Diana, Princess of Wales. Biography.
Diana Frances Spencer, was born on July 1, 1961, at Park House near Sandringham, Norfolk. She was the youngest daughter of the then Viscount and Viscountess Althorp, now the late Earl Spencer and the Hon Mrs Shand-Kydd. She had two elder sisters, Jane and Sarah, and a younger brother, Charles.
The root of Diana’s insecurity lay in her upbringing, despite its privileges. Her family was living on the Queen’s estate at Sandringham where her father had rented Park House. He had been a royal equerry for both King George VI and the young Queen Elizabeth II.
The Queen had been the chief guest when Diana’s parents were married in 1954; the ceremony at Westminster Abbey was one of the social events of the year.
But Diana was only six when her parents split up. She would always remember the crunch of her mother’s departing footsteps on the gravel drive. The children became pawns in a bitter custody dispute.
The wedding took place at St. Paul’s Cathedral on a perfect July day. Millions of television viewers around the world were dazzled by the event, with a further 600,000 lining the route from Buckingham Palace to the Cathedral. She was the first Englishwoman to marry an heir to the throne for 300 years.
Diana was just 20. Under the watchful eyes of her mother, and on the reassuring arm of her father, Diana prepared to take her wedding vows. She showed nerves only once, when she struggled with getting her husband’s many names in the right order.
After the wedding, the Princess of Wales quickly became involved in the official duties of the Royal family. Soon she was on a constant round of visits to nurseries, to schools, to hospitals.
The public singled her out for public affection: she seemed so genuinely pleased to be with ordinary folk, even if she could no longer be ordinary herself.
On an official visit to India in 1992, Diana sat alone outside the Taj Mahal, that great monument to love. It was a graphic public declaration that though the couple were formally together, they were in fact apart.
The pressure on her by the popular papers was relentless and stories of her men friends damaged her image as the wronged wife. One of those friends, an army officer, James Hewitt, to her horror, was the source of a book about their relationship.
Diana accepted divorce only after pressure from the Queen. When it came through – on August 28th 1996 – she told a friend it was the saddest day of her life.
Diana, now officially, Diana, Princess of Wales, gave up all but a small nucleus of her charity work as she sought a new role for herself. She had a clear idea of what that role as “Queen of Hearts” should be and she illustrated it by visits abroad. In June 1997 she visited Mother Teresa who was in poor health.
Also in June, Princess Diana auctioned off 79 dresses and ballgowns that had appeared on front covers of magazines around the world. The auction raised £3.5m for charity and also seemed to symbolise a break with the past.
The end began in the Mediterranean – and it began as it was to end.
It did not take long for word of the arrival at 3.20pm local time of the distinctive Gulfstream at Le Bourget airport, outside Paris, to vibrate in the web of paparazzi contacts.
The couple, accompanied by a bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, left in a Mercedes for Villa Windsor, the former home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, now owned by Mohamed Al Fayed.
They were taken by one of the Al Fayed drivers, Philippe Dourneau. A Range Rover followed, driven by Henri Paul, assistant director of security at the Ritz Hotel, also owned by Mr Al Fayed. The cars were pursued by photographers.
The Mercedes headed down Rue Cambon, round the anti-clockwise one way system in Place de la Concorde, and onto the right bank of the Seine, heading west.
Braking had forced the front down, so the impact threw the back upwards, crushing the front part of the roof.
Momentum made the car spin round before coming to rest, facing back the way it had come, its horn blaring.
The driver and Dodi Fayed were dead. The other man in the front, Mr Rees-Jones, suffered appalling injuries to his lower face and his chest. His life was saved probably by the seatbelt and the airbag.
Princess Diana was in the gap between the front and rear seats, unconscious with more severe head and chest injuries than anyone realised in the immediate aftermath.
What happened in the final moments is a crucial part of the French criminal inquiry, with photographers under investigation for possible manslaughter.
Whether the car had shaken off the paparazzi is one of the disputed issues. They say it had; some of those under investigation say they were not even there until afterwards.
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