Strange Facts About Princess Diana – The List12/22/2020
The entire world was hooked on Princess Diana throughout the ’80s and ’90s. In fact, if season 4 of The Crown has taught us anything, it’s that the fascination with the princess’ tragic story has endured.
When Diana started dating Prince Charles in 1980, she quickly became the favorite subject of British tabloids and a frequent victim of the ruthless paparazzi (via Marie Claire). According to the BBC, Diana’s wedding to Charles in 1981 was watched by at least 750 million people worldwide. And throughout her ill-fated marriage, Diana’s popularity continued to grow until it was dubbed “Diana fever” by the press. Sadly, in 1997, Diana was killed in a car crash, sending the world into mourning — roughly 2.5 billion people are said to have watched her funeral (via the BBC).
The tragic story of Diana’s misalliance with Charles, her struggles with bulimia, and her paparazzi problems were widely known; Diana even gave several revealing interviews throughout her lifetime. And with The Crown, a new generation has been introduced to her story. Nevertheless, there are a few facts about the princess that are often left out of the story. Here are some of the strangest facts about Princess Diana.
Princess Diana's older sister dated Prince Charles before her
It turns out that the “girl code” wasn’t really a thing in the Spencer family. As The Crown alluded to in season 4, Princess Diana’s older sister, Sarah Spencer, did actually date Prince Charles several years before Diana caught his attention. According to Sarah Bradford, author of Diana: Finally, the Complete Story, the couple seemed like a good match at the time. “Prince Charles enjoyed Sarah’s sparkiness and irreverent wit,” she wrote. “And they made each other laugh” (via The Oprah Magazine).
The relationship is said to have fizzled out after Sarah gave a rather shocking interview in which she claimed she wouldn’t marry the royal “if he were the dustman or the King of England” (via Time). However, it was thanks to this relationship that Diana and Charles first crossed paths. According to the Daily Times, Diana first met the prince “in the middle of a ploughed field” in 1977 when she was just 16.
Princess Diana's grandmother was a lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother
Princess Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles wasn’t her family’s first brush with the royal family. In fact, Diana’s maternal grandmother, Lady Ruth Fermoy, worked as a lady-in-waiting to The Queen Mother, Charles’ grandmother. According to Radio Times, Lady Fermoy began working for the royal family in 1956, and over the years, became a close friend of the Queen Mother.
In his famous biography of Diana, Diana: Her True Story — In Her Own Words, Andrew Morton revealed that Lady Fermoy’s experience with the royals led her to caution her granddaughter about joining the family. “You must understand that their sense of humor and lifestyle are very different,” she reportedly told her. “I don’t think it will suit you.”
Once the marriage began to crumble, Lady Fermoy reportedly took Charles’ side. As Robert Runcie told The Times in 1996, “She was totally and wholly a Charles person, because she’s seen him grow up, loved him like all the women at court do, and regarded Diana as an actress, a schemer” (via The Telegraph). It must have been difficult for Diana to feel that even her own grandmother wasn’t an ally.
Princess Diana won this strange award at school
Before she became Princess Diana, she was simply Diana Spencer, a relatively normal, albeit privileged British schoolgirl. It turns out, Diana’s school life was probably quite similar to ours. In fact, she even won a pretty funny award as a kid — and no, it wasn’t “most likely to marry the heir to the British throne.” Rather, Diana is said to have won an at school award for taking good care of her guinea pig.
As W reported, the princess-to-be was pretty obsessed with guinea pigs as a kid. She participated in several pet shows at Sandringham, her childhood home; in 1972, she reportedly won both first and second prize. Her guinea pig Peanuts also came with her to boarding school. She was even named head of “Pets’ Corner,” where the students’ pets lived.
While Diana’s guinea pig obsession may seem a little strange, it was actually an early sign of her famously caring, empathetic nature.
Princess Diana's job before becoming a princess isn't what you'd expect
Princess Diana underwent a stunning transformation in her life. Before she married into the royal family, she had a surprisingly normal job. You may be surprised to learn that the princess actually worked at a nursery school in London as a part-time kindergarten teacher (via Business Insider). She worked at the school until her engagement to Prince Charles, and it was during this period that she began to be hounded by the press.
In fact, Diana did one of her first official photo shoots during a break with a couple of nursery school children. In the 2017 documentary The Diana Story, photographer Arthur Edwards explained how he “went round to about four or five different nurseries” in search of Diana. When he found the correct school, she came out for a quick photo with a few children. “She posed, and half way through taking the photographs the sun came out,” he recalled. What resulted is the famous backlit photo of the princess, holding two children, with the silhouette of her legs clearly visible. As Edwards recalled, “She was horrified” (via Express).
