It’s hard to believe that Princess Diana died nearly 21 years ago. The world was stunned to learn of her passing on Aug. 27, 1997, following a terrible car crash in Paris after an evening out with her then-boyfriend, Dodi Al Fayed. Although more than two decades have passed since Princess Diana’s untimely death, her memory continues to be honored and celebrated. People just can’t seem to get enough of her joy for life, her style and the way she connected with others.
Here is a collection of facts about Princess Diana that reveals a lot about her life before, during and after the crown.
Diana Was An Aristocrat
Diana Frances Spencer was born into an aristocratic family. Her father, John Spencer, inherited the title of Earl, which led to Diana formally being known as Lady Diana Spencer. In fact, she and Prince Charles are actually 16th cousins through King Henry VII.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Diana Was A Bit Of A Tomboy
Diana grew up on a country estate, which meant she frequently played outdoors, climbed trees and had a love for animals. In fact, one her nannies from her childhood described her as a tomboy. “She was quite a lovable child,” said former nanny Inge Crane. “She was very, very cuddly.”
She Wanted To Avoid Divorce
Diana’s parents got divorced in 1969, which was uncommon at the time, and it had a profound effect on the little girl. At age 9, she already knew she wanted to marry for love. “She said, ‘I will never marry unless I’m really in love because if you’re not in love, you’re going to get divorced — and I never intend to be divorced,’” her former nanny Mary Clarke told CNN.
Diana Had Play Dates With Her Future Brother-In-Laws
When Diana was a child, her family rented a home about a mile away from one of Queen Elizabeth’s estates. So, it wasn’t uncommon for Prince Andrew and Prince Edward — the younger brothers of Prince Charles — to come over to swim in the Spencers’ pool. Who knew that these play pals would eventually become her royal relatives?
Diana’s Sister Once Dated Prince Charles
Diana met Prince Charles when she was just 16 years old. At the time, he was 28 years old and dating Diana’s 21-year-old sister, Sarah. But Sarah decided she was not in love with Charles and opted to end the relationship. Her sister, now Lady Sarah McCorquodale, has since said, “I introduced them. I’m Cupid.”
Diana Was A Kindergarten Teacher
At the time of her engagement to Prince Charles, Diana worked as an assistant kindergarten teacher. She shared an apartment with three other women.
Her Woes With The Press Started Early
From the moment Lady Diana Spencer’s name was connected with Prince Charles, her life became headline news. Dozens of reporters followed her every move: from work to home, when she went out with friends or just to run errands. It seemed the young woman could not escape the throngs of nosy media, no matter what she did.
Diana’s Engagement Ring Was Not Custom Made
Diana started bucking royal tradition almost right away with her engagement ring from Prince Charles. Inspired by a brooch worn by his mother, it is a 12-carat oval Ceylon sapphire surrounded by 14 solitaire diamonds all set in 18-karat white gold. It was made by Garrard, jewelers to the royal family. Eventually, Diana’s son Prince William gave his bride-to-be Kate Middleton his mother’s special ring upon their engagement in 2010.
Getty Images | Adam Pretty
Diana’s Face Became A Merchandise-Mover
Once Prince Charles’ and Lady Diana’s engagement was officially announced, the soon-to-be royal newlyweds’ faces were plastered on everything from plates and pitchers to dolls and mugs. Charles and Diana were the talk of England (and the world) and savvy business people made sure to take advantage of the couple’s fame.
Flickr | Piano Piano!
Diana Married In Front Of Millions Of People
Royal weddings and other official ceremonies were typically held in London’s Westminster Abbey. However, the famous church did not have enough seating for the grand-scale royal wedding between Prince Charles and Lady Diana. So the family moved the ceremony to St. Paul’s Cathedral, which seats 3,500 people. In addition to guests sitting in the cathedral, millions of others watched the wedding on TV.
Diana’s Wedding Dress Was Embroidered With 10,000 Pearls
Princess Diana’s iconic wedding dress was one of the biggest secrets in the world until her wedding day on July 29, 1981. The ivory taffeta gown featured 10,000 pearls embroidered onto the dress. Diana reportedly had to be sewn into the dress because she had lost a lot of weight before her big day. “She ended up with a 23-inch waist from a 26- or 27-inch,” dress designer Elizabeth Emanuel said.
