Being a part of the British monarchy means that there are a set of rules and specific protocol to follow in all aspects of life. However, when Princess Diana married Prince Charles, it was clear that she was going to march to the beat of her own drum, earning her the nickname “the people’s princess”.
Whether it was at her official royal obligations, or raising her sons Prince William and Harry, Diana was a trail blazer and her attitude to royal life set a new path for her sons, and all other future generations of royals.
The royal family had always adopted the stiff upper lip approach when it came to raising their children and their family dynamics. Part of the reason people adored Princess Diana so much was due to her being a doting mother who would do anything for her sons.
Diana always wanted William and Harry to have a normal life as possible growing up, despite their extraordinary circumstances. She was as hands on as possible instead of relying on nanny’s and would work around her sons to figure out her official events schedule.
A fun mother
Prior to Diana, royal children were only really seen out in an official capacity at an event. Even so, every part of their appearance and demeanor was fine tuned and they had it down to a tee.
This wasn’t the same for Prince William and Harry as Diana would often take them on trips to McDonalds to enjoy a happy meal and trips to theme parks to ride the roller coasters. She would also take them on the London underground and the bus to get around and let them dress in jeans and a t-shirt.
Choosing her own ring
There has been a long standing tradition in the British monarchy that royal wives would have their engagement rings made from stones that were from family jewels. Queen Elizabeth II was given a ring by the Duke of Edinburgh that was made from his mother’s diamond tiara.
However, Diana decided she wanted to create her own ring and picked it from prestigious fine jeweler Garrard. She chose a 12-carat sapphire ring circles by 14 solitaire diamonds. The ring now belongs to the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.
Living a normal life
When Prince Charles proposed to Diana in 1981, she was the first royal who had a normal job and reportedly worked as a part-time kindergarten teacher in London.
When she was working in this role, she shared an apartment with three other roommates, showing she understood the struggles of life and how hard people had to work to earn a living. Having this experience was something very few royals have had and Diana wanted to make sure she instilled hard-working values into her sons.
She wouldn’t obey
In English royal weddings, the liturgy comes from the Church of England’s Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Since 1962, the book includes the wedding vows “…to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part”.
However, at Princess Diana’s wedding to Prince Charles, she refused to say the word “obey”, showing her values on mutual respect in marriage. Her decision garnered some backlash but later became a new tradition with Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle following suit.
Birthing the princes
Traditionally, royal babies were born at home in the palaces, but Diana was the first princess to change this protocol. Princess Diana chose to deliver both Prince William and Prince Harry in the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital.
Similarly, when it came to Kate Middleton giving birth to her three children, she too chose the Lindo Wing. However, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry had a much more private birthing experience with zero media coverage at the Portland Hospital.
Traveling with the kids
Royals are often sent around the world on various different charity projects and official tours of countries. It was common to leave their children at home with nannies while they tended to business abroad, but Princess Diana did not want to do this.
Instead, Diana brought William and Harry along on many of her trips as she thought it was important for them to see the world and understand different cultures from a young age. When Prince William was nine months old, he was taken along on a tour of Australia and New Zealand.
Attending normal school
Diana always wanted William and Harry to have as normal of an upbringing that they possibly could and this involved enrolling them in a normal school with other “commoners”. Traditionally, tutors were brought into the palaces to educate the children, but Diana sent her boys to Jane Mynors’ nursery school.
Both William and Harry went on to attend Eton college, a private boarding school for boys. Prince William followed on with this as he and Kate Middleton sent their children to private schools, too.
The people’s princess
No matter where Diana went or who she was introduced to, she always showed compassion and heart. The other royals always kept their distance and quite a serious demeanor, but Diana’s empathy and genuine care earned her the name “the people’s princess”.
Expressing her love for people, she said “I am following my heart, not my head… there should be somebody who will be closer to people, love them, and show this love to them.” Diana admitted she always tries to find a common ground with someone so she could relate to them on a more personal, less official level.
Breaking down stigma barriers
When royals visited poverty and disease stricken regions, meeting people who had heartbreaking hardships in life, they would greet them from a distance and not come into much contact with them. Princess Diana however, had other ideas, and when she was introduced to people, sick or not, she would hug them and make them feel comfortable and loved.
Diana’s decision to do this made wavelengths around the world and helped break down barriers of the stigma in disease. Specifically, people couldn’t believe it when she shook hands with an HIV/AIDS-positive man without wearing gloves in 1987.
Standing up for her beliefs
The royals would never involve themselves in controversial issues and it was forbidden for the press to ask them politically-motivated questions which could potentially spark backlash. However, Diana was not ashamed to promote her political stance on many issues and in 1997 she visited an active minefield in Huambo, Angola in order to campaign against landmines.
