Thursday 17 October 2019
Diana, Princess of Wales
Diana, Princess of Wales, who has died aged 36, exemplified in her life the crisis in which the Royal Family, and ultimately the monarchy itself, has found itself in the past two decades.Photo: PA
12:01PM BST 31 Aug 1997
What will remain in the memory is her unhappiness, shyness, concern for the suffering, but more than anything her beauty.
The photographs that will always come to mind are of her with the toddlers at the nursery where she worked at the time of her engagement, the official engagement photograph of her and the Prince of Wales, and their kiss on the Palace balcony after their wedding (perhaps even that other kiss aboard the Fayed yacht) - and later her tearful Panorama interview, or her heavily made-up eyes looking over a surgical mask as she witnessed a heart operation.
In the 16 years left to her after her marriage to the heir to the throne, her story changed from one of a fairytale princess into that of a woman who felt a captive of circumstances and made increasingly desperate attempts to escape unhappiness.
An unlikely friendship with Dodi Fayed, the playboy son of the owner of Harrods, was the last, surprising twist in the increasingly directionless trend in her life since her separation from the Prince of Wales.
No one could have predicted its tragic conclusion.
The scrutiny under which the Princess led her life after her marriage was without precedent.
In the early days it was condemned as unacceptable, and measures of control were sought; in December 1981 the Queen summoned Fleet Street editors to Buckingham Palace as her press secretary announced that "the Princess feels totally beleaguered". The rest of the Princess's life demonstrated the futility of such announcements.
In the circumstances the Princess's greatest achievement was to become an internationally famous figure of extraordinary success and popularity. Her human touch endeared her to those she met.
This public façade concealed, until the announcement of her separation from the Prince of Wales in 1992, the difficulties that she bore in private.
Her later appearances had to be made with the knowledge that much of her private life was publicly discussed: the long-established tensions in her marriage, her health problems and loneliness - all exaggerated by a welter of speculation.
By marrying the heir to the throne she had given up anonymity, and with it the prospect of private fulfilment amongst her family and friends. Instead she took on the mantle of royalty, still shrouded in the traditions and principles of past generations.
It was presumed that her life would revolve around the three fixed points of public work, formal Court life and the privacy of home life and friends. And yet none turned out as expected. Public and Court life presented a greater burden than imagined; the Princess's relations with the Court varied from unsatisfactory to hostile. But the most unexpected and bitter blow came with the failure of her home life to provide the support that comes from a contented marriage. Relations with most friends were continually strained by her royal status.
In the early years, the pressures of her position at times threatened to crush her. When the married life that she presumed would provide the mainstay of her life grew increasingly barren her alternatives were stark: to accept sad unfulfilment, or to find support from her own resources and from elsewhere.
During the heady 1980s only the seemingly extravagant behaviour of some members of the Royal Family was criticised. In the next decade questions about the future of the Royal Family were expressed in terms of its financial costs.
To many, the great challenge facing the monarchy was to square the circle of mystery and accessibility. In a way it was Diana, Princess of Wales who paid the price of trying to solve this impossible problem.
Things looked very different on the gloriously hot July day in 1981 when Lady Diana Spencer walked the long aisle of St Paul's Cathedral to her marriage with the Prince of Wales. The Archbishop of Canterbury commented that the marriage was "the stuff of which fairytales are made".
Amidst scenes of astonishing national joy and celebration the wedding took place in front of a congregation of 2,500 and the largest worldwide television audience ever recorded at the time, some 750 million people. It combined the pageantry of a state occasion with the simplicity of a private wedding.
To the captivated public Lady Diana's great strength was that she appeared the perfect candidate to fill the position of Princess of Wales.
She was born Diana Frances Spencer on July 1 1961. Her father, Edward John Viscount Althorp, was the only son of the 7th Earl Spencer. Her mother, born Frances Ruth Burke Roche, was the youngest daughter of the 4th Baron Fermoy. Diana, the Althorps' third daughter, was born at Park House on the Sandringham estate, which had been leased to her grandfather, Lord Fermoy, by George V as a gesture of thanks for loyal service.
The Spencers had served the Royal Family for generations. Diana's great-grandfather, the 6th Earl Spencer, was Lord Chamberlain to both Edward VII and George V.
All four of her great-aunts on the Spencer side became members of the Queen Mother's household. Ruth Lady Fermoy, her maternal grandmother, was for many years a Woman of the Bedchamber to the Queen Mother.
Her father was equerry to both George VI and the Queen. Her two elder sisters, Sarah and Jane (married to Sir Robert Fellowes), are god-daughters of the Queen Mother and the Duke of Kent; her younger brother, Charles, now Earl Spencer, is a godson of the Queen.
