In Depth

Princess Diana: 10 surprising things we've learnt since her death

21 years on from her death in a tragic accident, interviews reveal much about Diana and her loveless marriage

On 31 August 1997, news of Princess Diana's death in a Paris road tunnel stunned a nation and the world. The outpouring of grief for the 36-year-old was unprecedented and has never been repeated.

Two decades after her death, countless documentaries, books and interviews have been published, shedding new light on Princess Diana's life as a royal and her life after her divorce as Diana, Princess of Wales.

Here are ten things we have learnt about Britain's beloved royal since her death:

Diana's thoughts on dating and marrying Prince Charles

Lady Diana Spencer met Prince Charles in 1977 at Althorp, the Spencer family estate. She was 16. He was 29. They got engaged after only meeting a handful of times. During their first evening together as a couple, Diana recalls that Prince Charles "chatted (her) up" and was all over her "like a bad rash". In the early days of their marriage, their sex life was unfulfilling ("sort of once every three weeks"), she told her voice coach, Peter Settelen, on videos made in 1992 and 1993

Three years after they first met, the couple married at St Paul's Cathedral in London – a televised wedding watched by 750 million people worldwide – but, even at that point, appearances were deceiving.

In a letter to James Hewitt, the British cavalry officer who later became her lover, Diana wrote: "As I was walking down the aisle of St. Paul's on my father's arm, I thought, 'What on earth am I doing here?'" 

On Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles

Diana spoke to close friends in the 1980s about her suspicions that her husband was having an affair with his old flame Camilla Parker Bowles.

Diana told her voice coach that Parker Bowles (now Duchess of Cornwall) was a huge strain on the marriage: "If I could write my own script I would have my husband go away with his woman and never come back."

Famously, to Martin Bashir in the BBC Panorama interview in 1995, Diana referred again to Camilla Parker Bowles: "Well, there were three of us in the marriage, so it was a bit crowded." 

Diana's eating disorder

During the early years of her marriage, Diana developed an eating disorder that was an open secret among the royals.

"Everyone in the family knew about the bulimia, and everyone blamed the bulimia for the failure of the marriage," Diana said in the recording aired this year on Channel 4's documentary Diana: In Her Own Words.

The eating disorder was the most "discreet" way to harm herself, Diana said, rather than alcohol or anorexia.

On her affair with cavalry officer James Hewitt

While still married, Diana began a five-year affair with cavalry officer James Hewitt in 1986. Diana, who was linked to many men, confessed to the affair in the BBC Panorama programme.

Diana's former protection officer, Ken Wharfe, also wrote about the relationship in his book Diana: Closely Guarded Secret: "Hewitt, a natural womaniser, gave her the attention and affection she relished, and then the passion she yearned for."

On conspiring with her biographer to publish "Diana: Her True Story"

In 1992, Andrew Morton's bestselling biography, Diana: Her True Story, finally lifted the lid off Diana's unhappy life, shattering the fairy tale wedding myth.

The writer had met Diana only briefly when Morton began writing her story. Morton, however, knew Dr. James Colthurst, a close friend of Diana's, who invited him to a cafe to hear recordings on a battered tape recorder.

"For 20 minutes or so I listened as the familiar voice of the Princess of Wales spilt out a tale of woe: her loneliness; her desperation; her husband's relationship with a friend's wife, Camilla Parker Bowles; her illnesses; and suicidal impulses," Morton says

Dr Colthurst then acted as a go-between, allowing Morton to write questions, which Diana answered on six long tape recordings, telling her side of the story for the book.

On Diana's divorce

Diana shared details of her 'grim' divorce with singer and close friend George Michael in 1996, The Sun reported. 

In a call recorded on his answer phone, Diana discussed her break-up, saying: "It's been pretty grim, but we're near the end of it...Not a very loving, compassionate family, this one I'm leaving."

On her affair with Dodi al Fayed

Much has been written about Mohamed al Fayed's playboy son Dodi. Was he the man who swept her off her feet? Or the man she planned to dump, as the Daily Mail reports?

Diana's personal assistant, Jackie Allen, told the newspaper that Diana called her from Dodi's yacht. 

"She said how much she was looking forward to getting home, and there was something in the way she said it that gave me the impression she was actually saying, 'I'm bored with this now'. It's very much a personal view, but I don't think she would have seen Dodi again once she got back." Allen said.

Princess Diana's last conversation with her sons

The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry were at Balmoral, the Queen's private Scottish home, and were playing with their cousins when their mother called from Paris. They were in a hurry to hang up and the call still weighs on their minds, the princes said in the documentary Diana, Princess of Wales.

They both regret how short the chat was, with Harry saying it was something he would regret "for the rest of my life". Asked if he remembers what his mother said, William replied "I do", but he did not disclose details of the conversation.

On the night of her death in Paris in 1997

The 36-year-old divorcee and Dodi al Fayed, 41, were staying at the Ritz Hotel in Paris in late August when they were driven at high speed to Dodi's apartment in a Mercedes S-280. The car crashed into a pillar in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel, just after midnight. Diana, Dodi, and driver Henri Paul, all died. Diana's bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones survived.

Her former butler, Paul Burrell, told reporters that he's haunted by questions about the tragedy. Why had the couple left the hotel late at night, instead of staying in Dodi's suite at the Ritz? "Knowing her, she'd rather be tucked up in bed early", Burrell said.

Burrell questioned why safety-conscious Diana was not wearing a seatbelt that evening: "She always wore a seatbelt… so why wasn't she that night?"

Diana's dying words

Fireman Xavier Gourmelon was one of the first responders to the crash and vividly recalls the night Diana died. Gourmelon told The Express that he found her alive in the back of the car. He could see that Diana's right shoulder was slightly injured but did not see any blood. 

"I held her hand and told her to be calm and keep still, I said I was there to help and reassured her. She said, 'My God, what's happened?'"

Diana was placed on a stretcher. An official report said that the royal suffered a ruptured blood vessel next to her heart, which caused internal bleeding and other injuries. Hours later, Diana was pronounced dead at 4am.

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