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23 Facts About Princess Diana Only Her Closest Friends Knew

You'll never guess who helped the princess pick out her famous "revenge dress."

One of the greatest ironies about Princess Diana's life was that despite being the most famous woman in the world, few people really knew her. From the moment "Shy Di" made her first appearance alongside Prince Charles to the princess's final days of reinventing herself after her contentious divorce, the world looked on to follow and analyze everything she did, said, and wore.

But the real Diana was not the princess or the fashion icon: She was a warm, caring woman with insecurities, foibles, and a wicked sense of humor. That's why, in celebration of her birthday on July 1st, we've rounded up the fascinating facts about Princess Diana that only her closest friends knew.

She had a cutting nickname for her haters.

Princess Diana in silver dress
Jonny Sparks / Alamy Stock Photo

In the early days, as Diana was still learning to navigate the royal dress code, the women in her former social circle would sometimes imply her outfits were too showy. And while the comments stung, the princess came up with her own pithy put-down that she privately called her most avowed critics.

"She'd say, 'Oh, those velvet headbands are at it again,' when she'd find out about something that had been written or said about her," designer Bruce Oldfield revealed when I interviewed him for my book, Diana: The Secrets of Her Style. Diana coined the phrase referring to women whose dowdy style often included the outdated hair accessory. (Ironically, they've come back into fashion again with help from Kate Middleton). "They were grown women who still dressed like school girls," he said. "They never changed. Diana had become a beautiful, stylish princess and that threatened them."

She swam at Buckingham Palace every day until her split with Charles.

Princess Diana in a bathing suit

Diana was an excellent swimmer and diver and loved to do laps in the pool at Buckingham Palace every morning during her marriage to Prince Charles. "She stopped swimming at the Palace when the divorce negotiations dragged on," a close friend told me. "She didn't want to run into the Queen or the Duke of Edinburgh, so she stopped going." From then on, she swam in the pools at her friends' country houses whenever she could.

She chose her engagement ring because it was the biggest one offered to her.

princess diana wearing hat and engagement ring

Unlike the proposals of her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry—which were intimate and romantic—Diana's was a much more formal affair. Immediately after Charles' proposal, Diana was presented with a tray of eight engagement rings from Garrard, the Crown Jeweller. The iconic engagement ring wasn't even a custom creation⁠—it had previously been featured in the jeweler's catalog for $37,000.

"The princess told me [the ring] stood out among the others because it was the biggest ring on offer," a friend told me. "She grew to really love it."

Her mother chose the matronly suit she wore for her engagement announcement.

diana charles engagement announcement

When Diana became engaged to Charles and the photo call was planned, she didn't own a suit. She and her mother, Frances Shand Kydd, went to Harrods and bought an off-the-rack periwinkle blue suit by Cojana. Eager to look respectful, Diana had the dowdy skirt of the ill-fitting suit lengthened.

She was devastated by the death of another princess.

AF archive/Alamy Stock Photo

When Princess Grace of Monaco died at 52 in 1982, Diana was grief-stricken. The former movie star had been her sole source of reassurance the night Diana made her first official appearance with Charles after their engagement announcement. For the appearance, Diana had selected a black strapless taffeta gown for a gala at Goldsmiths' Hall in London, which Charles deemed completely inappropriate. "He told her the only time women in the royal family wear all-black is when they are attending a funeral," a close friend revealed. "He also thought the dress was too revealing."

"At the reception, Charles was ignoring her and Princess Grace stepped in and listened as Diana told her she was terrified she was doing everything wrong," said a royal insider. "Diana never forgot her kindness." Despite the Palace's objections, Diana flew to Monaco to attend Princess Grace's funeral. It was her first solo engagement as a member of the royal family.

She sometimes frustrated her fashion advisors.

Princess Diana in Red polka dot blazer in 1981, secrets you didn't know
AF archive / Alamy Stock Photo

For her first tour of Wales, Diana chose a tailored suit by Donald Campbell in the Welsh national colors: red and green. Campbell conferred with Diana's stylist at the time, Vogue editor Anna Harvey, directing that the outfit be worn with coordinating green tights and shoes.

On the day she wore the suit, Diana accessorized it with red shoes and white tights. "Diana had an instinct from the very early days about what people expected of her," Campbell told me. "Instinctively she knew when she was meeting the folks in Wales, people were more apt to notice red shoes."

