There are few relationships in the history of the monarchy that have caused such a sensation or attracted such interest as the partnership between the British heir to the throne Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and the former nursery school teacher and future Princess of Wales, Diana Spencer.
Part of the reason for this is that the relationship had all the elements people love: a fairy-tale princess, an heir to the throne, an ill-fated love affair and, unfortunately, a very tragic end to the story. Much later, Charles would speak of his marriage to Diana as a Greek tragedy.
How did Charles and Diana meet?
As so often in life, the meeting between Charles and Diana was largely down to chance. Diana’s family were wealthy members of the nobility with close contacts to the royal court, and early in the winter of 1977 they hosted a hunting party on the Spencer family estate. Charles was also invited to the hunt and took part in the event.
Queen Elizabeth II had long regarded Diana as a suitable candidate for marriage to her son Charles. Diana came from a long line of distinguished aristocrats and was regarded as having an impeccable history as well as being a virgin and an Anglican. The ideal characteristics for a future queen alongside Charles. As time went by, the royal court put pressure on the two to meet, especially since Charles’ true love, Camilla Parker Bowles (née Shand) was not regarded as a suitable wife.
The press adored Diana, as did the public, and so in 1981 Charles proposed in suitable style during a visit to Windsor Castle. Even at that time, it was becoming apparent that the feelings Diana had for Charles were not reciprocated in the same way.
How did Charles and Diana’s engagement go?
There is much speculation about the actual engagement and the proposal, but verified information is in short supply. What is available is an interview with the couple just 3 weeks after they got engaged. Reporters outside Buckingham Palace asked them about their engagement, and one of the questions was “I suppose you’re in love?”. While the otherwise rather shy Diana answered immediately with a quick “Of course”, the reaction from Prince Charles was rather cold. All he said was “Whatever in love means”. The press ignored this comment because it did not fit the image of the fairy-tale relationship, which for Charles was unfortunately probably more a matter of fulfilling his obligation to the royal family than genuine love.
What engagement ring did Lady Di choose?
Lady Diana’s engagement ring was and remains highly unusual. Normally a special piece of jewellery is crafted for royal engagements, or a ring from the royal treasury is selected. Diana, however, very modestly chose a ring that particularly appealed to her from an existing collection by the royal jeweller Garrards.
In the centre was an oval blue Ceylon sapphire weighing 12 carats, surrounded by 14 smaller diamonds, and set in an 18-carat white gold ring. A stunning and elegant piece of jewellery, which is regarded as a classic today and has been copied many times, but which caused something of a sensation at the time due to the low price of just £28,000.
How did things go after Charles and Diana were engaged?
Charles and Diana were married at St Paul’s Cathedral in London in July 1981. It was the most prestigious royal wedding in history. In London alone the streets were lined with two million spectators, a quarter of a billion people watched the event on television. In 1982 the couple had their first son, Prince William; two years later, in 1984, Prince Harry was born.
Charles and Diana’s marriage was in crisis. While Diana was becoming an absolute media favourite with legendary appearances, such as the visit to the Reagans in the White House and a dance with John Travolta, Charles was always in her shadow, at least in terms of the media. Both Charles and the rest of the royal establishment disapproved of this imbalance. Diana felt rejected by the royal family and under intense strain due Charles’s ongoing attachment to Camilla. Diana suffered from bulimia, and the marriage slowly but inexorably broke down.
In 1992, the serving prime minister John Major announced the couple’s official separation. In 1996, Charles and Diana were officially divorced.
Just one year after the divorce, Diana lost her life in a tragic car accident on 31 August 1997, which also cost the lives of her friend, the film producer Dodi Al-Fayed, and the head of security at the Paris Ritz, Henri Paul. It is still not clear exactly why, shortly after midnight, the couple’s limousine ended up driving at high speed into a pillar in a Paris subway. Henri Paul was under the influence of alcohol and taking medication at the time of the crash, the vehicle was also being pursued by the paparazzi, who were hassling Diana and Dodi wherever they went.