The Spencers are among the foremost families of the English aristocracy. Their titles date from 1603 when Sir Robert Spencer was made Baron Spencer of Wormleighton. They became the Earls of Sunderland later in the 17th century.
The family lineage divided when the 3rd Earl of Sunderland married Lady Anne Churchill, daughter and co-heiress of the 1st Duke of Marlborough. The 5th Earl of Sunderland became the 3rd Duke of Marlborough, from whom the present duke and his family descend.
Diana, Princess of Wales's family descend from the 5th Earl of Sunderland's brother, John Spencer. In 1761 his son was created Viscount Spencer and, in 1765, Viscount Althorp and Earl Spencer.
Greatest among the Princess's forebears were the Stuart kings Charles II and James II. She returned this line to the Royal Family, and thus her sons Prince William and Prince Harry are the first children to claim lineage from every English king who has left descendants. Among the many convoluted genealogical connections extracted from her past at the time of her engagement was the fact that she was Prince Charles's seventh cousin once removed.
The Spencers' wealth had its roots in farming and the wool trade during the 16th and 17th centuries. Since 1508 the family seat has been at Althorp, Northamptonshire.
The Tudor house, remodelled by Henry Holland at the end of the 18th century, stands in an estate of 15,000 acres. Until earlier this century their London home, Spencer House, overlooking Green Park, was one of the most impressive private houses in London. It has been restored to its former glory by Lord Rothschild.
Many of Diana, Princess of Wales's natural qualities can be traced to her background: dignity and grace of bearing, and the ability to treat all people as equals. Beneath her initial shyness there was always an element of self-assurance that was to become increasingly important.
The secure calm of her childhood was shattered at an early stage. In 1967, after 14 years, her parents' marriage ended in separation. In June 1968 the acrimonious battle for custody of the children, which Diana's father won, moved to the law courts, and in April 1969 the divorce was final. Shortly afterwards, Diana's mother married again, to Peter Shand Kydd, in whose divorce proceedings from his first wife she had been named.
Her parents' divorce took place as Diana was moving from nursery school at King's Lynn to Riddlesworth Hall, a preparatory school further away in Norfolk, near Diss.
The circumstances affected her profoundly and caused her the depth of misery normal for an affectionate eight-year-old whose life had revolved around her family.
At the same time, however, the affair sowed the seeds of resilience to adversity, and provided a foundation of experience for the future which she was to draw on both in her private life and in many instances of her public work.
The divorce became the focus of some attention when her marriage to Prince Charles was certain. Memories of Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson, of Princess Margaret's hopes to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend and of the failure of her marriage to Lord Snowdon, were revived.
The Queen's uncompromising views on the relationship between her family and the established Church of England were stressed. Events since then, with all three of the Queen's married children separated and one - the Princess Royal - remarried after divorce, have done much to undermine such considerations.
The changed circumstances of Diana's childhood were soon evident. Her mother and Peter Shand Kydd bought a house on the remote island of Seil, off the west coast of Scotland.
Between there and Norfolk, Diana, with her two sisters and brother, embarked on the holiday shuttle which is the unhappy lot of children of divorced couples.
From Riddlesworth Diana followed her two elder sisters, Sarah and Jane, to West Heath, near Sevenoaks in Kent. Her academic career was undistinguished and she left with no O-levels. But she never proved lacking in effort; outside the classroom she demonstrated sporting prowess, and a love of music and dance.
During her time at West Heath, in 1975, her grandfather died, and her father became the 8th Earl Spencer and inherited Althorp. Like her sisters and brother, she assumed a courtesy title and became Lady Diana Spencer.
After his divorce, Lord Spencer had spent many lonely years, struggling in his relationship with his children, who were affected by a sense of divided loyalty between him and their mother. Then in 1977 Lord Spencer married Raine, Countess of Dartmouth (now Raine, Comtesse de Chambrun, the daughter of the novelist Dame Barbara Cartland). As had been the case with his first wife, Lord Spencer had been named in the Dartmouths' divorce two months earlier.
Relations between a stepmother and the children of her husband's previous marriage are notoriously difficult; and Althorp became something of a battleground.
Lord Spencer had inherited a large bill for death duties from his father, with whom his relations had for many years been difficult. The old earl had championed Althorp and its art treasures with fierce pride, but under the new regime a chill wind of change swept through the house; many of the treasures were sold.
If Lady Diana's relations with her stepmother were less stormy than her sisters' appeared to be, they were at least said to be strained.
The situation continued after her marriage to Prince Charles, and inevitably affected her relationship with her father right up until the time of his death in 1992. He had suffered a near-fatal cerebral haemorrhage in 1978, from which, with great care and assistance from Raine, he made a spirited, though never total, recovery.
In 1977 Diana left West Heath, aged 16. She went on to Château d'Oex, a finishing school in Switzerland, but returned home to England suffering from severe home-sickness, well before her course was due to end. It was perhaps an indication of the strain imposed by family tensions.