She had two separate wardrobes.

Princess Diana in Jeans and white top with brown belt
PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

After Diana married into the royal family, she was forced to upgrade her style—but that doesn't mean she got rid of her old favorites. "She had an 'official' wardrobe and a private wardrobe. She loved [jersey dresses], but she couldn't wear them in public when she was first married to Prince Charles," said designer David Sassoon. "She loved whimsical, patterned [sweaters] and felt comfortable in overalls and jeans. After the wedding, those clothes disappeared from public view."

She blamed herself for those intrusive photos taken at her gym.

dumbbells on a weight rack

In 1993, as Diana began to reinvent herself after her separation, she began going to LA Fitness, a London gym. In November of that year, the Sunday Mirror published photos of Diana working out in a leotard. It turned out that the gym's owner, Bryce Taylor, had planted a secret camera in the ceiling.

The princess sued and the matter was settled out of court. "She told me when the photos first appeared that it was all her fault because she'd cooperated with the media in years past," said a friend. "She'd given an inch and they'd taken a yard."

She had a unique system of writing thank-you notes.

thank you note, office etiquette

Diana was so fastidious about writing thank-you notes that she actually prepared them before she attended an event. In his book A Royal Duty, her former butler Paul Burrell wrote that Diana had a "correspondence production line," in which she sat at her desk addressing envelopes and preparing her stationary before departing for the evening. Upon her return, still in her evening gown, Diana sat down and wrote her letter, which was always mailed the following morning.

She had an alias.

brain boosting habits over 40

According to royal biographer Robert Hardman, Diana was booked aboard a British Airways flight as "K.Stafford" when she flew to Argentina to attend a gala dinner after her separation from Prince Charles. But it was all in vain. In his book Queen of the World, Hardman writes that her ruse "fool[ed] no one at all."

She often wore costume jewelry.

Princess Diana with the Sultan of Oman

As a member of the royal family, Diana had access to one of the most spectacular jewelry collections in the world. And of course, she wore many stunning pieces on state occasions, including the diamond and pearl Lovers' Knot tiara and her sapphire and diamond brooch given to her by the Queen Mother (which she had refashioned into a pearl choker).

But the princess was also a fan of costume jewelry from Butler & Wilson in London. During a 1986 trip to the Gulf, Diana wore glittering crescent-moon earrings thought to be a gift from her hosts that cost thousands. The princess had actually purchased the whimsical earrings (which were in the shape of Saudi Arabia's national symbol) the day before leaving on the trip for £23 ($30) at her favorite costume jewelry shop.

Her brother encouraged her to wear that famous "revenge dress."

princess diana in her black revenge dress
Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo

In June 1994, Diana and her brother, Charles Spencer, visited designer Christina Stambolian at her shop on Beauchamp Place. The designer helped the princess select a short red wool dress and a sleeveless silk blouse. Then, Diana mentioned she was looking for something for a "special occasion," Stambolian told me in an interview for my book Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.

When Stambolian first suggested the now-famous black dress, Diana questioned whether it was appropriate. "I told her I thought there should be less dress and more Diana because she was so beautiful. Diana thought it was too short and too bare," said Stambolian.

Then, her brother stepped in. "After a great deal of laughter and a nod from her brother, who thought she should do as she wanted, she said, 'Yes, let's be daring.'" Stambolian made a couture design in silk jacquard flown in from Como, Italy. The rest is fashion history.

She kept track of how much she spent on clothes.

Handwritten notes in a notebook showing great handwriting

Diana indulged in retail therapy when her marriage turned rocky, but when she got divorced, she kept tighter reins on her spending. A close friend of the princess told me Diana carried a leather-bound notebook to record her purchases. "She rarely went shopping without it," they said.

She was crushed when she lost her HRH title.

Princess Diana wearing Spencer Tiara 1983, secrets about princess diana

There are endless myths about just how Diana lost her "Her Royal Highness" designation. The formal announcement from Buckingham Palace stated that the decision to relinquish the title was made by the princess. But several of Diana's close friends have told me it was not her decision to forsake it. According to those insiders, the princess was "deeply hurt" by Queen Elizabeth's ultimate decision to recast Diana as "Diana, Princess of Wales" as a condition of her divorce from Charles.

