Diana, Princess of Wales

Diana, Princess of Wales
(also Princess Diana) (1961–1997)
the former wife of Prince Charles and the mother of Prince William and Prince Henry (Harry). Her name before she married was Lady Diana Spencer. The Spencer family are descended from the English kings Charles II and James II, and Diana’s father was the 8th Earl Spencer. She was married to Prince Charles in 1981 and soon became the most popular member of the royal family, often referred to informally as Di. However, the marriage failed and in 1992 the prince and princess separated. Although Princess Diana gave up her public duties and was divorced in 1996, she continued some of her work with charities and she remained an object of intense interest to the press and the public. She died in a car accident in Paris while trying to escape from photographers, and her funeral, like her wedding, was watched by almost a fifth of the world’s population.

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orig. Lady Diana Frances Spencer

born July 1, 1961, Sandringham, Norfolk, Eng.
died Aug. 31, 1997, Paris, France

Consort (1981–96) of Charles, prince of Wales.

Daughter of Viscount Althorp (later Earl Spencer), she was a kindergarten teacher at the time of her engagement to Charles, whom she married on July 29, 1981, in a globally televised ceremony. They had two sons, Princes William (1982) and Henry (1984). Her beauty and unprecedented popularity as a member of the royal family attracted intense press attention, and she became one of the most photographed women in the world. The marriage gradually broke down; Charles and Diana separated in 1992 and were divorced in 1996. She remained highly visible and continued her activities on behalf of numerous charities. In 1997 she was killed in a car crash in Paris, along with her companion, Emad Mohamed (Dodi) al-Fayed (1955–97), and their driver. Her death brought on a massive public outpouring of grief.

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▪ 1998

      British royal (b. July 1, 1961, Sandringham, Norfolk, Eng.—d. Aug. 31, 1997, Paris, France), during a 17-year period in the public eye was transformed from "Shy Di," the naive fiancée of the heir to the British throne, to "Princess Di," the most photographed woman in the world, to the "Queen of People's Hearts" cherished by millions. Diana was the third child and youngest daughter of Viscount Althorp (later Earl Spencer) and his first wife, Frances. Her parents' troubled marriage ended in divorce when Diana was a child, and she, along with her brother and two sisters, remained with her father. She attended boarding school in Norfolk and finishing school in Switzerland before taking a part-time job teaching kindergarten at the Young England school in Pimlico.

      Diana's engagement to Charles, prince of Wales, a longtime family friend, was announced on Feb. 24, 1981, and her beauty and shy demeanour made her an instant sensation with the media and the public. The couple was married on July 29, 1981, in a "fairy-tale" wedding broadcast worldwide on live television; soon afterward Prince William of Wales was born (June 21, 1982), followed by Prince Henry (called Harry) on Sept. 15, 1984. "Princess Di" rapidly evolved into an icon of grace, elegance, and glamour. Exuding natural charm and charisma, she used her celebrity status to aid numerous charitable causes, including those of needy children and AIDS patients. Adoring crowds followed her everywhere, and her changing hairstyles and increasingly expensive wardrobe made her a fashion trendsetter. Meanwhile, publishers, who paid exorbitant amounts to aggressive freelance photographers known as paparazzi, who stalked her every move, plastered pictures of her face on hundreds of newspapers and magazine covers.

      Behind the scenes, however, marital difficulties between the princess and prince were growing. Diana struggled with severe postnatal depression, low self-esteem, eating disorders, and the mounting strain of being constantly pursued by both the official media royal-watchers and the intrusive tabloid press, particularly the paparazzi. The marital breakdown became increasingly apparent amid mutual recriminations, tell-all biographies, and admissions of infidelity on both sides, and the couple formally separated in 1992. Diana presented her side in Andrew Morton's controversial book Diana: Her True Story (1992) and in an unusually candid television interview in 1995. After prolonged negotiations that left Diana with a substantial financial settlement but without the title Her Royal Highness, the couple's divorce became final in August 1996. Although the newly independent Diana cut back on her charity work, she remained a humanitarian figure, notably in her highly visible campaign against antipersonnel land mines. In 1997 she became romantically linked with "Dodi" al-Fayed (Fayed, Emad Mohamed al- ) (q.v.), with whom she was killed in a car crash in Paris after a high-speed pursuit by paparazzi. The royal family, apparently caught off guard by the extraordinary public outpouring of grief for the "People's Princess" and by the criticism of their emotional reticence, broke with tradition in arranging the internationally televised royal funeral, and the government formed a committee to plan a permanent memorial.