Her controversial decision shocked people around the world and her advocacy led the reduction of landmines around the world. Today, Prince Harry works with the same foundation to stop the landmines as his mother did.
At one with the kids
Whenever the royals would come in contact with crowds, they would keep their distance and were flanked by security personnel on all sides, but Diana chose to get up close and personal with those who came out in their thousands to see her.
Diana would often crouch down and get on the same level with young kids, squeezing and hugging them and showing her love. Diana always said it was important to get on the same level with someone when you are interacting with them and is something both of her sons and their wives now do.
Aside from their public appearances, the royals are known to be inherently private and keep their lives out of the public eye as much as possible. However, when Diana became princess, she came with a whole different approach and was candid and honest in interviews and would give journalists honest and open responses on different aspects of her life.
In 1995, she shocked the world and opened up to the BBC about her marital problems with Prince Charles and spoke about battles with mental health and eating disorders. People appreciated her raw honesty and today her sons have encouraged others to open up and do the same.
It wasn’t a secret that Diana and Prince Charles had a rocky and difficult marriage plagued with lies and affairs. After 15 years together, they divorced in 1996 and their divorce became quite the scandal. Although their divorce was not the first in royal history, it is always a controversial topic for the Church of England.
Upon their divorce, the Queen had to give Diana a new title and even though she was happy to let Diana keep the HRH (her royal highness), Charles did not want her to have it. They ended up agreeing on the new title, “Diana, Princess of Wales.”
Moving on with life
Princess Diana was ready to move on with life and love after her divorce and by no means would she let her past stop her from dating. Despite all of the stories to tarnish Diana’s reputation, she held her head high and didn’t let it get to her.
She began dating surgeon Hasnat Khan, and she even ended up introducing sons William and Harry to him. The couple dated for two years before going their separate ways. Soon after, Diana found love once again with Egyptian millionaire and family friend, Dodi Fayed.
Every time Diana stepped out, there was a media circus following her, so it was reported that she had a knack for sneaking out unsuspected. Diana loved living at Kensington Palace as there were many exits that she could sneak out of and closeby was Kensington High Street where she would throw on a wig and shop in secret.
Diana would also take William and Harry out with her and they would go to different places in secret. The princes admitted these were some of their favorite memories with her.
In her everyday life, Diana wasn’t afraid to be herself, and when it came to her fashion choices, she was no different. Princess Diana became a trendsetter, people wanted to dress exactly like her and emulate her style in whatever way they could.
She decided to forgo strict royal dress codes and make her own fashion choices. At a ball in Australia, she decided to wear a diamond necklace as a tiara which belonged to Queen Elizabeth. Her hairstylist admitted the move was risky as the sacred item can’t be touched by any hair product.
Showing it off
For the royals, there is a very strict list of rules to follow when dressing. Nothing provocative or revealing is allowed, hem lines need to be of a certain length and there is a limit to how much can be shown on the top.
Diana however, would often go out showing off her womanly features and to hide her plunging necklines from paparazzi, she would strategically place her bag over her chest when getting out of cars. From this, Diana’s handbag designer Anya Hindmarch created a line of purses which she referred to as “cleavage purses” paying homage to the people’s princess.
Leaving the gloves at home
At formal events, royals typically wear long gloves with their ball gowns to convey elegance and protect their hands from the thousands of individuals who line up for a handshake.
However, Diana decided to shun the gloves and not as a fashion statement. Apparently, she didn’t like the social connotation with gloves and not wearing them perceived her to be warm and approachable. Royals were not supposed to have too much contact with “commoners”, a rule which Diana did not agree with or abide by.
She didn’t wear hats
When royals weren’t wearing their tiaras for evening events, they were expected to wear hats or fascinators to formal events during the day. Diana decided to go against the rules and not wear hats to formal events, claiming that it restricted her interaction with the public.
She allegedly said “You can’t cuddle a child in a hat,” which was one of the biggest reasons why she stopped wearing hats to visit children in hospital. In addition, she would wear bright colors to cheer up the kids and wear chunky necklaces that they could play with.
Royals are always seen with light makeup that is used to highlight and not really stand out, but Princess Diana was known for her bold makeup looks that didn’t conform with the rest of the royal family. Diana loved to wear blue eyeliner which made her piercing blue eyes pop and she wore it on multiple occasions.
However, it wasn’t just the royals who didn’t appreciate the look, but it was also her own makeup artist, Mary Greenwell, who didn’t believe that people with blue eyes should have any other blue eye makeup on.
No to neutral nails
If you look at any female member of the royal family at public events, they are only really seen wearing neutral nail polish as to not draw attention and not be flashy. Princess Diana played by her own rules for this one too as she liked to experiment with color.
In fact, she regularly got manicures with bright red polish to give her black dresses a pop of color. Someone that decided to follow in her footsteps was Meghan Markle who has often been seen with nail colors including dark reds, purples or blacks at official royal events.
