collage of princess diana through the years

Giovanna Chung/KCM, Getty Images

Once and for all, we set the record straight.

Princess Diana was the subject of rampant speculation and rumor long before her tragic death in a Paris car crash in 1997. Followed constantly by the paparazzi, she was often described as the most photographed woman in the world — and the most beautiful.

Much like her forerunner to both of these titles, Marylin Monroe, these characterizations fed into the idea of Diana as somehow otherworldly. Everything she touched seemed to take off — from her philanthropic endeavors to her iconic fashion — remember the bike shorts? Between her seemingly uncanny ability to command the public’s attention and the frenzied response that followed Diana’s every move, the lore around her was always evolving. Even 25 years after her death, TV shows like The Crown, movies like last year’s Spencer, and shows like Diana The Musical — not to mention countless articles and documentaries — still feed into the popular mythology.

We’ve unpacked a few of the most popular stories and ideas about Diana to separate fact from fantasy and revisit some of the fascinating history of Britain’s most famous princess.

Who first called Diana the “People’s Princess”?

Diana has become synonymous with “The People’s Princess,” a nickname that seemed to sum up her innate connection with the British public. But as anyone who watched the 2006 movie The Queen will know, it wasn’t an adoring fan who ensured it caught on.

The moniker was suggested during a brainstorming session between then-Prime Minister Tony Blair and his head of communications Alastair Campbell after Diana died — when the royal family’s muted public response stood in embarrassing contrast to the outpouring of grief from the public.

According to the BBC, Blair wrote in his memoir A Journey that the royals’ approach was “all very by the book but it took no account of the fact that people couldn’t give a damn about the book.” He added that he tried “to protect the monarchy, channel the anger before it became rage, and generally have the whole business emerge in a positive and unifying way rather than be a source of tension, division and bitterness.”

The phrase was apparently scribbled on the back of an envelope to be used in Blair’s public remarks the day after Diana’s death. His seemingly heartfelt words went down a storm, the tender new nickname for the princess in particular.

He said that with hindsight, his words seem “like something from another age, corny and over the top,” but added: “At the time it felt natural and I thought, particularly, that she would have approved. It was how she saw herself and it was how she should be remembered.”

What The Queen — which reimagined Blair’s famous appearance — leaves out, is the fact that Blair’s speech wasn’t the first time “People’s Princess” was used to refer to Diana.

In a 1992 article for Modern Review, the journalist Julie Burchill described Diana as “the one and only People’s – and Pop’s – Princess.”

Did Princess Diana really upend royal wedding tradition?

Princess Diana has been credited many times with breaking tradition during her wedding vows to Prince Charles, in which she promised to “love him, comfort him, honor and keep him,” but not to obey him. Her decision marked a stark contrast with her mother-in-law Queen Elizabeth, who insisted on making the promise during her wedding in 1947.

Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana
Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer during their wedding ceremony. (Getty Images)

The two women’s divergent approaches have been commented on a lot over the years, but it wasn’t Diana who shifted the tradition per se. The promise “to obey” was removed from the Church of England service in 1928, two years after women were given the legal right to own property as men do — so its omission was pretty well-established by the time Queen Elizabeth’s wedding came around.

Diana had the backing of the establishment when it came to her more modern vows, too. According to a New York Times article published a few weeks before her wedding to Prince Charles, Dr. Edward Carpenter, the Dean of Westminster Abbey, said that he was ”absolutely delighted” by the royal couple’s choice, calling it “Much more Christian.”

”Marriage is the kind of relationship where there should be two equal partners, and if there is going to be a dominant partner, it won’t be settled by this oath,” he declared. ”I think this is much more Christian.”

Was that dance for Prince Charles from The Crown real?

As any fan of The Crown will remember, there’s a jaw-clenching scene in which Princess Diana, played exquisitely by Emma Corrin, surprises a horrified Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) with a dance performance at the Royal Opera House. Given The Crown’s propensity to exaggerate for dramatic effect, you’d be forgiven for assuming the awkward episode was fictitious — but the dance at least actually happened.

In 1985, four years into their marriage, Princess Diana arranged an on-stage appearance at the Royal Opera House dancing with Wayne Sleep, a dancer with the Royal Ballet. As shown in The Crown, the pair performed a modern routine to Billy Joel’s classic Uptown Girl. No video footage of the routine exists, but photos show a smiling Diana in a white silk dress striking confident postures alongside Sleep — who was at the time the most famous dancer in Britain.

princess diana and wayne sleep
Princess Diana and Wayne Sleep. (Getty Images)

Sleep described the pair’s first rehearsal to The Telegraph in 2020. “I must confess I had had a bit of a late one and there she was waiting for me,” he explained. “She was wearing a headband, tights, a pink leotard and jazz shoes. She said ‘I have got this idea,’ and I thought ‘Oh God, she is towering over me.’” Sleep – the Royal Ballet’s smallest ever principal dancer – was 5’2, significantly shorter than Diana, who was over 5’8. “Of course I was worried,” he added. “It would look ridiculous and I didn’t want people grinning at us so I told her: ‘I don’t think this will work, Ma’am. You are so much taller.’”

Could Diana outsmart the paparazzi?

It’s no secret that Diana was hounded constantly by the paparazzi — and indeed, her son Prince Harry has laid much of the blame for her death on photographers’ obsession with selling photos of her. But though they undoubtedly kept as close an eye on Diana as they could, she was able to outwit them sometimes.

When the princess fancied switching up her hairstyle for a shorter, lighter ‘do, she and her stylist Richard Dalton came up with an ingenious means of ensuring the paps never picked up on it.

“Whatever I did to her hair became front page news,” he explained to Town and Country magazine. “We had to be very careful. We had to do it one-fourth of an inch at a time over several weeks.” Sounds like a high-maintenance solution, but given that Dalton was with Diana “every day for 12 years” anyway, the pair were in an ideal position to execute their scheme.

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