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Diana, Princess of Wales

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Diana, Princess of Wales

Diana, Princess of Wales, The Lady Diana Frances Spencer (July 1, 1961 - August 31, 1997), commonly, but incorrectly, known as Princess Diana, was for 15 years the wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, and was the mother of the second and third in line to the British throne, Princes William and Harry.

From the time of her marriage to the Prince of Wales in 1981 until her death in a car accident in Paris in 1997, Diana was one of the world's most high-profile, most photographed, and most iconic celebrities.

Table of contents
1 Early years
2 Marriage and family life
3 Charity work
4 Death
5 Accident or murder?
6 Legacy
7 Title
8 See also
9 External links

Early years

Diana was the youngest daughter of Edward John Spencer, Viscount Althorp, and his wife Frances. Diana was thus a descendant of King Charles I of England. On the death of her paternal grandfather, Albert Edward John Spencer, 7th Earl Spencer in 1975, Lord Althorp became the eighth Earl Spencer, and his daughter acquired the courtesy title of Lady Diana Spencer. She was educated in Norfolk and at boarding school in Kent, and was regarded as an academically below-average student. At 16 she attended Institut Alpin Videmanette, a finishing school in Rougemont, Switzerland.

Marriage and family life

The Spencers, like many noble families, had been in the service of the Royal Family for decades. That service became personal when Charles, Prince of Wales, dated Lady Sarah Spencer briefly in the 1970s. His love life had always been the subject of press fodder, and he was linked to a number of women. Nearing 40, he was under increasing pressure to marry. However, as Prince of Wales and future King, Charles's bride had to be one of impeccable lineage, a Protestant, and a virgin. Reportedly, it was his then (and current) lover Camilla Shand who helped him select the then 19-year-old Diana, who was working as a nursery-school teacher. Buckingham Palace announced their engagement on February 24, 1981.

The wedding took place at St Paul's Cathedral in London on July 29 before 3,500 invited guests (including Camilla) and an estimated 750 million TV viewers around the world. Diana was the first Englishwoman to marry an heir to the throne since 1659 when Lady Anne Hyde married the Duke of York, the future James II of England.

Diana gave birth to two children, Prince William Arthur Philip Louis in 1982 and Prince Henry Charles David Albert in 1984.

After the birth of William, Diana sufferred from post-natal depression. She later developed the eating disorder bulimia nervosa, and made a number of suicide attempts. In one of her interviews, released after her death, she claimed that, while pregnant with William, she threw herself down a set of stairs, and was discovered by a horrified Queen Elizabeth II.

It has been suggested that the Princess did not, in fact, intend to end her life - or that these attempts ever took place - and was merely making a 'cry for help' (so-called 'parasuicide'). In the same interview where she told of the suicide attempt while pregnant with William, she said that Charles had accused her of crying wolf when she threatened to kill herself. But, although her life may not have been in serious danger, there was certainly a significant risk that she would miscarry her baby.

In the later 1980s her marriage to Charles fell apart, an event at first kept quiet and then sensationalised by the world media. Both Charles and Diana had friends who spoke to the press, accusing the other party of adultery. Charles resumed his relationship with Mrs. Parker-Bowles (the so-called Squidgygate affair), while Diana was involved with James Gilby. She later confirmed she had had an affair with her riding instructor, James Hewitt. Because of his resemblance to Harry (and Harry's lack of resemblance to Charles) it was rumoured that Hewitt, not Charles, fathered Harry. Although Diana and Hewitt began their affair after Harry's birth, this rumour lives on as an urban legend.

Although Diana and Charles separated in 1992, their divorce was not finalised until August 1996.

Charity work

During the mid-to-late 1980s, Diana became well known for her support of charity projects, and is given considerable credit for her campaigning against the use of landmines and diminishing the stigma associated with AIDS.