      Even after her death the princess remained front-page news. As the French police revealed that Fayed's driver had been legally drunk and sought to establish the exact cause of the crash, controversy still raged about Diana's legacy. Whereas her detractors condemned her as an insecure and shallow publicity seeker, her admirers extolled her generous spirit and her ability to bring a breath of fresh air into a stuffy monarchy. Everyone agreed, however, that Princess Di, who had been the wife of one future king and was the mother of another, had changed forever the British monarchy and that she would go down as one of the most beloved figures in the latter half of the 20th century.

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▪ British princess
original name  Diana Frances Spencer 
born July 1, 1961, Sandringham, Norfolk, England
died August 31, 1997, Paris, France

      former consort (1981–96) of Charles, prince of Wales, and mother of the heir second in line to the British throne, Prince William of Wales (William of Wales, Prince) (born 1982).

      Diana was born at Park House, the home that her parents rented on Queen Elizabeth II's estate at Sandringham and where her childhood playmates were the queen's younger sons, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. She was the third child and youngest daughter of Edward John Spencer, Viscount Althorp, heir to the 7th Earl Spencer, and his first wife, Frances Ruth Burke Roche (daughter of the 4th Baron Fermoy). She became Lady Diana Spencer when her father succeeded to the earldom in 1975. Riddlesworth Hall (near Thetford, Norfolk) and West Heath School (Sevenoaks, Kent) provided the young Diana's schooling. After attending the finishing school of Chateau d'Oex at Montreux, Switzerland, Diana returned to England and became a kindergarten teacher at the fashionable Young England school in Pimlico.

   She renewed her contacts with the royal family, and her friendship with Charles (Charles, prince of Wales) grew in 1980. On February 24, 1981, their engagement was announced, and on July 29, 1981, they were married in St. Paul's Cathedral in a globally televised ceremony watched by an audience numbering in the hundreds of millions. Their first child, Prince William Arthur Philip Louis of Wales, was born on June 21, 1982, and their second, Prince Henry Charles Albert David, on September 15, 1984. Marital difficulties led to a separation between Diana and Charles in 1992, though they continued to carry out their royal duties and jointly participate in raising their two children. They divorced on August 28, 1996, with Diana receiving a substantial settlement.

  After the divorce, Diana maintained her high public profile and continued many of the activities she had earlier undertaken on behalf of charities, supporting causes as diverse as the arts, children's issues, and AIDS patients. Her unprecedented popularity as a member of the royal family, both in Britain and throughout the world, attracted considerable attention from the press, and she became one of the most photographed women in the world. Although she used that celebrity to great effect in promoting her charitable work, the media (in particular the aggressive freelance photographers known as paparazzi) were often intrusive. It was while attempting to evade journalists that Diana was killed, along with her companion, Dodi Fayed, and their driver, in an automobile accident in a tunnel under the streets of Paris.

      Though the photographers were initially blamed for causing the accident, a French judge in 1999 cleared them of any wrongdoing, instead faulting the driver, who was found to have had a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit at the time of the crash and to have taken prescription drugs incompatible with alcohol. In 2006 a Scotland Yard inquiry into the incident also concluded that the driver was at fault. In April 2008, however, a British inquest jury ruled both the driver and the paparazzi guilty of unlawful killing through grossly negligent driving, though it found no evidence of a conspiracy to kill Diana or Fayed, an accusation long made by Fayed's father.

      Her death and funeral produced unprecedented expressions of public mourning, testifying to her enormous hold on the British national psyche. Her life, and her death, polarized national feeling about the existing system of monarchy (and, in a sense, about the British identity), which appeared antiquated and unfeeling in a populist age of media celebrity in which Diana herself was a central figure.

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Universalium. 2010.

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