This sombre September day was unlike any other. Hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of Westminster, wishing to pay their final respects to the late Lady Diana Spencer, who had died in a tragic accident at the age of just 36. The funeral was a grand affair, with her ex-husband, Prince Charles, in attendance alongside their sons, Harry and William. Elton John famously performed Candle in the Wind, rewritten to commemorate Diana’s inextinguishable personality. A period of national grief in Britain defined the nation’s mood for the rest of that year.
The beautiful and strong-willed young woman had won the hearts of the British people, and her charitable and philanthropic work made her (in the words of her her brother) “the very essence of compassion”. However, her marriage to Prince Charles was racked with controversy.
The press and paparazzi feasted on the extramarital affairs of both parties, especially Charles’s involvement with Camilla Parker Bowles. In a revealing interview in 1995, Diana claimed she suffered from depression and bulimia as the marriage deteriorated – winning the sympathy of the public.
Even after their divorce in 1996, Diana retained much of her status and popularity. Still a member of the royal household, she kept on with her philanthropic work, and her passion for fashion continued to influence the style magazines and trends of the season. In 1997, she began dating Dodi Al-Fayed, the son of Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed. The couple were tragically killed in August that year, when their car crashed inside a tunnel in Paris. Though it was widely believed the pursuing paparazzi had caused the crash, an inquest in 2008 also found that the driver of the car had been driving recklessly under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs.
The horrible news shocked the world. Diana, the beloved ‘People’s Princess’, was gone. Her body was taken back to the UK and given a lavish (though not a state) funeral. Monarchs, celebrities and politicians attended the service, and a further 2.5 billion people the world over followed the ceremony. The Princess was soon interred on a peaceful island at her ancestral Northamptonshire home, where she lies to this day.
Read the full feature in the September issue of History Revealed, on sale now.