In his book A Royal Duty, Burrell also writes that Diana implored the Queen to let her keep her title. According to Burrell, she said: "I have worked hard for 16 years for you, Mama, and do not want to see my life taken away from me. I want to protect my position in public life."

She once sought advice from Henry Kissinger about her philanthropic work.

henry kissinger

In her book The Diana Chronicles, Tina Brown reported that when Diana received an award as Humanitarian of the Year from the United Cerebral Palsy of New York Foundation in 1995, she asked former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger about finding "purpose" in her post-divorce life. Brown writes that Kissinger, who was at the gala to present the award to Diana, told the princess "not to do things that she was against, but things that she was for."

She refused to mend her friendship with Sarah Ferguson.

sarah fergusson

Diana and Sarah Ferguson were childhood friends. The media even dubbed them "The Merry Wives of Windsor" when Fergie married Prince Andrew (Diana had introduced them). The women bonded over their failed marriages and seemed destined to be lifelong friends—until Diana permanently froze Fergie out of her orbit.

That's because the Duchess had written a book called My Story, in which she disclosed private details of her friendship with Diana. She even reported that she'd gotten a case of plantar warts from wearing a pair of Diana's shoes. Despite several pleading letters and calls from her former friend, Diana remained unmoved. The women hadn't spoken in months at the time of Diana's death. "The guilt plagues the Duchess to this day," said one mutual friend.

She had a wicked sense of humor.

Young prince william and princess diana, surprising facts about prince william
PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

In the ITV documentary Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacywhich aired in 2018, Prince Harry described what his mother was like behind the cameras. "Behind closed doors, she was a loving mother and an incredibly funny person," he said. "All I can hear is her laugh in my head," he said, adding that she once told him, "You can be as naughty as you want, but just don't get caught. She was the naughtiest parent."

She once snubbed Vogue magazine.

vogue magazine, pile of magazine

In 1993, on her first solo engagement to Nepal, the media was following Diana's every move. According to royal biographer Hardman, the number of reporters and photographers present were "three times larger than the number of international phone lines" out of the country. In his book Queen of the World, Hardman writes that a team from Vogue magazine wore red caps emblazoned with the fashion bible's name in hopes that Diana would turn her attention to them first. Alas, she did not.

Her home was filled with stuffed animals.

Teddy Bears

Diana had accumulated hundreds of stuffed animals given to her by admirers—and her apartment at Kensington Palace was full of them. In his book The Way We Were Remembering Diana, Burrell revealed the sofa in her bedroom was filled with teddy bears and "cuddly toys."

She had a weakness for a sticky sweet British dessert.

bread and butter pudding

Royal chef Darren McGrady once told the Daily Mail that Diana loved his bread and butter pudding. According to McGrady, the princess used to sneak into the kitchen and eat all the raisins off the top of the rich, calorie-laden creation. But mostly, he noted, the princess was very careful about what she ate and stuck to a most carb-free diet of egg whites and poached chicken.

She loved floral perfumes.

woman spraying perfume floral

Diana's former make-up artist Barbara Daly, who was with the princess on her wedding day, told me Diana wore Quelques Fleurs for the occasion (and even spilled some on her wedding dress). In later years, she wore Dior's Diorissimo and Hermes' 24 Faubourg, which both contained top notes of white flowers, including lily of the valley, jasmine, and white lilacs.

She was considering becoming a documentary filmmaker.

video camera

In 1997, as she intensified her efforts to support the banning of anti-personnel landmines, she met with her good friend, Academy Award-winning director Sir Richard Attenborough, to discuss the possibility of making a series of documentaries about the humanitarian issues she cared about most.

"Diana was looking for a new way to use her worldwide fame for good," said a friend of the princess. "She told me, 'After everything that's happened, I want to do something that makes a difference in the world.' I know she would have been brilliant."

She didn't consider herself to be beautiful.

Princess Diana talking to officers

Diana may have been an international fashion icon and one of the most beautiful women in the world, but according to several of her friends, she didn't see herself that way. "She would tell me she was quite good at 'pulling herself together' when she had to," said one friend. "But she struggled with her body image for so long and she always thought her nose was too big. It was really only in those last few years that she felt she looked her best because she felt healthy and strong." And for more royal trivia, check out the 12 Secrets About Queen Elizabeth Only Royal Insiders Know.

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

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