From the first time she appeared on the scene as the beautiful "Shy Di," through her "fairytale" wedding to Prince Charles, their bitter divorce and her tragic death, Diana, Princess of Wales, fascinated the world. Here are five things that you may not know about her.
Diana was her parents' third daughter, born in 1961 into the aristocratic Spencer family. She told Andrew Morton for the book "Diana: Her True Story": "It was a very unhappy childhood ... I couldn't understand why I was perhaps a nuisance to have around, which in later years I've perceived as being part of the whole question of the child who died before me. It was a son (John, who died within ten hours of his birth in 1960) and both my parents were crazy to have a son and heir. 'What a bore, we're going to have to try again.' And then comes a third daughter." Her parents later had a son, called Charles, in 1964.
Diana, of course, went on to marry Prince Charles in 1981. Sixteen years later, they divorced amid various scandals, most notably Charles' long affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles.
2. Her Handbag Trick Foiled the Paparazzi
One of Diana's favorite accessories designers was Anya Hindmarch, who created a clutch purse that Diana strategically displayed. "She would pop into our first shop on Walton Street, without any bodyguards, and she was very lovely, very low key," Hindmarch recalled to The Telegraph. "She always used to refer to [the Anya clutch] as her 'cleavage bag,' because she would use it when she got out of the car to protect her modesty." Indeed, you'll see several pictures of Diana with her clutch purse up by her cleavage. Kate Middleton, the duchess of Cambridge, also only carries a clutch, but for different reasons.
3. Freddie Mercury Once Snuck Her Into a Gay Bar
Diana was well-known for her friendship with rock star Elton John who sang at her funeral, but her relationship with the flamboyant lead singer of Queen was not so public. However, actress Cleo Rocos spilled the beans in her 2013 memoir. She recounted an evening in the 1980s when the two women were hanging out with Mercury and comedian Kenny Everett at Everett's house. The other three were planning to go on to Vauxhall Tavern, a famous London gay club, little thinking that Diana would want to join them. But she asked to go along. "We pleaded, 'What would be the headline if you were caught in a gay bar brawl?'" Rocos wrote in her book. "But Diana was in full mischief mode. Freddie said, 'Go on, let the girl have some fun.'" Everett offered a disguise of an army jacket, aviator sunglasses and a cap — and somehow Diana was able to join her friends at the club without anyone else catching on.
She remained a longtime advocate for the LGBTQ community and famously helped to lessen the stigma around AIDS when she shook hands (gloveless) with a dying AIDS patient in 1987. This was at a time when many people still thought AIDS could be spread by casual touching. Mercury died of AIDS-related complications in 1991.
4. She Was Initially Terrified Around Land Mines
In the last years of her life, Diana became involved in the cause of unexploded land mines left behind from wars, which caused civilians to lose limbs after unsuspectingly stepping on them. In February 1997, she made a highly publicized documentary with the BBC where she donned protective gear and walked through a field strewn with land mines in Angola. She was accompanied by Paul Heslop, who at the time worked for an organization that removed these land mines.
"She wasn't making eye contact, and I felt that initially she was disinterested," he told the BBC in 2017. "And then, when the whole mob of journalists came off the other planes I suddenly realized why she was so nervous. And this poor woman was about to go into a live minefield, a dangerous area, in front of however many hundreds of millions or billions of people on the news, and I thought back to the first time I went into a minefield, and I was petrified."
In the field, the princess was shown a dummy land mine and she pushed a button to detonate it, just as Heslop's team normally did. They took great care to keep her safe. "I did not want to be on the front page of the news the next day as the man who'd blown up Princess Diana," said Heslop. A year later, after Diana's death, the U.K. ratified the international convention banning land mines.
5. The Car She Died in Was Structurally Unsafe
Diana died in Paris Aug. 31, 1997, along with her boyfriend Dodi Al Fayed, in a car crash, that has been the source of controversy ever since. They were being chased by paparazzi and conspiracy theorists believe that her death was orchestrated. So far that has not been proven. However, a 2017 documentary noted that the Mercedes the couple was in had instability problems, and had been written off after being involved in a major accident two years earlier. Yet somehow, the car was rebuilt and sold to a limousine company who used it to ferry guests of the Ritz hotel.
But one doesn't need to explore conspiracy theories to find reasons for this unfortunate car accident. Their driver Henri Paul, who died in the crash with Diana and Al Fayed, had a blood alcohol level well above the legal limit. Paul was also driving at 65 mph (105 kph) when the vehicle crashed and the speed limit was 30 mph (50 kph). Finally, no one in the vehicle was wearing seatbelts, including Diana's bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, the only survivor of the crash.
Now That's Interesting
Diana was famous for writing thank-you notes, something instilled in her by her father who insisted they be written within 24 hours. "If I come back from a dinner party or somewhere that needs a letter, at midnight I'll sit down and write it there — and not wait until next morning because it would wrestle with my conscience," she said in "Diana: Her True Story." One of her thank-you notes sold for $12,000 in 2021.
Princess Diana FAQ
How much did Princess Diana's wedding cost?
Prince Charles and Princess Diana's royal wedding cost an estimated $48 million, which comes to a whopping $137 million today adjusted for inflation.
When did Lady Di die?
Diana died in Paris in August 1997, in a car crash that has been the source of controversy ever since. Conspiracy theorists believe that her death was orchestrated, but many of the mysteries surrounding it have been solved.
Who crashed Princess Diana's car?
Henri Paul was behind the wheel.
What caused Princess Diana's accident?
Henri Paul, who was drunk at the time of the accident, was driving the car at 65 mph.
How long were Charles and Diana married?
Charles and Diana were married
for 15 years. They got divorced in 1996.
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