More significant for the future was her meeting with Prince Charles at Althorp that year. The Prince was a member of a shooting party as a guest of Lady Diana's eldest sister, Lady Sarah. The Prince and Princess both recalled later that the meeting could be seen as the first landmark on the road to their marriage three and a half years later.
Prince Charles's friendship with her eldest sister gave Lady Diana a brief but telling preview of what life was like for someone labelled as his girlfriend and a possible candidate for marriage.
But their meeting did not appear to have any immediate consequences. Lady Diana was by this time living in London, where she was soon to move into a flat of her own in Earls Court, her home until the day her engagement was announced.
Having finished a cookery course, her first job was as a nanny. It established her main interest and love as far as work was concerned - looking after children. Shortly afterwards, she began teaching at the Young England Kindergarten School in Pimlico.
This affection and absorbing interest rapidly increased after her marriage. When the names of the first charities that she was to adopt were announced in February 1982 they all involved children, with the exception of a handful from the Principality of Wales.
In 1978 her elder sister Lady Jane added another link between the family and the Royal Family when she married Robert Fellowes, then Assistant Private Secretary to the Queen and the son of Sir William Fellowes, for many years the agent at Sandringham.
Robert Fellowes was knighted in 1989 and the next year succeeded Sir William Heseltine as the Queen's Private Secretary, assuming a central role in the affairs of the Princess of Wales and her relations with her husband and the Royal Family.
Lady Diana's life in London lacked one element for which the press were to search ceaselessly and in vain - boyfriends. It seemed that she was happy to enjoy the company of a close and fairly small circle, and that she had no desire to form any serious attachment.
As was likely in her position, there was the occasional grand social event - a large house-party for shooting in the winter, a wedding or ball - but far more typical was a small supper-party at the flat of a friend, or a visit to the cinema.
Her circle of friends was made up largely of old schoolfriends and the people she met through them. It could be said that she had no need to be socially ambitious; she was eligible, attractive and amusing - often to the extent of reducing those around her to helpless laughter.
During 1980 there were signs, which could be read by one or two of those closest to her, that Lady Diana's life might be about to undergo a dramatic change. In the autumn she stayed at Balmoral with her sister Jane while her husband was working there. A few weeks later she returned as the guest of Prince Charles. After their engagement Prince Charles remarked: "I began to realise what was going on in my mind, and hers in particular."
They were not given much time to keep it in the mind. A tabloid headline of September 8 1980 proclaimed: "He's in Love Again". It opened a turbulent chapter in the story of press coverage of the Royal Family.
Suddenly, Lady Diana was subjected to constant pressure. At the time the cost was heavy, but it proved her character. To some the temptation to escape (to the privacy of her mother's Scottish home, for instance) would have been overwhelming. But instead she tried as far as possible to maintain normal daily life, facing a barrage of cameras and reporters every time she stepped outside her flat.
Although restrained compared to what came in future years, the nadir of press coverage came with a story published in the Sunday Mirror, alleging that Prince Charles had held secret meetings with Lady Diana aboard the royal train in a siding.
The subsequent furore was pertinent for the way in which it divided opinion. Many felt that Lady Diana was being left to fend for herself to an unfair degree by Buckingham Palace, which would only deny any knowledge of evidence to substantiate rumours about a match. Others felt that her harassment was a test she must pass if she was later to be able to cope with life as one of the Royal Family.
Whoever was right, the Sunday Mirror had overstepped the mark and the upshot was, at the time, unprecedented. The Queen told her press secretary to seek a retraction and apology which ended in stalemate. In the House of Commons a motion was tabled by 60 MPs "deploring the manner in which Lady Diana Spencer is treated by the media".
The Fleet Street editors were called together with senior members of the Press Council to discuss the problem, the first such meeting in the council's 27-year history.
With her daughter reduced to tears in public, Mrs Shand Kydd fired off an irate letter to The Times. Lady Diana's position was indeed unenviable.
Early in February 1981, Lady Diana slipped out of England for a holiday with her mother in Australia. Shortly after her return, on February 24, Buckingham Palace announced: "It is with the greatest pleasure that the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh announce the betrothal of their beloved son, the Prince of Wales, to the Lady Diana Spencer, daughter of the Earl Spencer and the Honourable Mrs Shand Kydd."
Amid economic gloom and an unpopular government, the British people were offered what they have never failed to rejoice over - a happy royal event. Bagehot's lines were recalled: "A princely marriage is the brilliant edition of a universal fact, and as such it rivets mankind."
On the day the engagement was announced the future Princess of Wales left her flat for the last time with the plea to her friends there: "For God's sake ring me up - I'm going to need you." She moved to the Queen Mother's London home, Clarence House, and thereafter to Buckingham Palace.
