Perhaps in a foreshadowing of Diana’s time as a member of the Royal Family, Diana’s early life was distinctly tainted by misery and tragedy.
Even Diana’s birth was met with disappointment by the Spencers, because the aristocratic family were hoping for a male heir to carry on their title. For one week the newest member of the Spencer family was not even given a name, until it was finally agreed she would be called Diana Frances Spencer.
Although the Spencers were blessed with a male heir three years later, they had suffered greatly just prior to Diana’s birth. In January 1960, John Spencer was brought into the world – the boy which the family had wanted for so long. He died in hospital just 10 hours later.
A strange coincidence during Diana’s eventful childhood was the location of her childhood home; Park House was right next door to the Royal Family’s Sandringham Estate.
Whether she was destined to become a Princess or she just happened to just be on good terms with her neighbours, she was never more than a few minutes away from Royalty.
She was often seen with her playmate Prince Andrew who was only one year older than her, in contrast to Charles who was 13 years her senior.
As Diana turned six, the next Spencer family tragedy occurred. Diana’s parents John Spencer and Frances (née Roche) announced their divorce to the children; a divorce which was many things but most certainly not civil.
It is easy to speculate that being exposed to her parents’ messy divorce and its aftermath may have impacted Diana’s own marriage. However, as John and Frances fought viciously over custody of their children – a battle which John eventually won – their battle was nothing compared to the acrimony in which Diana’s divorce would end.
Aged just 14, Diana’s grandfather passed away and her father was made the eighth Earl of Spencer, which meant that the family had to move to Althorp. Diana also gained a title after her grandfather’s demise, and it was one that stayed with her for life: she became Lady Diana Spencer.
Within the year, Diana’s father had married the countess of Dartmouth Raine Spencer, famously despised by Diana. Raine was as a dark cloud over Diana’s childhood, and was described by Diana as a bully. In one of the more horrific claims, Raine once allegedly pushed Diana down a flight of stairs after a particularly heated confrontation which got out of hand.
Meanwhile, Diana was being educated through a mixture of homeschooling – under the supervision of her governess Gertrude Allen – and attending an all-girls boarding school. Despite not excelling in academic studies (she failed her O Levels twice), Diana displayed a passion for music, dance and certain sports.
After just one term at a Swiss finishing school, Diana chose to return to London and take an advanced cooking course while living with her mother. A flurry of jobs came and went as she earned a living as a nanny for an American family, an assistant teacher at a nursery school, a part-time cook and even as a cleaner for her friends and family.
Despite growing up within minutes of each other, Charles and Diana’s first proper meeting was in 1977, when Charles was in a relationship with Diana’s sister Sarah. Although Sarah and Charles were seeing each other on a fairly regular and serious basis, Sarah ended this by memorably proclaiming “I am not in love with Prince Charles.”
Perhaps it was this exposure to Charles that made Diana infatuated with him; she reportedly had a picture of her future husband above her bed in boarding school.
She also allegedly told one of her friends: “I would love to be a dancer, or the Princess of Wales.”
However, it was the summer of 1980 which transformed the platonic relationship between Charles and Diana into a whirlwind romance lapped up by the media. Despite the fact Diana was only 19 and Charles was 31, they spent countless hours together on formal visits to Balmoral Castle and going away on weekend retreats together.
In February 1981 – less than half a year later after their initial courtship – the couple announced their engagement ahead of a July wedding that same year. Aged just 20 when she married Charles, Diana may no longer have been a teenager but she was still very much an ingenue marrying a man 13 years her elder.
Looking back on her childhood, Diana often described it negatively as an “unhappy” time in her life and “very unstable”. Sadly, the death, divorce and sadness that characterised her youth would make an unwelcome – and, ultimately, defining – mark on the final 16 years of her life as well.
Find out more about Princess Diana in True Royalties Diana Everlasting
True Royalty is the world’s only on-demand TV service devoted to the best in Royal documentary and drama. Start your free trial to go inside the Royal Circle.