Diana, Princess of Wales, who died early Sunday in a Paris car crash, was a shy, aristocratic, 20-year-old kindergarten assistant in 1981 when she was catapulted to world fame by her marriage to Prince Charles.
She will be remembered for one of the most spectacular marriage breakups of the 20th century, for her glamour and stunning beauty, for her accessibility to ordinary people in various parts of the world and for her humanitarian work ranging from giving comfort to dying AIDS patients to a personal crusade to bring about a worldwide ban on land mines.
She was perhaps the most-photographed woman in the world, and her face on a magazine cover or newspaper front page virtually guaranteed an increase in circulation.
Diana’s marriage to Charles, the heir to the throne, appeared to be the culmination of a fairy-tale romance, but she had only a brief period of happiness before the strains of her marriage drove her to bulimia and a public feud with her husband that went on for years, ending in a divorce decree just one year ago last week.
She attributed the breakup of her marriage to Charles’ relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles. Charles admitted in a television interview and book that he committed adultery but said he did so only after his marriage was irretrievably sundered.
Diana also admitted in a television interview she had committed adultery with an army officer, Capt. James Hewitt.
Born Diana Frances Spencer on July 1, 1961, she was the daughter of Earl and Lady Spencer and a member of one of Britain’s most prominent noble families, which is linked to the Churchills. Her parents separated when she was 6 years old and both later remarried.
She was brought up at her father’s house on the royal estate at Sandringham in eastern England and the family home of Althorp, in the English Midlands.
Diana, like many aristocratic British women, received no university education. She attended a boarding school in Kent and then a finishing school in Switzerland, before taking a job as a nanny, as a cook and finally as an assistant at a London kindergarten.
She first met Prince Charles in 1977 at Althorp when he was courting her elder sister Sarah. As Charles came under family pressure to marry, his romance with Diana blossomed in 1980, and their engagement was announced on Feb. 24, 1981.
Five months later, on July 29, they were married in a glittering ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral that was televised around the world.
Diana gave birth to her first son, William Arthur Philip Louis, on June 21, 1982, and she suffered postnatal depression. The couple’s second son, Henry “Harry” Charles Albert David, was born Sept. 15, 1984.
British tabloid newspapers began publishing the first accounts of difficulties in the royal marriage in 1985. The next year, Charles renewed his relationship with Parker Bowles, who was then married to Army Brig. Gen. Andrew Parker Bowles, a close friend of the prince. Charles later described Camilla as “the love of my life.”
Diana developed bulimia, and although she and Charles continued to carry out their public duties, it was evident from their manner that their marriage was troubled.
A book published in September 1994, by journalist Anna Pasternak, revealed the affair between Diana and Hewitt. Hewitt was condemned by fellow officers for collaborating with Pasternak in the “kiss-and-tell” book, called “Princess in Love.”
More than a year later, on Nov. 20, 1995, Diana gave a television interview that proved one of the most highly publicized and controversial events of her brief life. She attributed the failure of her marriage to Charles’ relationship with Parker Bowles, admitted the affair with Hewitt and questioned Charles’ ability to handle the responsibility of becoming king.
That was finally too much for Queen Elizabeth II, and Buckingham Palace announced a month later that she had written to Charles and Diana to urge them to get a divorce.
After months of haggling between the couple’s lawyers, a divorce settlement was announced on July 12, 1995. Diana was reported to have received $26 million. She was stripped of the title “Her Royal Highness” but was allowed to continue calling herself Princess of Wales.
The couple agreed that their sons would continue to spend time with both parents. A London court granted them a decree on July 15, 1996, the first step in divorce proceedings, and the divorce was made final on Aug. 28.
Never a stranger to controversy, she created a minor furor in Britain last week when she gave an interview to the French newspaper Le Monde in which she praised the current Labor government’s support for her campaign to have land mines banned and described the former Conservative government as “hopeless.”
The first reports that Diana had found a new love appeared Aug. 7. He was Emad “Dodi” Fayed, a millionaire film producer, playboy and the Egyptian-born son of Harrods department store owner Mohamed Al-Fayed. He also died in Sunday’s crash.
The couple had just completed their third Mediterranean holiday on Al-Fayed’s yacht. They arrived unannounced in Paris on Saturday, and were apparently headed to Fayed’s Paris apartment when their car crashed in a tunnel.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Chronology Here are significant dates in the life of Diana, Princess of Wales. July 1, 1961: Lady Diana Frances Spencer is born, the daughter of the 8th Earl of Spencer and his wife, Frances. July 29, 1981: Marries Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, at St. Paul’s Cathedral, while millions watch the “fairy tale wedding.” June 21, 1982: Diana gives birth to Prince William Arthur Philip Louis. Sept. 15, 1984: Diana gives birth to Prince Harry (Henry Charles Albert David). June 15, 1992: After months of speculation about the state of the royal marriage, Andrew Morton’s book “Diana: Her True Story” says Charles has had a longtime affair with a married woman, Camilla Parker Bowles, driving Diana to injure herself and attempt suicide. Jan. 12, 1993: The Sun publishes transcript of intimate phone call said to be between Camilla and Charles, reportedly monitored December 1989. June 29, 1994: In a TV documentary, Charles says he had committed adultery after the marriage broke down, “us both having tried.” Oct. 3, 1994: Anna Pasternak’s book “Princess in Love” says Diana had five-year affair with her riding instructor, James Hewitt. Nov. 20, 1995: In a television interview Diana admits adultery with Hewitt. December 1995: Charles receives letter from Queen Elizabeth II urging divorce, and he agrees. Feb. 28, 1996: Diana agrees to divorce. Aug. 28, 1996: Final decree of divorce. Aug. 31, 1997: Diana killed in Paris automobile accident. - Associated Press