The changes in her circumstances were immediate and enormous. First and foremost she joined a detached but close family unit whose position is awe-inspiring. Newcomers were rare, and in the early days the Queen Mother, who herself had been in a similar position nearly 60 years before, was able to provide some welcome support.
The long-awaited marriage took place on July 29. With memories of Lord Spencer's illness still vivid as he escorted his daughter up the long aisle of St Paul's, the journey was a test for them both.
And such was the highly-charged atmosphere in the cathedral that when bride and bridegroom came to exchange their vows before the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie, both momentarily faltered over their words.
Attired in the spectacular wedding dress and vast train which had been designed for her by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, the new Princess of Wales left the cathedral on the arm of her husband.
For the public she had attained not only royal status, but also a measure of stardom; and she was greeted with rapturous acclaim.
Three weeks after her 20th birthday she had become the first Princess of Wales for 71 years (and only the ninth in history) and the third lady of Great Britain, following in precedence only the Queen and the Queen Mother.
The marriage ended the Princess's life of independence which had been swiftly receding since her engagement. By her marriage vows she bound herself not only to a man but to a life of great magnitude. It had demanded a daunting and searching spiritual decision.
During her honeymoon abroad and the autumn weeks spent in Scotland, she had time to take stock of her radically altered circumstances.
At Balmoral she was pitched into the curious combination of the Royal Family's private holiday and the continuing function of the monarchy with all the trappings of despatch boxes and visiting ministers.
Her early happiness in marriage was the reassuring source of strength the Princess most needed.
It helped her to combine unconcealed and natural dependence on Prince Charles with her own individuality.
He also looked to her for support and clearly enjoyed her youthful outlook, uninhibited as his had been by a royal upbringing. But from the start, it was clear that the 12-year age gap was going to be a problem.
She was a 20-year-old, young for her years when she married, he a 32-year-old who already seemed middle-aged. His older, wiser friends intimidated and bored her. She did not care for his polo, nor for the country pursuits which were the centre of his family's life. He was not at home in discos, or even on the dance floor, and preferred Berlioz to Dire Straits.
After an initial period at Buckingham Palace, the Prince and Princess of Wales's London home was a spacious apartment in Kensington Palace.
At weekends there was the more restful Highgrove House, near Tetbury in Gloucestershire, which Prince Charles had bought in 1980. At times, however, Highgrove proved to be not quite as secluded from prying camera lenses as the Prince and Princess would have wished.
In the autumn of 1981 she accompanied Prince Charles on a three-day tour of Wales. She took the principality by storm and the people of Wales showed that they were more than proud of their new Princess.
Her appearance rejoiced thousands who were happy just to see her. For the succession of people she met she demonstrated that she could talk to strangers as friends, overcoming with a single remark or question the barrier of awe that separates most people from royalty. The sight of the Princess squatting beneath an umbrella deep in conversation with a little girl told it all.
The Princess might have hoped that the compulsive public interest would diminish as she settled into the routine of her new life.
This was not to be. Shortly after her return from Wales, Buckingham Palace announced that she was expecting a baby. Anxieties about her health during pregnancy were evident.
In February 1982 a private holiday in the Bahamas was upset by photographs of the Princess published in two British papers. Large sums of money changed hands for their syndication round the world. The photographs of the pregnant princess wearing a bikini had naturally been taken without either her knowledge or consent.
The announcement by Buckingham Palace at the beginning of 1982 that the Princess would continue her public duties until the end of March - less than three months before her baby was due - revealed a distinct change in the style of royal motherhood.
On June 21, just 10 days after her 21st birthday, the Princess of Wales gave birth to a son. The child, William Arthur Philip Louis, immediately became the heir-apparent with the title Prince William of Wales.
Quite how much the Princess intended to transform the style of royal motherhood became clear with the announcement that the Princess was to take her son on an official tour of Australia and New Zealand which she and Prince Charles were due to carry out in the spring of 1983.
Prince William was nine months old when they set off from England and certainly no royal baby had ever accompanied their parents on such a long tour before.
The tour was clearly going to be her most testing assignment to date; but no one had remotely expected the uncontrolled public reception which she received in Australia.
In each of the major cities crowds of many thousands greeted the royal couple - despite the fact that the recent election of a Labor government had thrown up widespread support for republicanism. The tour marked a transformation for the Princess. Wherever she went her appearance and manner expanded initial enthusiasm into adulation.
The scenes in Australia and New Zealand were repeated a few months later in Canada, where the Prince and Princess carried out their second important tour of 1983. These visits to the major former colonies were prompted by tradition. Both George V and Edward VIII carried out similar tours as Prince of Wales; George VI and Queen Elizabeth did so after the end of the Second World War, and the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh shortly after her accession. The aim was the perpetuation of bonds with those Commonwealth countries which, having shed political ties with Britain, still regarded the monarchy as an acceptable and enjoyable point of contact.
