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Diana, Princess of Wales

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A picture of Lady Diana Spencer smiling at an awards gala.

Lady Diana Spencer smiles at the 41st annual United Cerebral Palsy Awards gala December 11, 1995 in New York City. Lady Diana, the Princess of Wales, received the UCP Humanitarian Award at the fundraising evening.

(Photo by Pool/Pool / Getty Images)

Who Was Princess Diana?

Princess Diana, the wife of British Prince Charles, endeared herself to the public through her warmth and caring. From her picture-perfect wedding to her untimely death in a car accident, Princess Diana was in the spotlight nearly at all times. Despite problems with so much attention, Princess Diana tried to use this publicity to bring attention to worthy causes such as the elimination of AIDS and landmines. She also became truly a princess of the people when she publicly shared her struggles with depression and bulimia, becoming a role model for those who suffer from those ailments.

Dates:

July 1, 1961 - August 31, 1997

Also Known As:

Diana Frances Spencer; Lady Diana Spencer; Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales; Princess Di; Diana, Princess of Wales

Childhood

Diana was born in 1961 as the third daughter of Edward John Spencer and his wife Frances Ruth Burke Roche. Diana grew up in a very privileged family that had a long history of close ties with the royal family. When Diana's paternal grandfather passed away in 1975, Diana's father became the 8th Earl of Spencer and Diana gained the title of "Lady."

In 1969, Diana's parents divorced. Her mother's affair helped the court decide to give custody of the couple's four children to Diana's father. Both of her parents eventually remarried, but the divorce left an emotional scar on Diana.

Diana attended school at West Heath in Kent and then spent a short time at a finishing school in Switzerland. Although she was not an excellent student academically, her determined personality, caring nature, and cheerful outlook helped her through it. After returning from Switzerland, Diana rented an apartment with two friends, worked with children at the Young England Kindergarten, and watched movies and visited restaurants in her free time.

It was about this time that Prince Charles, in his early 30s, was under increasing pressure to choose a wife. Diana's vibrancy, cheerfulness, and good family background caught the attention of Prince Charles and the two began dating in mid-1980. It was a whirlwind romance for on February 24, 1981, Buckingham Palace officially announced the couple's engagement. At the time, Lady Diana and Prince Charles seemed truly in love and the whole world was awed by what seemed like a fairytale romance.

It was the wedding of the decade; nearly 3,500 people attended and approximately 750 million people from around the world watched it on television. To the envy of young women everywhere, Lady Diana married Prince Charles on July 29, 1981 at St. Paul's Cathedral.

Less than a year after the wedding, Diana gave birth to William Arthur Philip Louis on June 21, 1982. Two years after William was born, Diana gave birth to Henry ("Harry") Charles Albert David on September 15, 1984.

While Diana quickly gained the love and appreciation of the public, there were definitely problems in her marriage by the time Prince Harry was born.

The stresses of Diana's numerous new roles (including wife, mother, and princess) were overwhelming. These pressures plus the extreme media coverage and post-natal depression, left Diana lonely and depressed.

Although she tried to maintain a positive public persona, at home she was crying out for help. Diana suffered from bulimia, cut herself on her arms and legs, and made several suicide attempts.

Prince Charles, who was jealous of Diana's extra media attention and unprepared to handle her depression and self-destructive behavior, quickly started to drift away from her. This led Diana to spend the mid- to late-1980s, unhappy, lonely, and depressed.

During these lonely years, Diana tried to find a place for herself. She had become what many describe as the most photographed woman in the world. The public loved her, which meant that the media followed her everywhere she went and commented on everything she wore, said, or did.

Diana found that her presence comforted many who were sick or dying. She dedicated herself to a number of causes, most especially to the elimination of AIDS and landmines. In 1987, when Diana became the first famous person to be photographed touching someone with AIDS, she made a huge impact in dissolving the myth that AIDS could be contracted merely by touch.

In December 1992, a formal separation was announced between Diana and Charles and in 1996, a divorce was agreed to which was finalized on August 28. In the settlement, Diana was given $28 million, plus $600,000 per year but she was to give up the title, "Her Royal Highness."

Diana's hard-won freedom did not last long. On August 31, 1997, Diana was riding in a Mercedes with her boyfriend (Dodi Al Fayed), bodyguard, and chauffer when the car crashed into a pillar of the tunnel under the Pont de l'Alma bridge in Paris while fleeing from paparazzi. Diana, age 36, died on the operating table at the hospital. Her tragic death shocked the world.

Initially, the public blamed the paparazzi for the accident. However, further investigation proved that the primary cause of the accident was that the chauffer had been driving under the influence of both drugs and alcohol.

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