Suited and booted
When it came to wardrobe, Diana injected her personal style into many of her official outfits on royal engagements. One of the ways she did this was by wearing a pantsuit to formal events, despite the fact that female royals were supposed to wear a dress or skirt.
Traditionally, these outfits were worn by men and Diana decided to put her foot down in having others make outfit decisions for her. Decades later, Meghan Markle followed in her footsteps, wearing pants to royal events.
Her undone hair look
Princess Diana was known for her signature hair style, the floppy, short undone look that appeared as relaxed but well-maintained at the same time. While it didn’t seem like it was a high maintenance haircut, Diana’s hair stylist admitted there was much more that went into styling than one would assume.
Diana made short hair on women cool and her hair stylist Richard Dalton claimed she actually was having regular cuts but so minor that no one would notice a dramatic difference. He explained that she would have one-fourth of an inch cut at a time over several weeks to make sure it always looked good.
Opening up to the media
Royals tend not to respond to public controversy and this was incredibly difficult for Diana as she always splashed all over the papers for some reason. In 1995, the Princess decided to make her own decision and gave an interview to the BBC in an attempt to hit back at the media headlines and gain some control over it.
The interview was watched by more than 21.5 million people in the UK but despite her positive intentions, it somewhat backfired and Diana regretted giving the interview.
One of the major scandals Diana was embroiled in was Prince Charles’ affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles and her own affair with James Hewitt. Speaking of Charles and Camilla, Diana stated “A woman’s instinct is a very good one; obviously I had knowledge of it from people who minded and cared about our marriage.
There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” When asked about her own affair, Diana was open and honest, stating “Yes, I adored him. Yes, I was in love with him. But I was very let down.”
Showing her vulnerabilities
In the same BBC interview, Diana didn’t hold back when it came to discussing the struggles in her life and the tough times she had to overcome. She told the interviewer about her battle with bulimia which started as a result of the stress of keeping her marriage together stating, That’s like a secret disease … You inflict it upon yourself because your self-esteem is at a low ebb, and you don’t think you’re worthy or valuable … It’s a repetitive pattern which is very destructive to yourself.”
Her honesty and openness was something that the royals never showed and this was part of the determination of her sons to start their own mental health initiative.
Taking the Princes to homeless shelters
Diana always wanted Prince William and Harry to understand their privilege in the world and how they should always help the less fortunate and have compassion. One of the ways she did this was by taking the boys to homeless shelters and her work led Diana to become a patron of Centrepoint in 1992, a charity which helps the homeless.
In 2005, Prince William also became a patron of the charity as well as another homeless charity called The Passage, somewhere he visited with his mother as a child.
Forget the rule book
Whether written about in the media, or spoken to by other royal officials, it was very obvious that Diana did things the way she wanted to. When speaking about her decision to do this she explained, “I don’t go by a rule book, because I lead from the heart, not the head, and albeit that’s got me into trouble in my work,
I understand that, but someone’s got to go out there and love people and show it.” This is the reason why she was named the people’s princess.
She enjoyed the single life
After Princess Diana’s divorce from Prince Charles, she wanted to get back into dating life and wasn’t going to try and keep it under wraps as to not offend her ex-husband or the royals.
Diana had a string of relationships with wealthy men, one with a surgeon and another was of course with Dodi Al Fayed, the son of businessman billionaire and owner of Harrods and The Ritz Paris, Mohamed Al-Fayed. Prince William and Diana vacationed with Dodi on his yacht in Saint Tropez in the summer of 1997.
Taking part in sports day
The royals were always viewed to have the stiff upper lip attitude but Diana always strived to get rid of this and appear as one of the people. One of the ways she did this was by taking part in the parents race at Prince William’s school sports day.
Any other member of the royal family most likely would have simply been a spectator, but Diana didn’t want her boys to think she was too serious to take part in these things. She ended up winning the mother’s race.
Diana missed the memo
Every year, the royal family gathers at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate for Christmas and they have a rule that the gifts they present to each other must be funny. Apparently, it was something started by jokester Prince Philip but when Diana joined in the festivities in 1981, she didn’t get the memo about the funny gifts.
She ended up playing it safe and gifted Princess Anne with a cashmere sweater and in return, she got a toilet paper cover from Anne.
The LBD moment
Princess Diana had some very memorable fashion moments through the years, but none more iconic than when she donned a risque little black dress that wowed everyone. The outfit was known as the “revenge dress” as Prince Charles revealed the night before in a TV interview that he had, in fact, been unfaithful to her.
Diana stole the spotlight when she rocked this figure-hugging, off-the-shoulder dress. People hailed it as a moment showing Diana as an independent, strong and confident individual who didn’t need the royal family to define her.