She was a superstar in a royal family that had been short on charisma for centuries. She was charismatic and big-hearted, and at times she was more than a little cuckoo. In her short, mercurial life, nobody ever said Princess Diana was boring.
July 1, 1961
Diana Frances Spencer, youngest daughter of Edward John Spencer, Viscount Althorp, and Frances, Viscountess Althorp, is born on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England. Her father would later become the 8th Earl Spencer and inherit Althorp, the family's ancestral seat.
Diana's privileged childhood is marred by her parent's marital troubles. Her mother finally ran away with the heir to a wallpaper fortune. After a family tug of war, her father won custody of the kids, and later remarried. Diana and her siblings hated her step-mother, Raine.
Diana leaves Sevenoaks School, Kent, at age 16. Never a brainiac, she failed all of her "O-Levels," the standard British school certification tests. Except for a short stay at a Swiss finishing school, that is the end of Diana's formal education. This year, she also meets Prince Charles, then dating her older sister. She thought he was "pretty amazing," she told an interviewer years later.
Diana settles into a flat in London with three roommates. In the terminology of the era, she is a "Sloane Ranger," a well-born and attractive young woman enjoying life in a fashionable area of London. She works sporadically as a cocktail waitress, a house cleaner and a kindergarten aide.
Diana and Prince Charles begin dating. The media quickly sniff out the budding romance, and the pretty young aristocrat becomes a favorite target of photographers. Six months after their first date, Prince Charles proposes.
Buckingham Palace announces the engagement of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer. The giant wheels of royal industry start turning: elaborate wedding plans are made, commemorative mugs and tea towels chug off assembly lines; Royal Mail stamps are issued.
With a television audience of almost a billion, Diana Spencer marries Charles, Prince of Wales and heir to the throne of Great Britain, at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. "Diana Mania" is in full swing. The beautiful young princess has captivated the world.
Birth of Prince William.
Birth of Prince Harry.
There were early rumors of marital discord, but the gossip floodgates now open wide. Dueling London tabloids publish increasingly bizarre and racy stories of squabbling and infidelity, backed up with quotes from anonymous friends and foes on both sides. Diana reportedly seethes with jealous of Camilla Parker Bowles, the one-time girlfriend she suspects Charles still loves.
At some point, Diana finds solace from her marital woes with Capt. James Hewitt, and possibly with others. Hewitt will become Britain's most infamous "love rat," selling his story in a turgid novelesque memoir called "Princess In Love."
Diana throws herself into dozens of charitable causes, but her heart is clearly captured most by children in need and the victims of AIDS/HIV. She is one of the first people to be photographed touching an HIV/AIDS patient, during a time when its sufferers are shunned. Her fans think she's an angel; foes say she's a publicity hog.
The plot thickens with the release of the infamous "Squidgygate" tape. This intercepted phone call features Diana complaining bitterly about her in-laws to a sympathetic James Gilbey, who calls her
Royal Watcher Andrew Morton publishes an explosive book, "Diana: Her True Story," filled with revelations of the princess' marital misery, bouts with bulimia and even a suicide attempt. It is clear that the princess and her friends cooperated enthusiastically with the book.
(Photo: CBS/The Early Show
The official separation of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales is announced by Prime Minister John Major.
Prince Charles suffers his own intercepted cell phone debacle when a tape surfaces of him talking dirty with on-again girlfriend Camilla Parker Bowles.
Diana sits down for a startlingly frank interview televised on the BBC, hashing out the whole history of her troubles with the Royal Family. Charles later goes public to tell his side of the story.
The divorce is finalized. Queen Elizabeth II issues new rules on royal titles that, in effect, strip Diana of the title "Her Royal Highness." She remains Diana, Princess of Wales. Diana also keeps her apartment in Kensington Palace, and redecorates it from top to bottom.
Princess Diana's extensive travels as a Red Cross volunteer culminate in a trip to Angola, where she visits survivors of land mine incidents and tours mine clearance sites.
Diana's private life is less transparent, but not for lack of trying by the media. At some point, she begins seeing Dodi al-Fayed, the high-living son of the owner of Harrods department store.
A horrific high-speed car crash in a Paris tunnel kills Diana, Dodi al-Fayed and their driver, Henri Paul.
An estimated 2.5 billion people watch the televised funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. She is buried on an island in an ornamental lake on the grounds of Althorp Park, her family's home in the English countryside.
The tragic facts of Diana's death seemed plain enough at the time, but 10 years later investigators continue to pore over the circumstances of the Paris crash.
A coroner on Monday, March 31, 2008, discounted entirely the conspiracy theory - pursued for more than a decade by Mohamed Al Fayed - that Princess Diana was murdered in a secret service plot at the behest of Britain's royal family.
Lord Justice Scott Baker, who is leading the inquest into the deaths of Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, said there is no evidence that Prince Philip, the Secret Intelligence Service or any other government agency had anything to do with their deaths in a 1997 car crash.
He told jurors they have the option of deciding if Diana and Fayed died as the result of an accident or by unlawful killing - the equivalent of manslaughter - because of gross negligence by the paparazzi following their car or by driver Henri Paul. They can also record an open verdict if they are uncertain of the reasons for the deaths.
Prince Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall, on April 9, 2005. It is not yet clear whether she will be Queen if and when he becomes King of England.
Younger son Prince Harry is a second lieutenant in the British Army's Household Cavalry. Seen as the family bad boy, he's frequently caught partying in London clubs.
Diana's son William is now 25. A graduate of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, he also is serving in the Household Cavalry. His love life is the focus of huge attention. There is intense speculation that his engagement to Kate Middleton, his long-time girlfriend, will soon be announced.