Princess Diana might have passed away almost 25 years ago, but her legacy still holds strong today – and with the recent release of Spencer, a film about her life in which she is portrayed by Kristen Stewart, the public has a renewed interest in the “People’s Princess”.
But how much of the film is rooted in reality, and how well do royal watchers really know the late princess? Read on for 20 surprising facts …
Her parents divorced when she was seven
Diana’s parents, Frances Shand Kydd and Edward John Spencer, divorced after years of a tumultuous, unhappy relationship, according to Diana, Her True Story by Andrew Morton.
She ended up living with her father after her parents’ divorce, and a vicious custody battle ensued over Diana and her three siblings.
She wanted to be a ballerina
When Princess Diana was a child, she dreamt of becoming a ballerina. However, her dreams would never become a reality, as she soon grew to be too tall for the profession and was forced to give it up. She was 178cm (5 feet and 10 inches) tall.
She was an accomplished diver
But she was an accomplished diver, even inventing her own signature move while at school. According to Yahoo!, Diana was a star in the sport. The “Spencer Special” was known to be a dive with almost no splash.
She also loved swimming and, after her marriage to Prince Charles, regularly swam laps at the pool at Buckingham Palace.
Her father inherited the title of Earl Spencer in 1975
Diana became Lady Diana Spencer when her father inherited the title of Earl Spencer in 1975. “Lady Di” became her unofficial nickname, even after she became the Princess of Wales when she married Prince Charles.
She grew up at Althorp House
Diana was born at Park House on the royal family’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk. After the Spencers divorced in 1969, Diana and her siblings lived at Park House until their father inherited the title of earl in 1975 and moved the family to Althorp House, a 100,000 sq ft home that dates back centuries.
The house, which the Spencer family acquired in 1508, is located on a 5,700-hectare (14,000-acre) estate in Northamptonshire, England. It has 31 bedrooms, a ballroom and “Painters’ Passage” lined with family busts.
She struggled in school and dropped out when she was 16
The soon-to-be princess struggled in school and eventually dropped out. While she was in boarding school, Diana failed her O-level exams twice. She later enrolled at a finishing school in Switzerland but was only there for one semester before meeting Prince Charles.
Prince Charles first dated her older sister
Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially met when she was 16 years old and Charles was nearing 30.
Charles and Diana’s older sister, Sarah Spencer, were rumoured to be dating in 1977, before the royal couple got together. In fact, the older Spencer sister even reportedly takes the credit for introducing Charles and Diana.
“I introduced them. I’m cupid,” Spencer reportedly said at the time.
“I remember thinking what a very jolly and amusing and attractive 16-year-old she was,” Charles recalled in a 1981 interview with The Telegraph. “I mean, great fun, and bouncy and full of life and everything.”
The couple only met 13 times before they tied the knot
Despite their almost 13-year age difference, Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s courtship moved quickly.
However, according to Town and Country, many of their conversations took place over the phone and it’s reported that the pair only met in person a dozen or so times before they married.
She was just 20 when she got married
In the beginning, Diana appeared to be a young woman totally in love. However, she still had her doubts about her soon-to-be husband.
“We had this ghastly interview the day we announced our engagement,” she said in the documentary, Diana: In Her Own Words.
“And this ridiculous [reporter] said, ‘Are you in love?’ I thought, ‘What a thick question.’ So I said, ‘Yes, of course, we are,’ and Charles turned around and said, ‘Whatever love means.’ And that threw me completely. I thought, ‘What a strange answer.’ It traumatised me.”
She reportedly chose her own engagement ring
According to Brides, the ring was designed by crown jeweller Garrard, but was chosen by the princess-to-be from a catalogue, meaning that technically anyone could have bought the sapphire and diamond ring.
According to Vogue, the royal family didn’t approve of this, and didn’t want commoners having the same access to jewels fit for royals. At the time of its original purchase in 1981, the ring was estimated to cost about US$36,000. Today, however, the ring is priceless.
When Prince William asked Kate Middleton to marry him, he proposed with his late mother’s stunning engagement ring.