The tours unquestionably fulfilled these original aims. They also threw up a radically new situation. Never before had a personality been more important than the symbolic presence of royalty as appeared to be the case with the Princess of Wales. The crowds wished first and foremost to see her. On one occasion Prince Charles remarked wryly: "I'm only here to collect the flowers."
The Princess showed quickly that once she had gained experience of the shortlist of practical difficulties to be avoided her appearance was to be almost invariably faultless. Blessed with a good figure from youth she instantly proved highly photogenic and conscious of the importance of her appearance.
While her glamorous looks and clothes ensured that she would grace the covers of more magazines than anyone else in history, on a more practical level the Princess of Wales demonstrated an acute awareness of the benefits to be reaped from the attention. Her championing of British fashion designers was the greatest single contribution to the revival of British haute couture in the 1980s.
In February 1984 the Princess of Wales carried out her first solo official visit abroad. She flew to Oslo to attend a gala performance by the London City Ballet, whose patron she had become the previous year. The trip represented her growing confidence and also shed light on a previously unexpected astuteness.
The Princess knew before she left for Oslo that she was expecting her second child; the announcement immediately on her return gave a welcome fillip of publicity to the fledgling ballet company.
Her second son, Henry Charles Albert David, was born on September 15 1984. He assumed the title Prince Henry of Wales, but from his birth the Princess announced that he would be called Harry.
From her own comments and obvious enjoyment of children and family life, most people assumed that the Princess of Wales hoped for a large family. Once her separation from Prince Charles was announced, however, it was clear that the beginning of their estrangement had been the main factor in the decision not to have any more children.
She was later to say that after the birth of Prince Harry she felt her marriage had died.
The Princess was determined for her sons to have as normal a childhood among their peers as possible. Therefore they both attended nursery and pre-preparatory schools in London before going aged eight as boarders to Ludgrove, in Berkshire. (William went on to Eton.) The Princess made a priority of doing the school run whenever possible and taking part in sports days.
As for the most formal of her royal duties the Princess followed royal tradition by accepting honorary positions within the Armed Forces. These included being Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Hampshire Regiment and the 13th/l8th Hussars (Queen Mary's Own), as well as The Princess of Wales's Own Regiment (Canada). She was sponsor of the frigate Cornwall and Honorary Air Commodore of RAF Wittering.
More in character than such honorary positions, however, was the Princess's determination to play a supportive role during the Gulf war. In December 1990, while Prince Charles visited the troops in the Gulf, she travelled to Germany to visit their families.
In January 1991, she returned to Germany, to RAF Brunnen, the base which had sent Tornado fighter-bombers. She also wrote an open letter of encouragement that was published in the service magazines Soldier, Navy News and RAF News.
Such a response at a time of crisis demonstrated the Princess's awareness of the public expectations of the monarchy. It came at a time when such expectations were often leaning towards criticism. The marriage of the Duke and Duchess of York in June 1986 ushered in a period when, on a number of different occasions, the media lost no opportunity to encourage public questioning of the way of life led by members of the Royal Family, in particular the younger ones.
Even after the birth of her children she regularly made four or five official trips overseas each year, many with Prince Charles. At times, for instance in Japan in May 1986, her arrival prompted public hysteria and in the early years the role of highly visible "ambassador" dominated most visits. But as she became more immersed in her charities, as illustrated by the trips to Indonesia and Nigeria, so her work overseas increasingly concentrated on extending this commitment.
Such change was highlighted by two trips to the United States. In 1985 she spent five days with Prince Charles in Washington and Palm Beach on a visit dominated by large-scale social functions such as the White House banquet given by President Reagan. In February 1989 she spent three days in New York on her own.
This time, as well as promoting British trade, the Princess visited a settlement centre in the poverty-stricken Lower East Side, but her greatest impact was made by a visit to the Aids unit in the children's ward of Harlem Hospital. When she picked up and hugged one seven-year-old sufferer her spontaneous action had a profound effect on a country obsessed with the social unacceptability of Aids.
In May 1990 she and Prince Charles travelled to Hungary and made history by becoming the first members of the Royal Family to visit a former Warsaw Pact country. As well as sharing the celebrations at the end of Communism, the Princess visited the renowned Peto Institute for handicapped children where on behalf of the Queen she invested the director Dr Maria Hari with an honorary OBE.
Shortly after the Princess's marriage, it had been announced that she would have to limit strictly the organisations to which she gave her name as patron or president. At first they were confined to organisations in Wales, such as Welsh National Opera (from 1982), or ones to do with children.