In April 1987, Diana was the first high-profile celebrity to be photographed touching an AIDS-infected person. Her contribution in changing the public opinion of AIDS sufferers was summarised in December 2001 by Bill Clinton at the 'Diana, Princess of Wales Lecture on AIDS', when he said:

In 1987, when so many still believed that AIDS could be contracted through casual contact, Princess Diana sat on the sickbed of a man with AIDS and held his hand. If the Princess of Wales could hold the hand of a man with AIDS, who could claim to be above it? She showed the world that people with AIDS deserved not isolation, but compassion. It helped change world opinion, helped give hope to people with AIDS, and helped save lives of people at risk.

Perhaps her most widely publicised charity appearance was in January 1997, when she visited the HALO Trust de-mining organisation on-site in Angola. The pictures of Diana touring a minefield, in helmet and flak jacket, were seen worldwide. In August that year she visited Bosnia with the Landmine Survivors Network. Her interest in landmines was focussed on the injuries they create, often to children, long after the conflict for which they are intended has finished. She is widely credited[1] as an influence on the British Government, and other nations, in their signing of the Ottawa Treaty in December 1997 (after Diana's death) banning anti-personnel landmines.


Material commemorating Diana, fly-posted onto the Flame of Liberty, above the entrance to the Paris tunnel in which she died. Picture taken in July 2001Enlarge

Material commemorating Diana, fly-posted onto the Flame of Liberty, above the entrance to the Paris tunnel in which she died. Picture taken in July 2001

On August 31, 1997 Diana was involved in a car crash in the Pont de l'Alma road tunnel in Paris, along with her romantic companion Dodi Al-Fayed, their driver Henri Paul, and Al-Fayed's bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones.

Late in the evening of Saturday the 30th, Diana and Dodi departed the Ritz Hotel in Place Vendome, Paris, and drove along the north bank of the Seine. At 00:25 on the 31st, their Mercedes entered the underpass below the Place de l'Alma, pursued in various vehicles by nine French photographers and a motorcycle courier.

At the entrance to the tunnel, Diana's car struck a glancing blow to the right-hand wall. It swerved to the left of the two-lane carriageway and collided head-on with the thirteenth pillar supporting the roof, then spun to a stop.

As the casualties lay seriously injured in their wrecked car, some of the photographers continued to take pictures of them.

Diana was freed alive from the wreckage, and taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. Despite frantic attempts to save her, her internal injuries were too massive. At 04:00 that morning the doctors pronounced her dead.

In 1999 a French investigation concluded that the Mercedes had come into contact with another vehicle (a white Fiat Uno) in the tunnel. But the driver of that vehicle never came forward, and the vehicle itself was not found.

Initial media reports stated that Diana's car had collided with the pillar at over 120mph, and that the speedometer's needle had jammed at that position. But it was later announced that the car's actual speed on collision was about 59-68mph, and that the speedometer had no needle as it was digital. In any case, Diana's car was going way above the legal speed limit (50kph), as well as above the speeds that may be reasonable in the Alma underpass.

The investigators concluded that the crash was an accident brought on by an intoxicated driver attempting to elude pursuing paparazzi at high speed.

In November 2003, Christian Martinez and Fabrice Chassery, the photographers who took photos of the casualties after the crash, and Jacques Langevin, who took photos as the couple left the Ritz Hotel, were cleared of breaching French privacy laws (Source: Paparazzi at Diana crash site acquitted - The Guardian).

In the English courts, inquests into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Fayed are due to happen in late 2004 or 2005.

Accident or murder?

Debate rages between those who believe she was murdered, and those who believe she died as the result of an accident.

The French investigators' conclusion that Paul was drunk was made largely on the basis of an analysis of blood samples, which were stated to contain a high alcohol level. But the samples were also said to contain a level of carbon monoxide sufficiently high as to have prevented him from driving a car (or even from standing up). Some maintain this strongly indicates that the samples were tampered with. No official DNA test has been carried out on the samples, and Henri Paul's family has not been allowed to commission independent tests on them.