There was a serious age gap between Princess Diana and Prince Charles
While most fans of Princess Diana probably know that she and Prince Charles ended up being seriously mismatched, they may not realize just how significant their age gap was. When they became engaged, he was 32, while she was only 19. No wonder Diana and Charles were doomed from the start.
Looking back, it’s clear that the couple’s age difference meant they came from vastly different worlds. As Karen Mooney, an old employee of the royal household, told The Sun, “They didn’t know each other and at 19 you don’t know your mind. They had nothing in common and as time went by, that really showed.” Additionally, “the age was a massive issue.” At the time, Diana was “very naive, unworldly,” while Charles had “been to Cambridge and was obviously very intellectual.”
However, royal correspondent Stephen Bates told Time that the age gap was rarely questioned at the time of their engagement. And as Reader’s Digest reported, people eventually accepted that the age gap was one of the main reasons that the marriage ultimately failed.
Princess Diana famously danced with John Travolta
Several infamous moments in Princess Diana’s history didn’t make it into The Crown; one of these moments was her spur-of-the-moment dance with John Travolta. In 1985, during the royal couple’s trip to the United States, they were invited to a gala dinner at the White House. Amongst the other guests were some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, including, of course, Travolta.
As Paul Burrell, Diana’s butler at the time, wrote in The Way We Were: Remembering Diana, the princess hadn’t actually been planning on dancing with Travolta. In fact, she’d been hoping to be partnered with Mikhail Baryshnikov, the famous ballet dancer. However, “Nancy and Reagan set up the press to take a picture of her dancing with John Travolta,” Burrell wrote (via Smooth Radio).
As Travolta reportedly recalled later, Diana had actually tried to lead the dance. “Well, that’s not going to happen,” he revealed. “I’ve got to go back to my school days of learning ballroom dancing and show that I can lead her.” Apparently, Travolta and Diana remained close friends after the chance encounter (via PopSugar).
Princess Diana wanted to be a ballerina as a child
It’s no wonder Princess Diana was so keen on dancing with ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov while visiting the White House. It turns out, the princess had dreamed of becoming a ballerina herself. As PopSugar reported, she ‘d fallen in love with ballet as a child and had hoped to dance professionally as a career. However, she eventually reached a height of 5’10”, which was considered too tall.
Nevertheless, the princess continued to take dance lessons, even after marrying into the royal family. In the 2017 documentary, Diana: In her Own Words, her ballet teacher Anne Allan said, “Over time as we went through our dance class I realized just how dance meant to her….she had dance in her soul.” Allan went on to explain that dance helped Diana to cope with “her emotional life.”
In addition to her dance classes, the princess continued to support the arts. For instance, she frequently supported the English National Ballet.
Princess Diana dropped out of school
One seriously surprising fact about Princess Diana may come as a shock: the royal never officially graduated from high school! In fact, most of her school life was pretty unusual. According to the The Washington Post, Diana was initially home schooled by a governess, before attending West Heath School in Kent. Academically, Diana was “undistinguished.” In 1977, she left school at the age of 16. As Yahoo! News reported, the princess made the decision to leave school after failing her O-levels twice, instead opting to attend a finishing school in Switzerland.
While Diana may not have been academically gifted, she did show particular talent in the arts. She even won an award “for the girl giving maximum help to the school and her school fellows,” according to her official biography.
Even though Diana didn’t finish school, she made an effort when it came to her children’s education. In fact, she ensured that unlike previous royals, her sons were educated in the school system (via Hello!). That’s just one way Diana broke the royal rules.
Princess Diana reportedly snuck into a gay bar with Freddie Mercury
It turns out, Princess Diana had a bit of a wild side. In one of her bolder moments, Diana reportedly sneaked into a gay bar with her friend Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen. As actress Cleo Rocos revealed in her memoir, she, Mercury, and Diana had been close friends in the ’80s. One evening, the trio had been hanging out; when Diana found out the other two were going out to the famous Royal Vauxhall Tavern, she asked if she could join them.
Apparently, Rocos and Mercury were a little nervous about taking Diana to the well-known gay bar. “We pleaded, ‘What would be the headline if you were caught in a gay bar brawl?'” Rocos wrote. However, Diana was determined — or as Rocos put it, “in full mischief mode.” So, Diana dressed up in an army jacket, aviators, and a cap. Apparently, she just about passed for a “gay male model.”
As Rocos tells it, the three friends managed to spend an evening at the gay bar without being spotted (via Biography).
