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The One Surprising Thing Princess Diana Did When Visiting Friends

"It made her feel normal," said a close confidante.

Princess Diana was born into one of England's most aristocratic families and spent her childhood at Althorp, a 121-room grand house that sat on 14,000 acres in the English countryside. But being surrounded by grandeur had little effect on the then Lady Diana Spencer, who spent a great deal of her time in the kitchen chatting with the staff. Sometimes, she'd even make her favorite bread and butter pudding and was often helping them clean up.

It was during her childhood that Diana developed a life-long habit that made her the perfect house guest—and offered a poignant glimpse into just how much the princess craved having a "normal" life.

According to a Palace insider, Diana used to love to clean and it wasn't unusual for her to "do the washing up" after lunches and dinner parties with friends at their country homes.

"Diana loved the routine of tidying up after luncheon or a dinner," said the royal source. "She'd always offer when she visited and I'd tell her not to worry about it, but she'd wind up in the kitchen with her hands in the sink and wouldn't stop until everything had been put away."

When she first moved to London in the 1970s, Diana shared a flat in Chelsea with her sister Sarah and friend Lucinda Craig Harvey, who reportedly felt awkward having Diana cleaning up after them. Before marrying Prince Charles, Diana also worked part-time as a housekeeper on the days when she wasn't helping out at Young England Kindergarten, where she taught children how to paint and dance.

In his book, Diana: Her True Story, royal biographer Andrew Morton wrote that in 1981 when Lucinda sent Diana a note of congratulations after her engagement was announced, the princess wrote back: "Gone are the days of Jif and dusters. Oh dear, will I ever see them again?" Morton noted that housekeeping gave Diana "quiet satisfaction."

It was unthinkable for Diana to be seen doing any work in the kitchen while she was married to Charles and living at Kensington Palace, but on weekends in the country and after her split from the prince, she loved "spending part of the evening cleaning up in the kitchen laughing and gossiping. She told me it made her feel 'normal.'"

According Tina Brown, author of The Diana Chronicles, Diana found solace and some degree of normalcy during her relationship with Dr. Hasnat Khan, the Pakistani heart surgeon she had hoped to marry, by tidying up his London flat. "She'd often spend the day cleaning his one-bedroom apartment, from vacuuming and ironing his shirts to washing the dishes," wrote Brown.

"For those brief minutes when she was puttering around in my kitchen, she just was just Diana—not a princess or a icon, just a woman and she was happy," her friend told me. And for more you might not know about the people's princess, check out 23 Facts About Princess Diana Only Her Closest Friends Knew.

Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.

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