The families of Dodi Al-Fayed and Henri Paul do not accept the French investigators' findings. In the Scottish courts, Mohamed Al-Fayed applied for an order directing that there be a public inquiry, and is to appeal against the denial of his application.

Motivations which have been advanced for murder include suggestions that Diana intended to convert to Islam, and that she was pregnant with Dodi's child. In January 2004, the former coroner of the Queen's Household, Dr. John Burton, stated that the Princess was not pregnant at the time of her death when he said (in an interview with The Times) that he attended a post-mortem examination of her body at Fulham mortuary in which he personally checked her womb and found her not to be pregnant.

Rumours and conspiracies aside, it must be noted that Diana, Dodi, and Paul were not wearing a seat belt when the car crashed. Nor, apparently, was Rees-Jones, however, who was travelling in the front passenger seat.


Diana's death was greeted with extraordinary public grief, and her funeral at Westminster Abbey on September 6 drew an estimated 3 million [1] mourners and worldwide television coverage.

More than 1 million bouquets were left at her London home, Kensington Palace, while at her family estate of Althorp the public was asked to stop bringing flowers as the volume of people and flowers in the surrounding roads was causing a threat to public safety.

Mourners cast flowers at the funeral procession for almost the entire length of its journey. The Queen notably departed from standard royal protocol in bowing as the procession passed. In Westminster Abbey, the mourners - including singer Sir Elton John (who performed a version of his song Candle in the Wind, re-written for the occasion), actor Tom Cruise, director Steven Spielberg, and British tycoon Richard Branson, among dozens of other celebrities - defied traditional funeral etiquette by clapping at the speech by her brother, which included criticism of the royal family.

She is buried at Althorp in Northamptonshire on an island in the middle of a lake on her family's estate. A visitors' centre allows visitors to see an exhibition about her and walk around the lake.

During the four weeks following her funeral, the overall suicide rate in England and Wales rose by 17%, compared with the average reported for that period in the four previous years. Researchers suggest that this was caused by the 'identification' effect, as the greatest increase in people taking their own lives was in people most similar to Diana: women aged 25 to 44, whose suicide rate increased by over 45% (Source: [1], British Journal of Psychiatry 2000;177:469-72). This effect is similar to copycat suicides.

After her death people remain interested in Diana's life. Numerous manufacturers of collectibles continue to produce Diana merchandise. Some suggested making Diana a saint, stirring much controversy.

As a temporary memorial, the public co-opted the Flamme de Liberté (Flame of Liberty), a monument near the Alma Tunnel, and related to the French donation of the Statue of Liberty to the United States. The messages of condolence have since been removed and its use as a Diana memorial has discontinued. However, the concrete mini-wall at the edge of the tunnel is still used as an impromtu memorial for people to write their thoughts and feelings about the Princess. A permanent memorial, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain was opened in Hyde Park in London on July 6, 2004.

Diana was ranked third in the (2002) 100 Greatest Britons poll sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the British public.

In 2003, Marvel Comics announced it was to publish a five-part series entitled Di Another Day (a reference to the James Bond film Die Another Day) featuring a resurrected Diana, Princess of Wales as a mutant with superpowers, as part of Peter Milligan's X-Statix title. Amidst considerable (and predictable) outcry, the idea was quickly dropped.

In 2004, the American network NBC broadcast tapes of Diana discussing her marriage to the Prince of Wales, including her description of her suicide attempts. These tapes have not been broadcast in the UK. A few weeks later, rival network CBS showed pictures of the crash taken by the photographers showing an intact rear side and an intact centre section of the Mercedes, including one of a not-bloody Diana with no outward injuries, crouched on the rear floor of the vehicle with her back to the right passenger seat - the right rear car door is completely opened - causing an uproar in the UK, and spurring yet another lawsuit by Mohammed Al-Fayed.


The usage "Princess Diana", though commonly used in speech and the media, is incorrect. Diana herself made a point of correcting people who used it.

See also

External links