26 September 2023

The milestones which defined Diana's life

26 September 2023

The life of Princess Diana, one of the world's most iconic figures, was filled with moments of remarkable courage, grace, and high drama that continue to captivate millions around the globe some 26 years after she died alongside boyfriend Dodi Fayed in a Paris car crash.

Here, we chronicle 26 dramatic milestones in the life of the ‘People's Princess’, from that famous engagement announcement, to divorce, infidelity and conspiracy theories.

Education at Boarding School

Diana attended West Heath boarding school, but she left when she was just 16 after twice failing her O levels. In years to come she would be returning to schools, this time as a Princess.

Diana on a school visit. Her own school record was not great


Although shy, she did shine at music and was an accomplished pianist. She also excelled at swimming and diving and studied ballet.

Engagement Announcement

The world glimmered with fairy-tale-like excitement when Diana and Charles, Prince of Wales, announced their engagement on February 24, 1981.

Princess Diana wore a beautiful sapphire engagement ring that Kate Middleton now wears

(Video Elephant)

When asked if they were in love, Diana said: “Of course,” while Charles famously added: “Whatever ‘in love’ means.” The nation cringed, perhaps in anticipation of what might be to come.

The Royal Wedding

On July 29, 1981, Diana captured the nation's hearts while walking down the aisle at St. Paul's Cathedral, watched by a global TV audience of 750 million and more than half a million lining the streets of London.

The Prince and Princess of Wales on the Palace balcony on their wedding day (PA)

(PA Archive)

The nervous princess made a slip during the service when she referred to her new husband as ‘Philip Charles’ instead of ‘Charles Philip’ Arthur George.

Birth of Prince William

Princess Diana handed the Royal Family and the world a reason to celebrate with the birth of Prince William, the third in line to the throne, on June 21, 1982, posing proudly alongside Charles on the steps of the hospital with her new baby.

Diana later dropping off William at school (Adam Butler/PA)

(PA Archive)

She then showed her single-mindedness by taking a very young William on her first major tours of Australia and New Zealand, a move criticised in the Press but applauded by the people of both nations.

Battle with Bulimia

In interviews, Diana admitted struggling with bulimia and depression during her early years as a royal, revealing the internal turmoil behind the glitzy façade.

Dressed to thrill


She engaged in self-harming on numerous occasions and admitted hurting her arms and legs. Her confessions led to some commentators suggesting she had borderline personality disorder.

Birth of Prince Harry

On September 15, 1984, Harry was born. Diana said she and Charles were at their closest during her pregnancy, but when she discovered she was carrying a boy she kept it to herself as she knew Charles wanted a girl.

Diana leaves hospital with Harry


She would later describe Harry as ‘naughty, like me’, while referring to her eldest, William, as ‘my little wise old man’.

John Travolta Dance

The famous dance with the Hollywood heartthrob took place when Diana and Prince Charles were on an official trip to the United States in November 1985 and were invited by the then President, Ronald Reagan, to a gala dinner at the White House.

John Travolta will never forget the moment he danced with Princess Diana because it felt like something out of a "fairytale".

(Video Elephant)

Diana had personally requested the invitation of Travolta, along with actor Clint Eastwood and singer Neil Diamond. Travolta later said it was one of the highlights of his life.

Solo Trip to New York

Diana's 1989 solo trip to the US made headlines when during a tour of Harlem Hospital Center, she spontaneously hugged a seven-year-old child with AIDS.

Diana on solo trip to New York


She said: “HIV does not make people dangerous to know. You can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows, they need it.”

Publicly Discussing Infidelity

Diana’s groundbreaking interview with the BBC’s Martin Bashir, admitting to infidelity and discussing Charles' affair with Camilla, shocked the monarchy and the world in 1995.

Diana, Princess of Wales, during her interview with Martin Bashir for the BBC (BBC)

(PA Media)

Referring to her husband’s relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles, Diana famously said: Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” 

Topless Photos

In 1994, pictures of Diana sunbathing topless at a Costa del Sol hotel were put up for sale by a Spanish photography agency for £1 million. Two years later, the Mirror published a set of pictures of the Princess sunbathing topless, sparking a huge privacy debate.

Diana was at centre of topless picture furore


The same year the Sun carried a front page story about an intimate video allegedly featuring Diana with James Hewitt. It proved to be a hoax.

The Divorce

The Martin Bashir interview proved the tipping point in the marriage and in December 1995 Buckingham Palace confirmed the Queen had written to Charles and Diana advising them to divorce.

Diana wearing her 'revenge' dress


It was finalised the following August with joint custody of the princes and a lump sum settlement of £17m. The couple also signed a confidentiality agreement preventing them from discussing details of their married life and divorce.

Landmines Campaign

Diana was patron of an organisation called the HALO Trust which removed landmines left behind during war. A picture of her touring an Angolan minefield in a ballistic helmet and flak jacket in 1997 became one of her most iconic images.

Diana, Princess of Wales meeting Bosnian Serbs and Muslims affected by landmines near Tuzla (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

(PA Archive)

During her work with the Trust she faced criticism for meddling in politics and was branded a ‘loose cannon’ by a senior official at the Ministry of Defence.

Al Fayed Relationship

Diana's romance with Dodi, son of former Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed made headlines worldwide, in the wake of her relationship with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan, described by many friends as ‘the love of her life’.

