Princess Diana was a trailblazer, activist, style icon, and one of the most influential people of the 20th century. Although she lived much of her life in the spotlight, under oppressive scrutiny, there’s much you probably don’t know about the beloved late royal. From her favourite fashion designer to her pre-royal working life, her taste in music to her parenting style, here are 30 thigs to remember about the People’s Princess.
She was the fourth of five children.
Princess Diana had two sisters, Sarah (now Lady Sarah McCorquodale) and Jane (now Lady Jane Fellowes), and a younger brother, Charles Spencer (now the Earl Spencer). Her other brother, John Spencer, died hours after his birth in January 1960, a year and a half before Diana was born.
Her parents divorced when she was 7.
Diana’s parents, Frances Shand Kydd and Edward John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer, divorced when she was just seven years old. Diana’s parents had a tumultuous relationship, and she cited cheating and physical abuse as some of the reasons for their separation.
Her grandmother served as lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother.
Diana’s maternal grandmother, Ruth Roche, Baroness Fermoy, was a lady-in waiting to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. This meant she acted as a personal assistant and a companion. She was a close friend to the Queen and organized many of her parties.
She grew up in a house of the Sandringham estate leased from Queen Elizabeth.
Sandringham House is located in Norfolk and is owned by the royal family. On the grounds is Park House, where Princess Diana’s mother Frances was born in in 1936 and Diana was born in 1961. The estate is a royal family staple and Sandringham House hosts many of the family holidays.
She wanted to be a ballerina but was too tall.
Diana studied ballet and wanted to become a professional dancer, but grew too tall to continue. Diana’s ballet teacher Anne Allan opened up about her time with the princess in 2017, saying “she had dance in her soul. I realized the pure enjoyment that it gave her. She loved the freeness of being able to move and dance…I could see it helped to alleviate her emotional life.”
She became “Lady” Diana after her father inherited a title.
Diana became Lady Diana Spencer in 1975, after her father inherited the title of Earl Spencer. “Lady Di” became her nickname, even after she got the title of Princess of Wales when she married Prince Charles.
School was not her strong suit.
Diana was home schooled until she was nine and then attended boarding school for the rest of her education. She failed her O-Level exams twice and dropped out of school when she was 16. She attended school in Switzerland for only one semester before she met Prince Charles.
She worked as a nanny and a teacher.
Before she met Prince Charles and became a princess, Diana worked many odd jobs, including as a nanny and a school teacher. She was paid only 5$ and hour to play with children, do laundry, and clean. She also worked as a kindergarten teacher part0time in London’s Pimlico area.
She was the first royal bride to have a paying job.
When she married Prince Charles in 1981, Diana became the first royal bride ever to have had a paying job until becoming engaged to an heir. And the Duchess of Cambridge was the first royal bride to have a university degree.
Prince Charles dated her older sister first.
Diana met her future husband through her older sister, Sarah. Prince Charles and Sarah has a fling in the late ‘70s, which is how Diana first met the prince. “I introduced them. I’m Cupid,” Sarah said.
Sarah and Diana were very close and often travelled together until the end of Diana’s life.
Diana said that Sarah was “the only person I know I can trust.”
Prince Charles was her distant cousin.
Diana and Prince Charles were actually distantly related. They were 16th cousins once removed, both descendants of Tudor King Henry VII.
Prince William is also related to his wife Kate Middleton. They are 12th cousins once removed, related though Sir Thomas Leighton. Leighton is Prince William’s 12th generation great-grandfather, and Kate’s 11th.
She had only met Prince Charles 12 times before they got married.
Before they were engaged in 1981, Charles and Diana had only met about a dozen times. At the time, Diana was just 19, and Charles was 32. "They had only been together 12 times and at one point Prince Phillip pressured his son and said, 'You have to do the right thing.'" said Susan Zirinsky, senior executive producer of Princess Diana: Her Life, Her Death, The Truth.
Her wedding dress was record-breaking.
Diana's ivory taffeta wedding dress was made by husband-and-wife design team David and Elizabeth Emanuel. The gown boasted over 10,000 pearls and a 25-foot-long train, one of the longest royal trains the world had ever seen.
She omitted part of her vows.
Diana broke barriers (and started a tradition) when she omitted the tradition of saying she would "obey" her husband in her vows from the Book of Common Prayer. Instead, she promised to ''love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health.'' Both Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle followed suit and kept "obey" out of their vows during their wedding ceremonies.
She was the first to give birth in a hospital.
It was royal tradition for heirs to the throne to be born at home. However, Prince William was the first future monarch born in a hospital, as Diana gave birth to both William and Harry at the Lido Wing at St. Mary's Hospital.
Her parenting style was very unconventional for a royal.
Diana was no ordinary royal mom. She was determined to raise Prince William and Prince Harry as "normally" as possible. "She made sure that they experienced things like going to the cinema, queuing up to buy a McDonald's, going to amusement parks, those sorts of things that were experiences that they could share with their friends," said Patrick Jephson, Princess Diana's chief of staff for six years.
Catherine Walker was her favorite designer.
Diana's private couturier Catherine Walker had a "quasi-sisterly bond" with the princess. Walker designed many of Diana's most iconic looks and is given credit for her signature style.
On wearing a white halter dress designed by Walker in 1996, Diana wrote to the designer, "I was so proud and felt very confident to stride out there and deliver my first speech since the divorce. The compliments about your design and expertise would have made your ears burn."