Getty Images | William Thomas Cain
Diana’s Wedding Vows Were Non-Traditional
It is projected that more than 750 million people watched the ceremony simulcasted lived from London. Viewers may have noticed a few unusual things in Diana’s wedding vows. First, the nervous bride flubbed her husband’s royal name, calling him “Philip Charles Arthur George” (rather than “Charles Philip”). Then, many picked up on the fact that Diana did not vow to “obey” her new husband, as other royal brides had done. She insisted that be left out of the ceremony.
Princess Diana’s Wedding Dress Train Holds A Royal Record
The train of Princess Diana’s famous wedding dress holds a royal record. Measuring at 25 feet, it is the longest recorded train in a royal wedding history. As you can see in the image, the dress had to be wrapped around in front of Princess Diana during the wedding portrait session!
Diana Danced With John Travolta
From the time she was a little girl, Princess Diana loved to dance. She studied tap and ballet as a child, and as a princess became a patron of the London City Ballet. When she and Prince Charles visited President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan at the White House in 1985, Diana dazzled guests when she hit the dance floor with John Travolta.
She Had Multiple Royal Titles
As is common with most members of the royal family, Diana had a number of titles bestowed on her following her marriage to Prince Charles. In addition to Princess of Wales, she was also named the Duchess of Cornwall, since Prince Charles also held the title of Duke of Cornwall. (Now the Duchess of Cornwall is Charles’ current wife, Camilla Parker Bowles.)
Getty Images | MJ Kim
Diana Injured Herself During Her First Pregnancy
The royal family announced Princess Diana’s first pregnancy in 1981, and everyone was excited to hear the joyful news. However, years later in taped interviews, Diana confessed that she intentionally threw herself down a flight of stairs while she was pregnant. She suffered from poor mental health throughout her marriage. Fortunately, the pregnancy continued and Prince William was safely born on June 21, 1982.
Diana Suffered From An Eating Disorder
In addition to depression, Princess Diana revealed that she had bulimia in a bombshell personal interview with the BBC. “You inflict it upon yourself because your self-esteem is at a low ebb, and you don’t think you’re worthy or valuable,” she said. She described making herself vomit several times a day for a few years.
Getty Images/Clive Brunskill/Allsport
Rumors Ran Rampant During Diana’s Second Pregnancy
Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s marriage started to show strain early in the relationship, due in large part to his ongoing affair with Camilla Parker Bowles. However, after Diana delivered her second son, Prince Harry, in 1984, people speculated that the child’s father was a Royal Army officer named James Hewitt. Both Hewitt and Princess Diana eventually confirmed a romantic relationship between them, but the pair separately said they didn’t get involved until after Harry’s birth.
Diana Insisted On Keeping Her Sons’ Lives As Ordinary As Possible
While she knew her sons were princes, Diana wanted to make sure the boys had opportunities to play and enjoy themselves like “normal” children as much as possible. She loved taking them to play outside, just as she did as a little girl, and she brought them to McDonald’s and Walt Disney World. She pushed back against royal tradition when it came to exposing her children to the outside world.
Tim Graham/Getty Images
She Took Her Sons To Amusement Parks
People visiting amusement parks may expect to see fictional princesses, but a real-life royal? In addition to their trip to Walt Disney World, Princess Diana took her sons to the Thorpe Amusement Park in the United Kingdom three times during holiday breaks. And, yes, she went on rides! Her visits are a source of pride for the park, where there is now a memorial plaque dedicated to her memory.
Diana Was Not A Strong Student
Princess Diana struggled in her studies, according to a number of sources. By the time she was 16 years old, she failed two of her high school’s major exams. As a result, she dropped out and headed off to Switzerland for a posh finishing school. Eventually, she left the finishing school, too. In her later teenage years, during the time when she met Prince Charles, she was working as a kindergarten assistant.
Everyone Wanted To Copy Princess Diana’s Style
Whether it was her hair, her clothes or her jewelry, women all over the world wanted to look like Princess Diana. Though she began her reign as a princess as a young lady, she quickly blossomed into one of the most fashionable women in the world. She wore designs from Catherine Walker, Christian Lacroix, Versace, Jimmy Choo and others during her lifetime.
