Here's the Truth Behind 17 Myths About Princess Diana
More than two decades after her tragic death, these lies have endured.
Even two decades after her tragic death, there are so many lies still being told about Princess Diana (which, by the way, is not even her true title). She remains one of the most intriguing and iconic figures of our time—and like many legends, there's plenty of mythology surrounding her that's actually pure fiction.
The real Diana was neither saint nor sinner, but a complicated woman with a very three-dimensional life. It turns out, the facts about Diana are just as interesting, if not more so, than the fairytale we've long held on to. With that said, here's the truth behind 17 myths about Diana that might shock you.
Myth: She was just a "commoner" before marrying Prince Charles.
Truth: A British subject who is not a peer of the realm—a duke, marquess, earl, viscount, or baron—is technically a commoner. But Lady Diana Spencer was anything but common when she married Prince Charles on July 29, 1981. In truth, she was an aristocrat whose wealthy family had been a part of British history for centuries.
Born on July 1, 1961, to Viscount and Viscountess Althorp (Johnnie and Frances Spencer), Diana became "Lady Diana Spencer" when her grandfather died in 1975 and her father became the eighth Earl Spencer.
The Spencers' fortune came from sheep farming and wool trading. One ancestor acquired a title from King James I in 1603 and in 1765, a Spencer was granted an earldom. Among Diana's ancestors were Knights of the Garter, Privy Councillors, and a First Lord of the Admiralty. The family was also related to Kings Charles II and James II. So she was practically a princess already!
Speaking to Andrew Morton for his bombshell biography, Diana: Her True Story—In Her Own Words, Diana described her pre-royal life. "I had a very good lifestyle," she said. "I had my own money and lived in a big house. It wasn't as though I was going into anything different."
Myth: Her formal royal title was "Princess Diana."
Truth: When Diana married Prince Charles she went from being Lady Diana Spencer to Her Royal Highness Diana, the Princess of Wales. She lost her HRH designation in the divorce, but remained Princess of Wales. "Princess Diana" was a media creation that came about immediately after her wedding to Charles and endures to this day.
Myth: She got little help from Charles during her pregnancies and immediately afterward.
Truth: Like Diana, Prince Charles was determined to have a closer relationship with his children than his parents did. In The Diana Chronicles, Tina Brown wrote that Charles was present all through the 16 hours of labor Diana endured giving birth to Prince William and was the first-ever Prince of Wales to be present at the delivery.
Diana said in Her True Story, "Charles loved nursery life and couldn't wait to do the bottle and everything." She also described the weeks leading up to Prince Harry's birth as "the happiest of our married life."
Myth: She loved the royal country life.
Truth: Diana grew up at Althorp, her sprawling ancestral home in the British countryside, and loved her years there. But she found spending time at the royal estates "deadly boring," according to one royal insider. "She didn't ride or shoot, so there wasn't that much for her to do," said the source.
According to Morton in Her True Story, "Although [Diana] loved Scotland and had been brought up in Norfolk, she found the atmosphere at Balmoral and Sandringham totally draining of her spirit and vitality." "It was fairly fraught," she told Morton of Sandringham. "No boisterous behavior, lots of tension, silly behavior, silly jokes that outsiders would find odd."
Myth: She believed that, of her two sons, William would make the best king.
Truth: While birth order determined that William was the actual heir to the throne, according to royal biographer Angela Levin, Diana actually thought that Harry would be better suited to the role. In her 2018 biography, Harry: Conversations With the Prince, Levin wrote that Diana was concerned that William did not want to be king and she would "worry about" how he would cope with the royal role.
According to Levin, Diana believed Harry had stronger leadership qualities, including his "ease with people" and "general gusto." The princess reportedly even gave her younger son the nickname "Good King Harry." Ironically, it was Harry who famously told Newsweek that no one in the family wanted to be king or queen, but that they would "carry out [their] duties at the right time."
Myth: She didn't have a nanny when her sons were young.
Truth: Diana rewrote the royal rules with her hands-on style of parenting and even though she hated the idea, the boys did have a nanny. "Diana said she was never going to bring up her children in the way [Charles] been brought up, which was to be so emotionally distant from your parents," said royal biographer Ingrid Seward during appearance on the television program Sunday Night in April 2019.
Seward reported that Diana struggled to accept the royal nanny, Barbara Barnes, because of "jealousy." She claimed the princess drove Barnes to quit because "she would pick on Barbara and it just became untenable. In the end, Barbara had to leave."
Myth: Designers all over the world showered her with free clothes.
Truth: There is no doubt that Diana was the perfect model for some of the world's top designers, but she never leveraged her celebrity for free red carpet couture. During her marriage to Charles, the cost for her "official" wardrobe was covered by the prince. According to Vogue Italia, Diana spent about £10,000 a month (about $69,000 today) on clothes. The magazine reported that between 1981 and 1994, she spent more than £1.5 million for 3,000 outfits and 600 pairs of shoes.
"Royals are not allowed to accept free clothes under any circumstances but need extensive wardrobes for official engagements and royal tours," a royal source told me. Diana made sure the bills for her clothes "were sent straight to Charles' office." After the divorce, Diana scaled back considerably, according to the insider, but "was always sure to pay her bills on time."
Myth: She loved Christmas.
Truth: After her separation from Prince Charles, a source close to Diana said she "dreaded the holidays because she sometimes spent Christmas Day alone."
In December 1995, seven months before she and Charles officially filed for divorce, Diana canceled her plans to spend Christmas with the royal family—including her sons—at the Queen's estate at Sandringham, which she always hated. The royal insider told me Diana spent Christmas Day 1995 alone in her apartment at Kensington Palace, eating her dinner on tray in front of the television. "It was a very lonely day for her. She missed her sons terribly, but couldn't bear the thought of being with the rest of the family," the source said.
