The many dramas that either mark or mar the British royal family are staples of tabloid fodder — “Megxit,” anyone? — but there’s one very British scandal that more or less cemented the now decades-old tradition of scrutinizing the Windsors’ familial tales of success and woe.
The 1996 divorce of Charles, Prince of Wales, from his wife, Princess Diana (known before her marriage as Lady Diana Spencer), spawned unprecedented press coverage and shaped the way we’ve thought about the royal family to this very day. From a seemingly modern-day fairy tale wedding, to an ugly separation and divorce, and finally, to Diana’s tragic death in 1997, the couple captivated the world.
Though many have since cast Diana’s divorce from Charles as the beloved People’s Princess escaping the royal family’s restrictive hold, some say she actually didn’t want to divorce at all. So what’s the story behind the story? Let’s find out.
Princess Diana may have feared she'd lose her sons
In the 2017 documentary Diana: In Her Own Words, director and filmmaker Kevin Sim used footage and audio recordings of the late Princess Diana to attempt to piece together her life and her side of the story. In the doc, one interviewee — British journalist and TV personality Jennie Bond — claims Diana privately told her that she had no interest in divorcing her husband, Prince Charles (via the Express).
Bond and Diana had reportedly developed an intimate relationship over the course of many years of reporting. Bond claims Diana found the idea of divorce to be undesirable at best and terrifying at worst. Her main fear was that she would lose her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, who were 14 and 11 years old, respectively, when the divorce was finalized.
In the documentary, Bond says Diana “was pretty unsettled with the divorce…she told me, ‘It’s not something I want.'” Bond added, “I think she felt somehow they could continue as separated but partners and parents to the two boys, and she really did try to make it work and she wanted to make it work.”
Diana put on a brave face after the divorce from Charles
Princess Diana and Prince Charles had reportedly been separated for years before their split was formalized in 1996. It’s widely reported that he’d carried on a years-long affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall and his current wife.
As journalist and supposed confidant Jennie Bond noted in Diana: In Her Own Words (via the Express), Diana “found the day of the divorce extremely hard” but made it a point to be seen in public. Bond says it’s not clear if Diana made the decision in order to “save face” at a time when divorce was still highly stigmatized (and even more so for royalty), or if she opted to go out in an attempt to distract herself from what might have been a groundswell of conflicting feelings.
Whatever Diana’s post-divorce reasoning was, Bond said the People’s Princess was struggling in private. “She told me that it was an extremely difficult day, but she went home and burst into tears.”
Diana will always be remembered as the People's Princess
While the impact of Princess Diana’s divorce from Prince Charles was certainly palpable, it ultimately did not tarnish her standing as a true princess in the heart of the British people. Even after parting ways with the Windsors, Diana’s reputation as a philanthropist; her defiance of royal family norms; her bravery in opening up about her past battles with depression, eating disorders, and suicide; and her commitment to living life to the fullest while making the world a better place created a legacy that outlasted her death in 1997.
Whether its the delight found in even the shortest anecdotes — like the story of Princess Diana dressing in disguise to party with Freddie Mercury at one of London’s oldest gay clubs — to the way she deeply influenced her sons, it’s undeniable: Diana will always and forever remain the People’s Princess.
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