Diana Got Up Close And Personal With Critically Ill Patients
Princess Diana never let her royal title or position get in the way of getting close with people less fortunate than her. She visited hospitals, reached out to cancer patients and even brought her sons along on these visits. “I want them to have an understanding of people’s emotions, people’s insecurities, people’s distress, and people’s hopes and dreams,” she said in a BBC interview.
Diana Brought Awareness To The Growing AIDS Crisis
During the 1980s, AIDS was a relatively new disease and one that was highly stigmatized. Many in the public were afraid of contracting the mysterious and deadly disease and were unaware of its methods of transmission. But Princess Diana worked tirelessly to raise awareness and compassion to those suffering from AIDS. She held patients’ hands, held infected children and treated them like anyone else during a royal visit. She even brought Princes William and Harry to visit AIDS patients.
Tim Graham/Getty Images
Diana Championed The Anti-Landmine Movement
It’s hard to imagine a princess walking where dangerous landmines have been set. But Princess Diana braved the fields of Angola to shine a light on a cause that moved her deeply. As a patron of HALO Trust, an organization that helps de-mine areas and works with landmine injury victims, Princess Diana lead the cause to get the world’s attention on this dangerous situation. She last visited Angola just a few months before her death in 1997.
Tim Graham/Getty Images
Diana Spoke Out About Her Failed Marriage
Royal protocol usually demanded discretion when it came to failed marriages and scandal. However, Diana decided to share her side of the story in 1995 when she sat down with the BBC in a candid interview. She covered topics such as her and her husband’s extra-marital affairs, her thoughts about Prince Charles’ mistress, Camilla Parker-Bowles, and her own mental illness. It was an unprecedented move for such a high-ranking royal. She had come a long way since the shy girl who barely spoke during her engagement interview.
Diana Kept Part Of Her Royal Title After Her Divorce
When Princess Diana and Prince Charles divorced in 1996 after 15 years of marriage, she was no longer referred to as “Her Royal Highness.” Although she was no longer allowed to call herself The Princess of Wales, as that princess must be married to the Prince of Wales, she was allowed to refer to herself as “Diana, Princess of Wales.”
Getty Images/Pascal Rondeau/Allsport
Diana Found Happiness In Her Post-Royal Life
After a gut-wrenching divorce, Diana moved on with her life, keeping up with her charitable causes and seeking out some personal time to rediscover who she was beyond a princess. She met a new man, Dodi Al Fayed, and they became close friends, with some saying they were romantically involved. Photographers continued to follow her everywhere and captured a rare moment of genuine joy from Diana during a vacation in St. Kitts.
A Princess’ Tragic Ending
Just when it looked like Diana’s life was getting back on track, her story took the most tragic turn. On Aug. 31, 1997, following an evening out, Diana and Al Fayed got into a car driven by Henri Paul. Photographers chased the car through the streets of Paris to try to capture an image. During the high-speed chase, the car went out of control and crashed into a tunnel barrier. Diana, Princess of Wales, died from her injuries, shocking the world.
Pierre Boussel/AFP/Getty Images
The World Mourned ‘The People’s Princess’
Upon hearing of Diana’s death, the world reacted to the news with an outpouring of grief not seen since the death of other icons such as Marilyn Monroe. Thousands of people took the to streets and around the United Kingdom, and in Paris, mourners left flowers and other memorial tributes.
Diana’s Funeral Drew Huge Ratings
The state funeral of Princess Diana seemed to capture the attention of the world. Nearly 2.5 billion people tuned in on Sept. 6, 1997, to watch Diana’s funeral at Westminster Abbey. World leaders and celebrities attended the service, with Elton John performing a re-dedicated version of “Candle in the Wind” to his friend, Diana.
Boris Spremo/Toronto Star/Getty Images
Diana’s Legacy Continues Two Decades Later
More than 20 years after her death, Princess Diana’s legacy still draws thousands of people to visit memorials around the world erected to her memory and her charitable works. The Althorp estate in England, where her body was laid to rest, underwent a major renovation starting in 2016 in preparation for the 20th anniversary of the Princess of Wales’ death.
Getty Images | Thierry Chesnot