Myth: Prince Philip didn't like her.
Truth: Despite plenty of rumors to the contrary, Prince Philip was fond of Diana during her marriage to Charles and their relationship after the divorce was rather cordial. In The Diana Chronicles, Brown reported that Philip initiated "tough love correspondence" during the height of the couple's divorce battle and sent Diana a flurry of letters weighing in on their contentious split. In one particular missive that infuriated Diana, Philip wrote Charles "made a considerable sacrifice" breaking off his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles when they married. When Diana wrote back strongly defending her position, Philip saw his former daughter-in-law in a new light.
Brown wrote that Philip may have even been attracted to Diana himself, as evidenced by one of his later letters in which he wrote, "I cannot imagine anyone in their right mind leaving you for Camilla."
Myth: She was extremely ladylike at all times.
Truth: In the documentary Diana, Our Mother, Prince William revealed his mother had "a very cheeky sense of humor" and would send him "the rudest cards imaginable" while he was away at school. They were always "very embarrassing, very funny cards, and then sort of written very nice stuff inside. But I didn't open it in case teachers or anyone else in the class had seen it."
Myth: Her friends called her "Lady Di."
Truth: A friend of the princess told me Diana hated being called "Di" (as well as the nickname "Shy Di," which also annoyed her) and no one close to her used it as a result. It became shorthand for the British media when Diana first began dating Prince Charles.
The Spencers gave her a more regal moniker: "Duch," short for "duchess," because her family thought she behaved like one.
Myth: She only wore priceless jewels from the royal collection.
Truth: Although Diana had access to one of the most stunning jewelry collections in the world and wore the Spencer family diamond tiara on her wedding day, she had a fondness for costume jewelry. As I previously reported, during a 1986 trip to the Persian Gulf to meet the Sultan of Oman, the princess wore glittering crescent moon earrings that were widely reported to have been an extravagant gift of multi-karat diamonds from her host. In reality, Diana had actually purchased the whimsical earrings in the shape of Saudi Arabia's national symbol from high street shop Butler & Wilson the day before the trip for just £23 ($30).
Myth: She planned to wear the"revenge dress" to upstage Charles the same night he confessed to adultery on television.
Truth: In an interview for my book Diana: The Secrets of Her Style, designer Christina Stambolian told me Diana came into her London boutique with her brother, Charles Spencer, and was simply browsing around when she bought several blouses and ordered the infamous black dress (she had tried it on in white in the shop). Stambolian said Diana purchased the strapless silk dress because she liked it—with no further intention.
According to a report in The Telegraph, Diana had planned to wear a Valentino dress to London's Serpentine Gallery that evening in June of 1994, but when the design house announced the news in a press release before the event, Diana changed her mind and made fashion history in an effort to spite Valentino, not Charles.
Myth: Diana believed Charles never loved her.
Truth: In Ingrid Seward's book The Queen & Di, the author recounted her conversation with Diana a month before her death when the princess told her, "Charles absolutely loved me. It is very hurtful to the children when people say we didn't love each other. We still love each other in a different way."
Myth: She and Prince Charles were bitter enemies after their divorce.
Truth: The bittersweet truth is that after their divorce, Diana and Charles had reached an understanding and were actually developing a different kind of friendship in the final year of her life. It wasn't unusual for Charles to stop by for tea at his ex-wife's apartment at Kensington Palace to talk about their sons. Just months before her death, Diana told Seward, "My dearest wish is that Charles and I will able to find a way to do more things together with our sons."
Myth: She was always a loyal friend.
Truth: Diana could be a wonderful friend, but she wasn't above "ghosting" people either. According to royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith, Diana immediately cut people out of her life without a word if they hurt her. Perhaps the greatest example of this was when Diana went completely radio silent on former BFF Sarah Ferguson—and would not even allow having her name mentioned in her presence after the publication of Ferguson's memoir, My Story, about her life as a royal wife. (Ferguson had been married to Prince Andrew and the book came out shortly after couple divorced in 1996.) In her book Diana in Search of Herself, Bedell Smith reported Diana felt "betrayed" by the friend she'd known since they were teenagers. The princess was furious when Fergie wrote that Diana was "teary and reclusive" on certain royal occasions and tastelessly revealed she'd developed a case of warts after wearing Diana's shoes.
In his book The Way We Were: Remembering Diana, Diana's former butler, Paul Burrell, reported that the rocky friendship was over for good in the summer of 1997 over something other than what has been previously reported. "I don't intend to divulge the reason," he wrote. "But the princess showed me a letter she had written to Sarah and made her feelings abundantly clear." Burrell said Ferguson "was desperate to make amends," but Diana "was in no mood for reconciliation." The two women never spoke to each other again.
Myth: She was going to marry Dodi Fayed.
Truth: Perhaps the greatest myth of all about Diana is that she was going to marry Dodi Fayed. The truth is she was still very much in love with another man who she considered to be "the love of her life" when she met Dodi. Diana had been involved with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan since 1995. When the doctor broke off their relationship in July 1997, just weeks before Diana met Dodi, she was bereft.
Sadly, Khan loved Diana but could not bear the constant media frenzy that surrounded her. The break-up devastated the princess who had gone so far as to visit Khan's family in Lahore (without telling him) in early 1997 in hopes of gaining their approval so she could marry her "Mr. Wonderful." Hairstylist Natalie Symons has said when she visited the princess the day after the break-up, she found Diana "totally distraught." Wanting to get away from London, Diana accepted Mohamed Al Fayed's invitation to join him on his yacht for what turned out to be the last fateful summer of her life. And for more insider information about the royals, here are 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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