Among the earliest she took on were the Malcolm Sargent Cancer Fund for Children, the National Children's Orchestra, the Royal School for the Blind and the Pre-School Playgroups Association.
The Princess demonstrated an early determination to be as active as possible on behalf of the organisations with whom she forged links. All those involved have testified to the enormous benefits they have reaped as a result. In 1983 she became patron of the British Deaf Association. It was characteristic that she made the effort to learn sign language which she used in public on a number of occasions.
By 1984 the Princess of Wales's self-assurance in her public work was evident. At the same time she was beginning to demonstrate the intangible quality of care which more than anything else served to elevate her reputation above what was expected of members of the Royal Family.
During that year she took over the presidency of Barnados from Princess Margaret, and became patron of Birthright, the charity (linked to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) which funded research into ante-natal and infant problems and illness. For both causes she was tireless in attending events and lending her support to fund-raising - with often spectacular results.
She was also president of the Royal Marsden Hospital and patron of the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (formerly the National Hospitals for Nervous Diseases). In 1985 she became patron of Help the Aged and in 1987 the first royal patron of the housing charity the Guinness Trust.
The emphasis on children's charities that she had initially focused upon continued as a strong element of her public work. In 1988 she became patron of the youth branch of the British Red Cross and she extended her involvement to the same organisations in Australia and Canada.
In 1989 she became patron of the National Meningitis Trust and in 1990 patron of the Hospital for Sick Children at Great Ormond Street. The next year she had personal cause to thank the hospital when Prince William was rushed there for an emergency operation after fracturing his skull in an accident at school.
In 1988 came what the Princess came to see as a turning point in her life. During a skiing holiday at Klosters in March, Major Hugh Lindsay, a former equerry to the Queen and a friend of the Prince's, was killed in an accident. The shock of the tragedy set her thinking about how to change the course of her own life.
Among the steps she took was to do something about her nervous ailments. Normally such things are private matters but, as with so much in the Princess's life, her health became a battleground on which she and those she found ranged against her fought out a publicity war in the press. She decided to consult a doctor about her bulimia, and discussed with him her past urges to commit suicide.
The Princess also began to consult counsellors and to keep fit with the advice of a trainer. With her serious thoughts came a renewed determination to help the neglected and dying. In 1991 she made seven visits to hostels for the homeless, and she visited people with Aids. In 1992 she made a visit to Rome to talk with Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whose aim it is to help the poorest of the poor. Mother Teresa, on a visit to London in September 1992, met the Princess again.
On the Princess's 30th birthday in July 1991 the tabloid press made much of her declining to have a party at Highgrove House. Though she joined the Prince on a cruise of the Mediterranean she decided not to accompany him on a visit to South Korea.
In 1992 a book by Andrew Morton was published, called Diana: Her True Story. It was a sensationalist work, dwelling on wrongs done to the Princess, and placing much of the blame on her husband. Both Tesco and Harrods refused to sell it. The book was serialised in a Sunday newspaper, and the Press Complaints Commission condemned the coverage as "an odious exhibition of journalists dabbling their fingers in the stuff of other people's souls".
The Princess, though, then made a well-publicised visit to a friend who had helped put the book together, and it became clear that she had herself co-operated to an extent with the author.
During the months before an announcement of their divorce, not only the Prince and Princess of Wales but also their children were dragged into endless newspaper speculation about their private life.
This speculation was made more frenzied by the publication in the Sun of a tape-recording of a telephone conversation she had had on New Year's Eve 1989 with a male friend, who repeatedly called her "Squidgy". The tawdry press coverage not surprisingly made the Princess feel even more forlorn.
For the rest of her life Diana, Princess of Wales had to put up with discussion of her friendships with James Gilbey, Major James Hewitt, Will Carling, the England rugby captain, and finally Dodi Fayed. She had became renowned for her love affairs.
On December 9 1992, John Major announced to the House of Commons that the Prince and Princess were to separate. The decision, he said, had been taken jointly; they would establish separate households at Highgrove and Kensington Palace, but had no plans to divorce.
Some MPs were surprised by his statement that there was no reason why the Princess should not, in due course, be crowned Queen. For many commentators it was the most severe constitutional crisis since the Abdication of Edward VIII in 1936, and a sad end to a year that the Queen had called her "annus horribilis."
After the announcement of her separation from the Prince, the Princess spent the early part of January 1993 in the Caribbean. Although she now had more freedom to organise her life as she wished, her new existence was already assuming the aspect of a gilded cage.
Her public image had changed irrevocably, and some commentators who had once celebrated the shy appeal of the teenage teacher were ready to condemn her as a schemer.
Others were prepared to see wrong on both sides, or at least to stoke the flames on each side to an even level. In mid-January, the transcript of a private telephone conversation between the Prince and Camilla Parker Bowles found its way to the press, an echo of that between the Princess and James Gilbey. Both had been recorded in 1989, leading to rumours that the Prince and Princess had been spied on by the Security Service.
