The truth about Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Diana’s relationship

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This article was originally written in 2001 by Ingrid Seward and appeared in the August 2001 issue of Reader’s Digest.*

THE TRAGIC NEWS that Diana, Princess of Wales, had died in a Paris car crash came to us in August, four years ago. As Americans watched her funeral pageant at Westminster Abbey, it was easy to think of her only as a princess, someone completely unlike the rest of us.

But within the royal family Diana was an all-too human relative. She doted on her sons, William and Harry. She loved and fought with Prince Charles, her estranged husband. And she had a complicated relationship with the Queen, her mother-in-law, alternately viewing her as a substitute mom and a meddling old woman who was out to get her. In The Queen and Di, British author Ingrid Seward, who has covered the royal family for 18 years, draws on knowledge from her own sources to show how Diana and the Queen were close to being each other ‘s salvation. When the Princess held a sick orphan or wore a stunning gown, she warmed the otherwise cold and at times even weird public image of the royal family. The Queen, meanwhile, offered Diana a chance to find the home life she had been missing—Diana’s own mother had left home, and a broken marriage, when Diana was only six. But the Princess’s psychological problems, and the Queen’s rigid sense of protocol and propriety, ultimately undermined their relationship.

Ballet was one of her first loves

As a child in Norfalk, England, little Diana Spencer studied ballet and dreamed of taking the stage with the Royal Ballet. Unfortunately, her height held her back, as she eventually grew to nearly 5’11”. But her passion for dance remained even after she married Prince Charles in 1981. She was known for her generosity in supporting the English National Ballet, both as a private dancer and through fundraising efforts. In 1985, she surprised an audience, including the royal family, at the Royal Opera House with a three-minute contemporary dance performance with her friend and former Royal Ballet Principal Wayne Sleep. After her death, renowned ballet dancer and choreographer Peter Schaufuss developed a full-length ballet called Diana—The Princess. These are the secrets about Princess Diana that no one knew about until after her death.

Lady Di wasn’t Charles’s first choice

In the late 1970s, Charles was heavy on the dating scene, spending time with ladies such as Lady Jane Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington’s daughter, and brewery heiress Sabrina Guinness. He even proposed to the granddaughter of his mentor Lord Louis Mountbatten (she said no). He was also spending time with Sarah Spencer, Diana’s sister. Through it all, he had one very ineligible bachelorette on his mind: Camilla Shand, who had married Andrew Parker Bowles in 1973. Low on options and under pressure to tie the knot, Charles turned to the Queen Mother—and to Camilla—for advice. Both agreed that Diana would be a good fit. Charles proposed in February 1981; Diana chose an engagement ring of 14 solitaire diamonds surrounding a 12-carat oval blue Ceylon sapphire set in 18-carat white gold.

Nearly everyone in the world watched Diana’s wedding 

When Prince William and Kate Middleton got married in 2011, 300 million viewers tuned in. Sounds like a lot? Hardly. In 1981, when Diana married the Prince of Wales, a whopping 750 million people around the world watched—that’s six and a half times the number of people who watched the most-viewed Super Bowl. Check out these rarely seen photos of Princess Diana.

There was one vow Diana didn’t make

Most royal brides, including Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, and Princess Anne adhered to the wedding vows as prescribed in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer dating from 1662 to “obey him and serve him, love, honor, and keep him, in sickness and in health.” But not princess Diana. She decided to omit “obey,” a choice echoed by her future daughter-in-law Kate Middleton.

Diana pulled out all the stops for her wedding

When Diana appeared at St. Paul’s Cathedral on July 29, 1981, she was ensconced in an elaborate gown made of silk taffeta and antique lace, decorated with sequins, embroidery, and 10,000 pearls. Diana required several practice sessions to adjust to walking with the dress’s enormous 25-foot train, an appendage that barely fit into the glass coach in which she road with her father to the ceremony. Designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, the dress influenced wedding gowns for years after and is now owned by her sons and on display at the Althorp House in Northampton. These are the most inspiring quotes from the Princess.

Diana was a popular cover model 

Diana appeared on the cover of PEOPLE more than 50 times, Time eight times, Newsweek seven times, Vanity Fair five times, and at least once on TatlerLIFEVogueMcCall’sGoodHousekeeping, and others.

Queen Elizabeth wasn’t a fan of Diana’s 

The notoriously icy Queen Mother found her son’s 20-year-old bride borderline insufferable. “She’s not like the rest of us,” the Queen told the editors of Fleet Street. “She’s very young.” When Diana pursued volunteer and fundraising opportunities with people suffering from HIV and AIDS, the Queen asked Diana if she couldn’t get involved with “something more pleasant.” And while the meaning is disputed, the Queen is reported to have said at the news of Diana’s death that “someone must have greased the brakes.” This is how Princess Diana really spent the final weeks of her life.

She suffered from an eating disorder 

In 1995, Princess Diana opened up about her struggles with bulimia in a BBC interview. According to Vogue, she explained that low self-esteem and stress from her split with Prince Charles contributed to it. Diana said, “I didn’t like myself, I was ashamed I couldn’t cope with the pressures. I had bulimia for a number of years, and that’s like a secret disease. It’s a repetitive pattern which is very destructive. It was my escape mechanism.”

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