Remembering Princess Diana

Today is Princess Diana’s 61st birthday. She was born on July 1, 1961 to Viscount Johnny Spencer Althorp and Frances Roche. She was raised in Sandringham, a luxurious 20,000-acre estate close to the royal family. They leased one of the royal houses inside the estate and young Diana met and played with the Queen’s sons Prince Andrew and Prince Edward whenever the royal family spent their holidays in Sandringham. Prince Charles was almost 13 years her senior. 

In 1975, her father inherited the title of Earl Spencer and Diana became known as Lady Diana and the family moved their residence to Althorp, the Earl Spencer residence in Northamptonshire. Her father was a member of the British nobility and a wealthy farmer who owned vast acres of farmlands and herds of animals. Her mother did not like living in the country and she preferred the active social life in London. She fell in love with a married man and a wallpaper millionaire, Peter Shand Kydd, whom she eventually married in 1969 after her divorce. Frances lived in an apartment in London in 1967 leaving her family behind when Lady Diana was barely six years old. Frances succeeded in getting a divorce citing cruelty, but the Viscount got the children. Nannies took care of the kids but they only obeyed their father. Lady Diana received her early education at home, together with other blue-blooded children around the estates. Later she was sent to several posh private schools for her formal education. At Sitfield, the first school she attended, she won one prize for “trying hard.” Later, she enrolled at Riddlesworth Hall, an exclusive boarding school where she was awarded two prizes, one for pet care and the other for helpfulness. She did not like academics and she did not perform well in school. Her further studies ended when she twice failed to pass the 0-Level examination, which is equivalent to our College Admission Test. She did not try again to be able to pursue tertiary education. At age 17, she permanently left for London to work.  

She was lovely in person and photogenic before the camera. She was fashionable and glamorous and looked up to by women around the world. She had a sound fashion sense, which impacted style trends around the world. She was loved by countless admirers who were smitten by her charm and friendliness. Singer Elton John once recounted that Princess Diana “had quite an effect on men’’. He recalled that he once hosted a dinner for Walt Disney Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg with Lady Diana as a special guest. It was also attended by actors Richard Gere and Sylvester Stallone. This was the time when Princess Diana was already separated from Prince Charles, and Gere had broken up with Cindy Crawford. As the night progressed, it was obvious that the two Hollywood actors wanted exclusive attention from the Princess and they nearly came to blows to settle their differences. Cool heads prevailed and they were separated with Rambo leaving the dinner early.  

Prince Charles had numerous dalliances with women but all of them were found to be unsuitable to become his wife and future queen. When he reached 30, the pressure for him to find a wife intensified. But it was not easy—she had to be a protestant and a virgin. Until he met Lady Diana—a younger sister of a woman he previously dated.    

Prince Charles had known Lady Diana since she was a child. Charles had dated her elder sister, Sarah, for a while and when they broke up, Diana caught Prince Charles’s attention. Diana was then 17 and working in London as an assistant in a kindergarten school. Her mother, married to a wallpaper magnate, gifted her an expensive apartment on her 18th birthday. She got roommates to share the costs. Prince Charles invited her to the royal family gatherings and simple social functions at various royal palaces, including the royal yacht, Britannia, for a sailing weekend. She was invited to Balmoral Castle as a family guest and was received by the Queen, Prince Philip and the Queen’s Mother. She had known most of the royal family members in her youth. She obviously passed the “look-talk-and-see.” On February 6, 1981, Prince Charles proposed to Diana at Windsor Castle, which she accepted. They were married on July 29, 1981 at The Paul Cathedral, which was the most celebrated wedding in the modern era. Heads of state were present and it was watched by close to a billion people all over the world. Over half a million people lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the royal couple en route to the church. From thereon, she became a global icon whose every move was followed by the media and the public. She captured a huge following and her popularity had even eclipsed that of Prince Charles’s. However, their marriage was doomed from the start. They had nothing in common. She had no interest in world events and global issues, which a future king should pay close attention to. She had no ears for politics, finance, economics, climate change, foreign affairs and environment. She liked to discuss social events, parties, fashion, goings-on in high society and the lifestyles of the rich and the famous. She engaged in numerous charitable causes. She raised funds for the AIDs victims, she comforted the sick, the old and the dying and she was highly regarded by the LGBT community because of her work with the gay people. She did not share Prince Charles’s passion for classical architecture and the arts, but she widened the range of charity works supported by the royal family. Prince Charles continued his liaison with Camilla Parker-Bowles, his former lover. Their union, however, produced two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, but it did not bring harmony to their souring relationship. She was also rumored to have illicit affairs with other men. When a BBC journalist, Martin Bashir, asked her about her husband’s relationship with Camilla on November 20, 1995, she unwaveringly replied: “Well, there were three of us in this marriage so it was a bit crowded.” Before the year ended, Buckingham Palace announced that the Queen had advised the couple to divorce, which was also supported by the Prime Minister. The divorce decree was given on July 15, 1996 and it was finalized on August 28 1996.  

Royal watchers will agree that Princess Diana was a devoted mother to her two sons. She was overly protective of them and hardly deferred to Prince Charles when it came to rearing their children. She chose her kids’ nannies over the ones assigned by the palace. She selected their schools and organized their activities. She accompanied them in going to school and supervised their schoolwork. She might be a lousy wife but she was a great mom. After the divorce, the Queen was reportedly in favor of allowing Princess Diana to continue using the style “Her Royal Highness” but Prince Charles was allegedly strongly against it. Prince William, however, appeased her mother by saying: “Don’t worry, mommy, I will give it back to you one day when I am King.” Don’t worry Princess Diana, you will always be our Queen. Princess Diana does not need a title to get people’s adulation. As her brother Lord Spencer has aptly said: “Diana was the very essence of compassion, of duty, of style, of beauty. All over the world, she was a symbol of selfless humanity.… She needs no royal title to generate her particular brand of magic.”