Divorce now appeared inevitable. Moreover, each new twist and operatic revelation, from the Princess's flirtation with Roman Catholicism to the television adaptation in February 1993 of Andrew Morton's book, seemed to harm a little more the standing of the monarchy.
The Princess felt increasingly at odds with the royal household. As both she and the Prince tried to refashion their public images, she concentrated her efforts on her charity work, lending support to drug dependency clinics, marriage-guidance centres and refuges for battered woman.
Among the most notable of her causes were those that worked with Aids sufferers. She would both comfort the patients and strive to get across the message that they should not be treated as pariahs. In 1991 she became patron of the National Aids Trust.
In the same year, while on a highly public visit with the wife of the American President, Barbara Bush, to the Aids ward of the Middlesex Hospital, she hugged one patient.
This gesture emphasised her words in a speech shortly before: "HIV does not make people dangerous to know, so you can shake their hands and give them a hug - heaven knows, they need it. What's more, you can share their homes, their workplaces, and their playgrounds and toys."
Less well known was her campaign in support of leprosy sufferers. This was first demonstrated in 1989 during an official visit to Indonesia with Prince Charles. She specifically asked to visit the Sitanela Leprosy Hospital where she shook hands with a large number of patients - many of them children. Similarly in 1990, during a joint tour to Nigeria, she visited both a leper hospital and a leper colony. The Princess subsequently became patron of the Leprosy Mission in Britain.
At home her work for unfashionable causes was exemplified by her patronage of Relate and Turning Point. Relate was launched in 1987 as an updated version of the National Marriage Guidance Council.
The Princess became patron in 1989. At first, many pointed to the unhappiness in her own childhood caused by her parents' divorce.
But with the announcement of her separation it was clear that she was drawing on more immediate personal experience.
Turning Point was founded in 1964 to provide day care and counselling for people suffering from drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness. The Princess became the charity's patron in 1987. She thereafter made many visits for the charity, whether to centres looking after sufferers, or to institutions such as Rampton and Broadmoor.
In a speech for Turning Point in 1990 she said: "It takes professionalism to convince a doubting public that it should accept back into its midst many of those diagnosed as psychotics, neurotics and other sufferers who Victorian communities decided should be kept out of sight in the safety of mental institutions."
Her commitment to working against drug abuse was a prime motive for her trip to Pakistan that year. The protocol problems of visiting the Muslim country did not stop her visiting a rehabilitation centre in Lahore.
For many people, she became a modern icon, combining film-star glamour and genuine concern for society's less-privileged members with a powerful, liberated feminism that matched the mood of the times. She took particular care to involve her two sons in much she did.
Yet by October 1993, with the progressive deterioration of her marriage, she was searching for a more definite role. She had a meeting with John Major, to try to secure a position as a "roving ambassador" of international goodwill. It was an attempt to be treated more seriously, but it was soon undermined by further press intrusion.
Photographs were published in November of her exercising in a London gym, and were followed by further speculation about her mental and physical health. Whether she comforted a dying child, or bought balloons in a toy shop, she was front-page news. As Audrey Hepburn remarked in Roman Holiday: "It's always open season on princesses."
She was seen at her best when, amidst the rumours about her health, she made a surprise visit to Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, on the sixth anniversary of the IRA bomb that exploded there. She comforted relatives of those killed and those who had survived.
Nevertheless, on December 3 1993, she announced, in dramatic fashion, that she was withdrawing as much as possible from public life. Citing the insatiable interest of the media in every aspect of her life, she said she wanted time and space for herself and her sons.
Although she had renounced public duties, it seemed impossible for her to remain out of the public spotlight. In July 1994, glamorous portraits of her adorned the pages of Vogue.
Then her shunning of publicity was further undermined by the revelation of her friendship with Major James Hewitt. His newspaper account of their relationship rightly drew opprobrium from all quarters, but was followed by the tacit admission of the Prince in a television documentary in June 1994 that he too had been unfaithful.
The Princess appeared that evening in the most alluring of off-shoulder dresses at a function at the Serpentine Gallery.
Publicity continued to attend her. Pictures of her on holiday in Martha's Vineyard, New England, were published, in breach of an agreed code of media conduct. When she returned, there were stories that she had pestered an art dealer, Oliver Hoare, with silent telephone calls.
Still searching for an identity that would confirm her as a woman of both independence and substance, the Princess announced in November 1994 that she would make a partial return to public life.
In particular, she was keen to take a leading part in the 125th anniversary celebrations of the Red Cross, of which she was British vice-president. She was also invited by the Queen to participate in the anniversary celebrations of D-Day.