She always wrote a "thank you" card.
Diana was famous for writing thank you cards to anyone that gave her a gift. She reportedly wrote thank you notes to the thousands of people who brought gifts to Prince William after he was born. Today, some of her handwritten letters have been auctioned off for anywhere from $2,000 to $20, 000, depending on the content and uniqueness of the note.
She was a breakthrough activist for HIV awareness.
Diana made history in April 1987 when she was photographed shaking an HIV patient's hand without wearing gloves. The photo helped spread the message of HIV awareness and educate the public's perception of the illness. That day, the Princess opened the UK's first HIV/Aids unit at London Middlesex Hospital that specifically treated patients infected with the virus.
She had a lot of famous friends.
Diana had many A-list friends, including Elton John, George Michael, Tilda Swinton, and Liza Minelli. Diana was also friends with Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, and stayed at their ranch in Colorado with William and Harry for ten days to escape the paparazzi.
ABBA was her favorite band.
Diana was known to be a huge fan of Swedish pop group ABBA. The Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William honored Diana in a subtle way by playing some of ABBA's music at their wedding party in 2011.
She coined the term "cleavage bags."
With cameras following her everywhere, Diana had to be careful of what was photographed. She used her small clutch bags as a guard for her cleavage, to make sure cameras didn't catch a glimpse down her top. Most photos of Diana getting out of a car to enter an event show her using her clutch as a shield. Designer Anya Hindmarch, who worked with Diana often, said, "we used to laugh when we designed what she called her 'cleavage bags,' little satin clutches which she would cover her cleavage with when she stepped out of cars."
She recorded many of her thoughts on tape.
After Diana's messy public divorce caused a tabloid craze, she decided to record her thoughts on tape to tell her side of the story. She starting documenting them in May 1991, and had a friend deliver them to British journalist Andrew Morton, who had been reporting on the royals for years.
"The Princess was talking about her unhappiness, her sense of betrayal, her suicide attempts—and two things I’d never previously heard of: an eating disorder called bulimia nervosa and a woman called Camilla," Morton said about the tapes. In 1992, Andrew Morton wrote Diana: Her True Story—In Her Own Words based on the tapes he had received from Diana. The book was a bestseller, and forever changed the narrative about the princess.
She had an affair with her bodyguard.
Barry Mannakee was with the police in the Royal Protection Squad before becoming Diana's bodyguard in 1985. After a year on her service, Mannakee was transferred off of royal duties because of an "unusually close relationship between the pair."
In a tape from a therapy session, Diana said that she was "deeply in love" and was "quite happy to give all this up and to just go off and live with him." While she does not directly name Mannakee, it is widely believed she walk talking about to him. Mannakee died in a motorcycle crash in 1987, and there are many theories that his death was not an accident.
Her engagement ring was chosen from a catalogue.
The ring is a 12-carat oval sapphire surrounded by 14 solitaire diamonds. Diana chose the ring out of a Garrard's catalogue, which was unusual as most royals had their jewels custom designed specifically for them.
The ring now belongs to Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. Prince William proposed to Kate with the ring in 2010 and viewed it as a perpetual symbol of his mother's presence. "Obviously she's not going to be around to share all the fun and excitement, so this is my way of sort of keeping her close to it all," Prince William said.
Her dresses raised millions for charity.
Just a few months before she passed away, Diana held a Christie's auction of 79 of her most iconic dresses to raise money for AIDS and cancer charities. One of the most well-known dresses sold was the "Travolta dress," a velvet blue gown that Princess Diana wore at a gala at the White House, where she danced with John Travolta.
Her title was revoked after her divorce.
After divorcing Prince Charles in 1996, Diana's title of "her royal highness" was removed from her name. But Queen Elizabeth II was not the one insisting—Charles was. According to the terms of their divorce, "she is to give up her right to be Queen of England and to be called 'Her Royal Highness,'" according to the New York Times. The newspaper also reported, "Queen Elizabeth II was reported to have been ready to allow Diana to retain the honorific, but Prince Charles was said to be adamant that she give it up."
She called Prince William "Wombat."
Diana called her eldest son William "wombat" starting from the time he was just two years old. After a trip to Australia where they saw the cute native creature, Diana began lovingly referring to the young prince as "wombat." In a 2007 interview, Prince William said "When we went to Australia with our parents, and the wombat, you know, that's the local animal. So I just basically got called that. Not because I look like a wombat. Or maybe I do."
She invited Cindy Crawford to Kensington Palace.
Diana invited supermodel Cindy Crawford over for tea, mostly to please Prince Harry and Prince William who were very interested teenage boys at the time. Crawford shared a throwback photo on Instagram on the anniversary of Diana's death in 2017. "She asked if the next time I was in London I would come by for tea—I think Prince William was just starting to notice models and she thought it would be a cute surprise for him and Prince Harry," Crawford wrote. "I was nervous and didn't know what to wear, but remember as soon as she came into the room and we started talking, it was like talking to a girlfriend. She was a class act and showed us all what a modern day princess should be."
She is buried on her family's island.
After her tragic death in 1997, Diana was buried on Althorp Estate in Northampton. The estate has belonged to the Spencer family for over 500 years. A small island has been dedicated to her memory, with a temple on Oval Lake, where well-wishers can pay their respects.