had dated her bodyguard, Barry Mannakee, for some time, and he was eventually removed from his post due to the suspicions about their closeness.


In December of 1992, it was finally announced that Diana and Charles were officially separating, though the divorce wouldn’t be finalized for four more years. The straw that broke the camel’s back was Diana’s Panorama interview with Martin Bashir, in which she was very open about the various problems in her marriage, her personal struggles, and the fact that she wasn’t really interested in becoming the Queen of England. In later years, the truth was revealed that Bashir actually lied to Diana to trick her into the interview, using forged bank statements to convince her that many people in her life were being paid to spy on her and playing on her fears to get her to agree to open up. Post-divorce, her honorific “Her Royal Highness” was taken away, but she kept the styling Diana, Princess of Wales, because she was still the mother of the next heir to the throne after Charles.

After leaving Charles, she ended up finding the man that many of her friends referred to as “the love of her life,” heart surgeon Hasnat Khan. They met at the Royal Brompton Hospital when Diana was visiting a friend recovering from heart surgery and began dating discreetly. They stayed together until the summer of 1997, and Khan’s father says that he broke things off because, “If I married her, our marriage would not last for more than a year. We are culturally so different from each other. She is from Venus and I am from Mars.” However, Khan himself said it was Diana that ended things between them. Some speculate that Diana’s final ill-fated summer fling with Dodi Fayed was actually just an attempt to make Khan jealous and woo him back. Whatever the truth about their split, Diana had made it clear to those close to her that she had found true love with Khan, and it’s wonderful that she got to experience that kind of love after years of suffering through Charles’ coldness.
Diana was hugely into her charity work, both during her time as a royal and after. As a royal patron, she carried out hundreds of official engagements every year at hospitals, schools, ribbon cuttings, and anywhere else her appearance might help boost a good cause. In her charity work, she found her true calling and realized that she could use all of this fame that had been thrust upon her for good. The director of the UK Institute of Charity Fundraising Managers, Stephen Lee, even said, “Her overall effect on charity is probably more significant than any other person’s in the 20th century.”


Diana used her power to not only bring in money for charitable causes but also to help remove the stigma around certain issues. She began working with AIDS patients in the 1980s as the crisis boomed. Due to poor health education and governments deliberately trying to ignore the problem, many people were fearful of contracting the disease themselves through touch or through the air. But Diana proved that that wasn’t the case when she visited patients and was pictured holding their hands without gloves and having close conversations with them. Her refusal to give in to the stigma changed minds around the world.

She also made headlines with her charity work related to landmines. To raise awareness about the issue of landmines and the suffering they cause, Diana herself donned a flak jacket and toured a minefield. Her work helped influence the Ottawa Treaty banning the use of anti-personnel landmines.

Her first-ever official solo trip was to a cancer treatment hospital in London, and she would continue to support cancer charities throughout her life. She visited Northwestern University in Chicago to help raise money for the school’s Cancer Center in 1996, just three years before future daughter-in-law Meghan Markle began her freshman year there. In 1997, Diana donated many of her most fabulous dresses to a Christie’s auction to help raise money for many charities, including the London cancer hospital from her very first trip.
Diana’s unexpected death at only 36 years old shook the world. While in Paris with her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, the pair, Diana’s bodyguard and a driver, all left the Ritz Hotel, and paparazzi immediately pursued the car. In a tunnel, the car crashed into a pillar, and Fayed and the driver were killed instantly. Diana was cut from the wreckage but died on the way to the hospital, and her bodyguard was the only one to survive the crash. Blood tests later confirmed that the car’s driver was under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time of the crash. Many conspiracy theories have sprung up around Diana’s death, most notably that the royal family had her killed. It was later revealed that Diana did at one point think that Charles might try to have her killed – in a note to her butler before the divorce, she wrote, “My husband is planning ‘an accident’ in my car, brake failure and serious head injury” in order to get her out of the way so that he could marry William and Harry’s nanny, who Diana thought Charles was having an affair with at the time. But there has never been any definitive proof of foul play in the accident.


Diana’s funeral was one of the most viewed programs in the UK of all time, and people also came from around the world to pay their respects in person. Diana was laid to rest on an island in a pond at her ancestral home in Althorp Park.
Even a quarter century after her passing, Diana’s legacy continues to capture the hearts and minds of people around the world. Her sons William and Harry have followed in her footsteps by continuing her charity work, and she remains one of the most influential people of the last century. Versions of her story have been told countless times across books, stage, and screen. But beyond all of the glitz and drama, Diana is most remembered for her kind nature and desire to connect with others, and that’s why she’ll always be the People’s Princess.


Even a quarter century after her passing, Diana’s legacy continues to capture the hearts and minds of people around the world. Her sons William and Harry have followed in her footsteps by continuing her charity work, and she remains one of the most influential people of the last century. Versions of her story have been told countless times across books, stage, and screen. But beyond all of the glitz and drama, Diana is most remembered for her kind nature and desire to connect with others, and that’s why she’ll always be the People’s Princess.

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