The Diana and Dodi statue at Harrods


Renowned magazine editor Tina Brown later claimed that the romance with Dodi was a ploy ‘to inflame the true object of her affections, Hasnat Khan’.

Last Birthday

Princess Diana celebrated her 36th and, tragically, final birthday on July 1, 1997 at about the time her relationship with Khan ended.

Diana speaks about the King and her stepmother in the previously unheard clips (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

(PA Archive)

While she is said to have spoken of her distress when he ended their relationship, according to the doctor’s testimony at the inquest into her death, it was she who had said it was over..

The Last Summer

Diana enjoyed her last summer vacationing with her sons and Dodi Al Fayed in the French Rivera in August 1997. Mohamed Al-Fayed had made available the Jonikal, a huge multi-million-pound yacht, for them to use.

Diana on a jetski on her last holiday with Dodi


She had considered a holiday in The Hamptons in Long Island, New York, but security officials would not approve it.

The Paparazzi Chase

The fateful high-speed chase by paparazzi through the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris that led to Diana and Dodi's deaths on August 31, 1997, still evokes anger and debate so many years later.

Harry was driven in the tunnel in 2007 (Chris Radburn/PA)

(PA Archive)

Accusations about driver Henri Paul’s intoxication and reckless driving were compounded by accusations of a plot to kill the couple among several conspiracy theories.

Death Announcement

It is one of those ‘I remember where I was’ moments when the tragic news of the Princess’s death was broken on the Sunday morning. TV and radio stations ran wall-to-wall coverage of the breaking news.

The sea of flowers outside Diana's Kensington Palace home


Commentators and presenters were visibly moved when the moment came to announce the princess had tragically succumbed to her horrific injuries from the crash.

Princes Follow Her Coffin

The sight of William and Harry walking behind their mother's casket was a heartbreaking scene that no-one who watched will ever forget.

The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince William, Earl Spencer, Prince Harry and the Prince of Wales following Diana’s coffin in 1997 (Tony Harris/PA)

(PA Wire)

The young princes were side-by-side with their father, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Edinburgh and Diana’s brother, Lord Spencer.

The Funeral

Held on September 6, 1997, Diana's funeral at Westminster Abbey was watched by a British TV audience of 32.1 million and the congregation boasted an A-Z of world leaders and celebrities.

The coffin of Diana, Princess of Wales lies on a gun carriage flanked by the bearer party of Welsh Guardsmen as it travels to Westminster Abbey, 1997 (Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive/PA)

(PA Archive)

Lord Spencer gave an emotional and no holds-barred assessment of how his sister had been treated by the establishment. He said: “She proved in the last year that she needed no royal title to continue to generate her particular brand of magic.”

Elton John's Tribute

Her friend re-wrote and performed his classic Candle in the Wind at the service. It went on to become the biggest-selling single in UK history and the proceeds went to Diana’s favourite charities.

Elton John sings at Diana's funeral


Elton has continued to support her sons William and Harry over the years and was present at both their weddings alongside his husband David Furnish.

Burial At Althorp Park

Diana was buried on an island within the grounds of Althorp Park, the Spencer family home for centuries.

The island where Diana was buried at Althorp


Her body was clothed in a black long-sleeved dress by her favourite designer Catherine Walker and a set of rosary beads that she had received from Mother Teresa was placed in her hands.

Diana’s Garden

Following her death, the Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace was transformed into the "White Garden”. Using flowers in white and soft pastels, the display took inspiration from items in the Princess’s wardrobe.

The Diana statue in the sunken garden at Kensington Palace


William and Harry unveiled a statue of the Princess within the garden on what would have been their mother’s 60th birthday. The figure of Diana is surrounded by three children.

The Inquest

An initial French judicial investigation ruled the crash was caused by Henri Paul being intoxicated, driving recklessly and being affected by prescription drugs.

Driver Henri Paul, Diana, Princess of Wales and bodyguard Trevor Rees Jones (PA)

(PA Media)

A subsequent inquest in London attributed the crash to grossly negligent driving by Paul and to the chasing paparazzi. On April 7th, 2008 the jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing

The Concert For Diana

The Concert for Diana was held at Wembley Stadium on July 1st, 2007, organised by her two sons, William and Harry. The date marked what would have been the princess’s 46th birthday, just weeks before the 10th anniversary of her death.

Harry and William with Elton John at the Concert for Diana


The concert included Elton John’s rendition of 'Candle In The Wind' and the proceeds went to Diana’s charities.

Prince William’s Engagement

Prince William and Kate Middleton finally silenced the rumour mill by announcing their engagement on November 16, 2010.The prince revealed he popped the question while the couple were on holiday in Kenya.

William and Kate during a photocall in the State Apartments of St James’s Palace to mark their engagement in 2010 (John Stillwell/PA)

(PA Archive)

In a TV interview, Kate, who was wearing the sapphire ring formerly owned by Diana, said of the proposal: “It was a total shock when it came. There’s a true romantic in there.” 

US Surveillance

In 1999, after the submission of a Freedom of Information request by the Internet news service apbonline.com, it was revealed that Diana had been placed under surveillance by the National Security Agency until her death.

Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a car crash in Paris in August 1997 (John Stillwell/PA)

(PA Archive)

The contents of Diana’s NSA file cannot be revealed due to national security concerns, but NSA officials denied the princess was a target. The agency has continued to refuse releasing the documents.

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