Princess Diana


More than 20 years after the death of Princess Diana, join Active Minds as we review her life and legacy. We will cover her rise to royalty, including her troubled marriage to Prince Charles. We will look at the two issues she championed: AIDS and landmines. We will also take a look at her tragic death and the lasting impact she has had on the world. And we will conclude with the people she left behind, especially her sons William and Harry and what their futures are shaping up to be.

Key Lecture Points

  • Twenty years after her death, Diana’s legacy continues.  From the time of her engagement to the Prince of Wales until her death she was one of the most famous women in the world, the pre-eminent female celebrity of her generation, a fashion icon and widely admired for her humanitarian work.  During her lifetime, she was arguably the most photographed person in the world.
  • Born in 1961 into the aristocratic Spencer family, Diana was not a good student.   After finishing school she worked in London as a nanny and a teacher’s assistant.
  • In 1981, at the age of 20, she married Prince Charles.  She captivated the world with her beauty and sense of style, overshadowing Charles who resented her popularity and easy manner with people.  She was particularly admired for her close relationship with her sons, William, born in 1982 and Harry born in 1984.
  • In the mid-1980s her marriage began to fall apart.  Diana’s private life was troubled.  She battled feelings of low self-esteem and unworthiness, rooted in childhood, and bulimia.  Admissions of infidelity by both Diana and Charles became fodder for the tabloid press in Britain and around the world.  The couple separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996.
  • In August 1997 Diana and her companion Dodi al-Fayed died in a car crash in Paris while trying to evade the paparazzi.  The official inquiries found the crash to be an accident caused by their chauffeur who was driving while intoxicated.
  • She was the first high profile celebrity to be photographed shaking hands with an AIDS patient and is credited with helping to change public attitudes towards this illness.  She also took up the cause of landmine removal in the last year of her life.  Her championship of this cause was instrumental in the adoption of the Ottawa Treaty.   Her sons carry on her tradition of charitable work.  As part the commemorations of the 20th anniversary of their mother’s death, Prince William and Prince Harry are active spokespersons for Heads Together, a mental health organization.
  • At the time of Diana’s death, there were questions about the value of the British monarchy.  Since then the popularity of the Queen has grown.  According to a recent survey, 75% of the people say the monarchy has an important role in Britain’s future.

Exploration Questions

  • Diana is described by some as the first Royal who truly understood the power of the media.  Do you agree or disagree?  In what ways was Diana’s life affected by the media?
  • In what ways did Diana change the public perception of British Royalty?  Do you feel that this is a good thing?  Explain.
  • Diana’s life was both fairy tale and tragedy.  In what way does her biography fit both of these types of stories?

Reflective Questions

  • Do you recall the wedding of Charles and Diana?  What memories do you have of the spectacle?
  • Do you recall the coverage of Diana’s death and memorials?  What memories of those events do you have?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Clayton, Tim, Craig, Phil.   Diana: Story of a Princess.  Atria Books: 2003.  416 pages.  Clayton and Craig explain how a shy teenager grew up to be the most talked-about woman in the world, and why she became a critic of the Royal Family. It reveals revealing how the Diana and Charles sought to influence the way the outside world perceived their failing marriage, and indeed their entire lives.
    Click here to order
  • King, Larry.  The People’s Princess: Cherished Memories of Diana, Princess of Wales, from Those Who Knew Her Best.  Crown Publishing Group, 2007. 227 pages.  In the ten years since Princess Diana’ death, radio host Larry King asked many people who knew Diana, some officially and some more personally, for their favorite memories.  Some of these recollections are warm and intimate, others are perceptive and revealing, even about Diana’ s human failings and frailties.
    Click here to order
  • Jephson, Patrick. Shadows of a Princess. William Collins, 2017. 608 pages. The author was Princess Diana’s private secretary.  This insider’s view of the Princess’ life during the years of her greatest fame and personal crisis is being re-issued for the 20th anniversary of her death.
    Click here to order
  • Andrew Morton.  Diana: Her True Story: In Her Own Words.  Simon & Schuster, 2017. 448 pages.  This sensational biography of Diana has been revised to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her death.  The author tells Diana’s story in her own words from interviews recorded with the author.
    Click here to order