In September, her charity work brought her the title of International Humanitarian of the Year. The press, though, continued to focus on her single status and her friendships with men, among them the England rugby captain, Will Carling.
On Nov 20 1995 BBC television broadcast an hour-long Panorama interview with the Princess conducted by Martin Bashir. It had been filmed secretly at Kensington Palace on Nov 5.
In the interview the Princess, wearing striking black eye make-up, discussed her life, her marriage, her children and her future with extraordinary candour and introspection; she took the opportunity to unburden herself of many apparently deeply felt grievances.
The greater part of the programme, which at times seemed more like an inquest than an interview, was devoted to her analysis of her broken marriage to the Prince of Wales. It attracted the largest audience for any television documentary in broadcasting history.
Of the pressures of marrying into the Royal Family at 20, the Princess said that the most daunting aspect was the media attention. "We were told when we got engaged that the media would go quietly, and it didn't; and then when we were married they said it would go quietly and it didn't; and then it started very much to focus on me, and I seemed to be on the front of a newspaper every single day, which is an isolating experience."
Speaking of her depression, she said that the seeds of her unhappiness had been sown in the depression she suffered after the birth of Prince William.
Later came attempts to injure herself and bulimia, which she explained as an unsuccessful attempt to attract her husband's attention: "It was a symptom of what was going on in my marriage." But her "cry for help", she said, was dismissed as mental imbalance.
In a reference to the Prince of Wales's attachment to Camilla Parker Bowles, she explained that "there were three of us in the marriage.
So it was a bit crowded". Yet she blamed the pressures imposed on her and her husband for the break-up of her marriage more than she blamed the Prince of Wales himself.
She did, though, refer to the Prince's staff as "the enemy", and wanted them to understand that she would not "go quietly". "I'll fight to the end, because I have a role to fulfil and I've got two children to bring up."
Having appeared to cast doubt on the Prince of Wales's eventual accession to the throne, she turned to her own future role: "I would like to be a Queen in people's hearts . . . someone's got to go out there and love people."
Four weeks after the interview was broadcast, the Queen wrote to the couple and urged them to divorce sooner rather than later.
With divorce in the air, the Princess still intended to exert her influence on the future shape of the monarchy, through her children. As Mr Major pointed out: "She is the mother of the future King, and nobody can push that fact to one side."
Her value to charities also remained obvious. After political criticism that taxpayers' money was being wasted on Aids research, she put herself at the forefront of a campaign to show the disease did not merely afflict homosexuals.
In June 1996 she visited Chicago, as president of the Royal Marsden Hospital. She raised more than £1 million for cancer research by attending one luncheon and a dinner.
The Prince of Wales was granted a decree nisi dissolving his marriage to the Princess on July 15 1996.
The Princess, it was announced would lose the use of the style Her Royal Highness. For her part, the Princess announced that she was resigning as patron of more than 100 charities, so as to devote more time to six. Her holiday in France was again interrupted by the attentions of paparazzi, and in August she obtained an injunction against a photographer who had been following her persistently.
The decree absolute was pronounced on Aug 28 1996. There was much sadness, as there had been much joy at their wedding 15 years before.
Villagers at Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds deliberated whether to remove a plaque on a kissing gate commemorating the couple's walks through neighbouring fields. They did not appear in public together again until December, when they attended Prince William's carol service at Eton.
In the last months of her life, Diana, Princess of Wales worked in aid of the victims of landmines. This summer she visited Bosnia and spoke to the widows and victims of mines. Earlier she had visited Angola. Part of her intention was to seek the abolition of landmines as weapons of war.
Her championing of this aim drew accusations of party political action. During her visit to Africa, when the Conservatives were in power, one Tory MP describing her as a "loose cannon". But the Red Cross was full of praise for her.
Last week, in an interview with Le Monde, she spoke of her hopes for a Government policy on mines that would fulfil her ideals. "The Labour Government's position has always been clear," she was quoted as saying. "It's going to do terrific work. Its predecessor was absolutely hopeless."
Again there was a controversy over the possible party political implications of her words.
It was a momentary embarrassment; the press remained keener on her affairs of the heart and this summer began to take a keen interest in her open friendship with Dodi Fayed, the son of Mohamed Fayed, the owner of Harrods. The Princess and he enjoyed several holidays together and died in the same accident.
So ended a life that can in truth be called tragic. Diana, Princess of Wales had been driven by a tragic flaw into yet another love affair, which ended, not through her fault, but through the cruel visitation of nemesis, in her death.
If she had been made unhappy by her marriage, she had found nothing to replace it; if she found fault with the way of life of the Royal Family, her own life was often taken up with trivia.
In her good causes, yes, she discovered values with a sure foundation. Among all the culs-de-sac, her charity and, beyond anything, her children are the lasting good she has left behind.
Published August 31 1997
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