Princess Diana crashed her brother-in-law's stag party dressed up a policewoman
Princess Diana’s gay bar venture wasn’t the only time she sneaked out of the palace to have a little fun. Apparently, she also ducked out to a bar with her friend and soon-to-be sister-in-law, Sarah Ferguson. Sarah, who married Prince Andrew, reportedly joined Diana in trying to crash Andrew’s stag party.
As Diana’s biographer Andrew Morton wrote in Diana: Her True Story, the pair dressed up as policewomen in an attempt to sneak into the party. When that failed, the two friends “drank champagne and orange juice at Annabel’s nightclub before returning to Buckingham Palace where they stopped Andrew’s car at the entrance as he returned home” (via Express).
At the time, the two women were mistaken for “kiss-o-gram girls” at the nightclub, thanks to their bizarre costumes. Lewis Louis, the manager of the nightclub told the Associated Press, “They were perfectly disguised and certainly had us fooled.” Apparently, they even got thrown in a police van at one point during the evening, until someone recognized Diana (via Express).
The birth of Princess Diana's first child was pretty unusual
It turns out, Princess Diana didn’t mind throwing convention out the window. According to Marie Claire, Diana was a true royal trailblazer when it came to the birth of her sons. The royals of the past had given birth with a “twilight sleep,” which meant the baby was pulled out with forceps while the mother was under an anesthetic. Diana, however, was apparently not so keen on this tradition. In fact, she not only gave birth fully awake, she also gave birth standing up. As childbirth expert Sheila Kitzinger explained, “It was the first active royal birth — a complete contrast to the Queen’s.” Apparently, Prince Charles was even present at the birth and helped to support his wife.
Diana also chose to give birth at St. Mary’s hospital rather than at home. This started a brand new royal tradition, with Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle following in her footsteps.
Princess Diana really did dance to "Uptown Girl" at a gala
In The Crown, Princess Diana is shown surprising Prince Charles with a dance to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” with dancer Wayne Sleep. It turns out, this unusual performance really did happen! In the documentary Princess Diana: The Woman Inside, editor Richard Kay described the performance as “a present which slightly backfired.” Apparently, Charles wasn’t too keen on the performance as “he thought she was showing off.”
As Sleep recalled, the entire audience was astonished to see her up on the stage. He recalled that at the time, she refused to bow to the royal box before the dance. “She said, ‘I’m not bowing to him,” he revealed. “He’s my hubby'” (via Express).
Even though Diana’s infamous performance wasn’t a hit with her husband, it’s gone down in legend. And by all accounts, the dance was pretty spectacular. As Sleep recalled to The Guardian, “The routine had a bit of everything: jazz, ballet, even a kickline. At one point, I pirouetted and she pushed me down; then I carried her across the stage.” We only wish it had been filmed!
Princess Diana was a little obsessed with stuffed animals
Princess Diana has occasionally been described as being “naive” or “immature.” It turns out, there may be a little bit of truth in these descriptions. Long into her adulthood, Diana is said to have kept stuffed animals in her bedroom. In photos taken by Diana’s butler, Paul Burrell, you can clearly see that her bedroom couch is filled with stuffed toys (via the Mirror).
According to the ABC documentary, The Story of Diana, her stuffed animals had been with her for a long time. When Diana was just 6, her mother left the family and her father became inattentive. As Vogue put it, “her family was her 20 stuffed animals.”
It seems that everyone who came across Diana’s slightly bizarre collection of toys couldn’t help but notice it. James Hewitt, who had an affair with Diana during her marriage, once told Anna Pasternak, “She had 30 childhood cuddly toys lining the end of her bed” (via the Daily Mail). For whatever reason, Diana liked having these comforting toys near her throughout her life.
One of Princess Diana's charities earned a Nobel Prize after her death
Even though Princess Diana was largely a target of gossip and tabloid speculation, during her time as part of the royal family she made some significant contributions to the charities and organizations she supported. One of her main causes was supporting the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) in their bid to create a global ban on land mines.
Throughout 1997, Diana was closely involved with the organization. She even acted as a keynote speaker at one of their events. Lou McGrath, one of MAG’s founders, told the BBC, “It was tremendously important [to have her on board]. It was a turning point.”
Just a few months after Diana’s tragic death, the group’s campaign was shown to be successful as 122 governments pledged to stop using land mines. The group even won a Nobel Prize that year. As McGrath explained, Diana’s help had been controversial — but without it, they probably couldn’t have “brought forward what was the fastest arms control treaty in the world.” Aside from everything else, this Nobel Prize-winning campaign is quite the legacy for the Princess.
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