Her wedding dress is estimated to have cost US$115,000
The dress, which was on display at Kensington Palace earlier this year, was designed by husband-and-wife team David and Elizabeth Emanuel. It featured sequins, lace, 10,000 pearls, and a 7.6-metre (25-foot) train.
She was the first royal to give birth in a hospital
On June 21, 1982, Princess Diana broke with royal tradition when she gave birth to Prince William, and later Prince Harry, at the Lindo Wing at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. Before Princess Diana became a mother, it was usually custom for members of the royal family to give birth at the palace.
Kate Middleton later gave birth to her children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, at the same hospital. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s son Archie was born at Portland Hospital in London, while their daughter Lilibet was born in a hospital in California.
She chose her sons’ names
According to Diana herself in Andrew Morton’s book, Diana: Her True Story, Charles originally wanted William to be named Arthur and for Henry – who goes by his nickname “Harry” – to be named Albert.
Both names, however, were used in some regard. Prince William’s full name is William Arthur Philip Louis, while Harry’s is Henry Charles Albert David.
She kicked off worldwide “Diana fever”
Princess Diana quickly became one of the most popular royals in modern history, a worldwide phenomenon called “Diana fever”. She was always eager to meet with people of all ages and backgrounds while travelling, and refused to wear gloves when meeting people, which was typically customary for royals.
Nearly 100,000 people cheered for Prince Charles and Princess Diana as they drove through the streets of Tokyo, exemplifying that Diana’s popularity reached far beyond the borders of the United Kingdom.
She struggled with depression and bulimia
In Andrew Morton’s book, Diana: Her True Story, the Princess of Wales also opened up about her mental health and struggle with bulimia as a result of her troubling marriage and complicated relationship with the press, who would make comments on her appearance.
In the now-controversial 1995 interview with Martin Bashir – the BBC apologised earlier this year after an inquiry found “deceitful” tactics had been used to secure the interview – Diana described bulimia as a “symptom of what was going on in [her] marriage”, and described it as “a secret disease”.
“You inflict it upon yourself because your self-esteem is at a low ebb, and you don’t think you’re worthy or valuable,” she said. “You fill your stomach up four or five times a day – some do it more – and it gives you a feeling of comfort.”
“I was crying out for help, but giving the wrong signals, and people were using my bulimia as a coat on a hanger: they decided that was the problem – Diana was unstable,” she said.
She reportedly confronted Camilla Parker Bowles
Diana reportedly confronted Camilla Parker Bowles about her affair with Prince Charles. According to archived recordings from National Geographic and the documentary Diana: In Her Own Words, Princess Diana approached Camilla at a party after becoming suspicious of her involvement with her husband.
According to the recordings, Diana went downstairs where she found her husband speaking with Camilla and another friend. After her husband and the friend left the room, Diana told Camilla, “I’d just like you to know that I know exactly what is going on.”
Diana then recalled Camilla defending herself by saying that Diana had “all the men in the world”. However, when asked “what more could she want”, Diana replied by saying, “I want my husband”.
She had a number of famous friends in her inner circle
Among the princess’ famous friends were Liza Minnelli, Kurt Russell, Goldie Hawn, Elton John, Freddie Mercury, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Michael Jackson.
She had a sweet tooth
Princess Diana’s favourite dessert was bread-and-butter pudding. According to an interview Princess Diana’s former chef, Darren McGrady, did with the Huffington Post, she would often come into the kitchen to chat and eat the raisins the dessert is traditionally topped with.
In a separate, 2021 interview with Insider, McGrady also revealed her go-to breakfast before the gym. The princess would request a “tin of Heinz baked beans, a pink grapefruit, a cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice” for breakfast at least three times a week, he said.
She wasn’t a very good cook
However, despite loving good food, she wasn’t a very good cook herself. “She was just the worst, a terrible person in the kitchen,” McGrady told the Huffington Post, adding that he would often leave microwaveable meals with instructions for the royal on the days he wasn’t cooking for her.
Her grave is at the Spencer family home
After her heartbreaking death in 1997 due to a car crash in Paris, she was laid to rest at Althorp House in Northampton, England, which has been in the Spencer family for more than 500 years.
Her memorial is located on a small, tranquil island across from a lake, where visitors can go to pay their respects to the People’s Princess.