Diana Spencer was born into British aristocracy, though a commoner, not royal. She grew up practically next door to Queen Elizabeth II and her family, at Park House, a mansion next to the Sandringham estate of the royal family. Prince Charles was 12 years older, but Prince Andrew was closer to her age and was a childhood playmate.
After Diana's parents divorced bitterly when Diana was eight, her father gained custody of the four children. Diana did not get along well with her stepmother, nor did she do well in school, finding an interest in ballet and, according to some reports, Prince Charles, whose picture she had on the wall of her room at school. When Diana was 16, she met Prince Charles again. He had dated her older sister Sarah. She made some impression on him, but she was still too young for him to date.
After Diana left school, she moved to London, and worked as a housekeeper, nanny and kindergarten teacher's aide. She lived in a house purchased by her father and had three roommates. In 1980, Diana and Charles met again when she visited her sister, whose husband worked for the queen. They began to date and six months later he proposed. They were married July 29, 1981, in what's been called the "wedding of the century." She was the first British citizen to marry an heir to the British throne in almost 300 years.
Diana immediately began making public appearances, despite her awkwardness with being in the public eye. One of her first official visits was to the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco. Diana became pregnant, giving birth to Prince William in 1982 and then to Prince Henry in 1984. Dropping in weight by thirty pounds after the birth of Prince William, she began to struggle with bulimia, but also became more popular as a fashion figure.
Early in their marriage, Diana and Charles were seen to be publicly affectionate; by 1986, their time apart and coolness when together were obvious. The 1992 publication of Andrew Morton's biography of Diana revealed the story of Charles' long affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, and alleged that Diana had made suicide attempts. By December, the couple, obviously with the consent of the Queen and consultation with government officials, had agreed to a legal separation, though disclaiming plans for a divorce.
But by 1996, during television interviews by Charles and then Diana, revealing photographs and continuing scandal coverage by the press, it was clear that a divorce was imminent. Diana announced her agreement to a divorce in February, surprising the Queen whom she had not informed before making the announcement.
The divorce was final in August of 1996. Settlement terms reportedly included about $23 million for Diana, plus $600,000 per year. She and Charles would both be active in their sons' lives. She continued to live at Kensington Palace, and was permitted to retain the title "Princess of Wales" but not "Her Royal Highness." At her divorce, she also gave up most of the charities she'd been working with, limiting herself to five, working with homelessness, AIDS, leprosy, the ballet, a hospital for children, and a cancer hospital.
In 1996, Diana became involved in the campaign to ban landmines. She visited several nations in her involvement with the anti-landmine campaign, an activity more political than the norm for the British royal family.
In early 1997, Diana was linked romantically with the 42-year-old playboy "Dodi" Fayed (Emad Mohammed al-Fayed). His father, Mohammed al-Fayed, owned Harrod's department store and the Ritz Hotel in Paris, among other holdings. Both had somewhat spotty ethical reputations.
Late on August 30, 1997, Diana and Dodi left the Ritz Hotel in Paris, accompanied in a car by an al-Fayed family driver and Dodi's bodyguard. They were pursued by paparazzi, and crashed in a tunnel in Paris. Diana died in the early hours of August 31.