AN EARL'S DAUGHTER
Diana Frances Spencer was not royal by birth. She was born on 1 July 1961 at Park House on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. She was the third daughter of the future viscount Althorp and Frances Ruth, who was one of The Queen Mother's ladies-in-waiting.
Diana had two elder sisters, Sarah and Jane, and a younger brother, Charles; there was also a brother called John, born in 1960, who survived only ten hours.
Diana spent her early children's years in Sandringham, where she had home education. Her first teacher was Gertrude Allen, who taught Diana's mother. Life at Park House was orderly, traditional and aristocratic. The Spencer children saw their parents only for an hour in the morning and at tea time. When Diana was just six years old her parents separated and later divorced, the children remaining with their father.
Diana continued her education in Sulfide, in private school near the Kings Lynn, then in preparatory Ridlsuort School. When Diana was 12 years old, she went to the privileged school for the girls in West Heath, county Kent.
Her life changed a lot in 1975 when Viscount Althorp becoming 8th Earl Spencer, and Diana becoming Lady Diana, and they moved to the stately home at Althorp in Northamtonshire. The following year Earl Spencer married Raine, Countess of Dartmouth, whose mother was the romantic novelist, Barbara Cartland. Diana went to a finishing school in Switzerland, where she studied domestic science, typing and correspondence, and found plenty of time to enjoy skiing.
LADY DIANA SPENCER
When Diana returned to Britain from Switzerland she lived in London, sharing apartment with old school friends. She moved naturally in the society that was described by someone as 'Sloane Rangers', so called because much of their leisure time was spend in the fashionable shops and restaurants around Sloane Square. Diana became a nanny to a number of children, and took a three-month cookery course, before joining the Young England Kindergarten as a helper. She enjoyed the social whirl, attending parties in the evenings and going to the country every weekend. Diana would stay with friends, or occasionally go back to Althorp where she would visit her sister Jane, and her husband Sir Robert Fellows, at their house on the estate.
Most of Diana's circle of friends came from similar backgrounds, and when her relationship with The Prince of Wales began they automatically provided her protection. Once the media suspected Lady Diana and Prince Charles' new romance, press reporters and cameramen pursued her relentlessly. They besieged her flat at Coleherne Court and followed her everywhere. It was a very testing time for the young Diana.
Diana learned to keep her head down, literally, becoming known as 'Shy Di'. So the highly intensive media attention which was to continue throughout her life began. But ones the engagement was official, Diana moved into an apartment in Clarence House, home of the late Queen Mother, where she would be under the protection of the Royal Press Office.
A FAIRY-TALE BRIDE
The wedding of The Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer took place at St Paul's Cathedral on 29 July 1981, barely a month after the Brides 20th birthday. It was a day of joy for everyone: the bride and groom, their families and the millions of people watching on television all over the world. The occasion was a combination of pageantry, high emotion, formal ceremony and vociferous enthusiasm.
Diana was everyone's idea of a fairy-tail bride; her dress, designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, was a triumph of ivory silk taffeta, hand embroidered with thousands of tiny mother-of-pearl sequins and pearls, and with a 25-foot train trimmed with sparking old lace. Diana wore the Spencer family tiara, and diamond earrings borrowed from her mother.
She left Clarence House in the Glass Coach accompanied by her father, to the thunderous cheers of the crowds lining The Mall. At St Paul's the groom was waiting, dressed in uniform of a royal Navy commander, with a splendid blue sash of the Order of the Garter. Seated behind him were the 2,650 guests who had been invited to the wedding, including nearly all the crowned heads of Europe.
After the ceremony the couple returned to Buckingham Palace in the 1902 State Landau, while vast crowds pressed against the railings to catch a glimpse of the new Prince of Wales.
They left the Palace in a balloon-bedecked carriage, starting their honeymoon at Broadlands, the Hampshire home of the late Lord Mountbatten, then flying to Gibraltar to join the Royal Yacht Britannia for a Mediterranean cruise, and finally joining the Royal Family at Balmoral.
PRINCESS OF WALES
From the moment they were married, The Prince and Princess of Wales became the focus of public attention to an extent never before experienced in Britain, even by the Royal Family. They became the most closely watched couple in the world, and while Prince Charles was used to being in the spotlight, for Diana it was a new experience. She coped impressively, and soon became the most photographed woman in the world.
Her early days as Princess of Wales were not always easy. She was coming to grips with being a working member of the Royal Family, finding ways to impress her own style upon her new homes at Kensington Palace and Highgrove, and also getting used to the idea that she was now public property, with very little private life.
For one so young, Diana displayed an extraordinary sense of duty, yet she insisted that her prime role in life was to be a good mother to her children. When she and Prince Charles visited Australia in 1983 she refused to leave Prince William behind, saying she was not going to be separated from her baby for such a long period and miss what she regarded as one of the most important parts of his life. It showed that The Princess had a mind of her own and was not prepared to be merely a pretty accessory.
A DEVOTED MOTHER
Diana's natural role in life was motherhood. She had always had a special affinity with children of all ages and she never doubted for a moment that she was intended to be a mother. Speaking about her children she once said, 'They mean everything to me' and later added, 'I always feed my children love and affection — it's so important'.
Although the royal marriage ended in divorce there were many times when the couple enjoyed great happiness together. One such time was at 9.03 p.m. on 21 June 1982, when Diana gave birth to her first son, Prince William, in the private Lindo Wing of St. Mary's Hospital in London. Prince Charles broke with royal tradition by being present at the birth, and it was also the first time that an heir-presumptive had been born in hospital. Both Diana and Prince Charles were overjoyed.
They were affectionate parents and Diana said she had found her true destiny. She was never happier than when she was playing with William, whom she called Wills. Two years later, on 15 September 1984, Harry was born.
Off duty Diana would attempt to shrug off the rigid controls of royal protocol and relax with her sons. She was determined that, although they would never forget who they were, they should have as normal an upbringing as possible. She took them to the cinema, letting them choose the films they wanted to see, and introduced them to the delights of fast food hamburger cafes, where she queued with other parents to serve herself. She was a thoroughly modern mother who refused to allow her royal role to interfere with the ordinary, every day joys of bringing up her children.
Diana turned up at the prices' annual sports day, kicked off her shoes and ran barefoot in the mothers' race — which the won, to her sons' great delight. When the time came for Prince William to go away to school, Diana expressed a very clear reference for Eton. It was near enough to London that she could see him frequently, while allowing him to become an ordinary boarder. Both she and Prince Charles insisted that he should be treated the same way as the other pupils.
Diana impressed upon her sons their connection with the principality whose name they shared, telling them never to forget what they were: Prince William and Prince Harry of Wales. She took William on his first official visit to Wales — on St David's Day 1991 — and later took both boys to Cardiff to watch the Welsh rugby team in action.
She instilled in her sons her own sense of public awareness from an early age, and showed them, at first hand, how the underprivileged are forced to live by taking them with her to a Seamen's Mission centre for the homeless. It was a salutary experience for the young princes, but one which she felt was necessary in their ongoing training for their future lives.