Diana Frances Spencer was born on July 1, 1961 (she would’ve been 57 this Sunday) to John Spencer, the 8th Earl Spencer and his first wife, Frances (later, Frances Shand Kydd). She was the fourth of five children, but her brother, John, died in infancy. She had two older sisters, Sarah and Jane, and one younger brother, Charles, who is now the 9th Earl Spencer.
In 1969, when she was 7 years old, Diana’s parents divorced. Her brother, Charles, told PEOPLE that the split, which saw her mother leaving the family home, was hard on her. “[It] was tough on Diana,” he said. “She used to sit on the doorstep at Park House and wait for her to come back.”
Both her parents remarried — her mother wed Peter Shand Kydd, a businessman, in 1969, and her father wed Raine, who was the Countess of Dartmouth before her marriage to Diana’s father in 1976. When John inherited the Earldom following his father’s death in 1975, the family relocated to Althorp, the Spencer family seat.
Though school was not Diana’s strong suit (Charles said she found schoolwork “tricky”), she did do well in other areas, such as piano and dance.
After graduating from school, she moved to London, where she worked as a nanny and a nursery school teacher.
She first met Prince Charles in 1977, when he was dating her sister, Sarah. They reunited in 1980 and the two began dating. After spending time with the royal family at Balmoral, the Queen’s Scottish residence, and on the royal yacht Britannia, Queen Elizabeth and other members of the royal family expressed their approval of Diana. It wasn’t long before Prince Charles proposed in 1981.
Diana and Charles made their first joint public appearance in March 1981, at a ball in London, where she met Grace, Princess of Monaco.
They married on July 30, 1981, at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, in a wedding watched by over 750 million people around the globe.
The ceremony, which was dubbed a “fairy tale” by the press and public, catapulted Diana to global-level stardom.
After the ceremony at St. Paul’s, the whole family came together on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, where Charles and Diana kissed for the crowds below.
The couple honeymooned on Brittania and in Balmoral. It has since been revealed that the cracks in the foundation of Charles and Diana’s relationship were apparent even then: Sally Bedell Smith, author of Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life, said that the two clashed during the first few weeks of their marriage — and Diana used the honeymoon to “catch up on sleep.”
Charles and Diana announced they were expecting their first child on November 5, 1981, and Prince William was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in London on June 21, 1982.
She and Charles took then 9-month-year-old William with them on an official visit to Australia and New Zealand in March 1983, a decision that was unprecedented at the time. On the trip, she and Charles posed in front of Ayers Rock in Australia — a photo that William and his wife, Princess Kate, recreated on their 2014 trip to the country with their son, Prince George.
As the Princess of Wales, Diana traveled the world. Here, at the White House in 1985, she dances with John Travolta in a now-iconic photograph.
Their second child, Prince Harry was born two years later, on September 14, 1984. Here, the family gathers for a photo after Harry’s christening at the Music Room in Buckingham Palac, while William steals the show at the front.
Diana was committed to giving her children as normal a life as possible, something both William and Harry still praise her for today. Here, she and Harry sit together during a summer vacation to Mallorca in 1988.
That also included dropping them off at school when she could, as she did here for Harry’s first day in 1989.
In 1989, Diana attends a polo match with William.
In the documentary Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, Harry said of Diana: “Our mother was a total kid, through and through. When everybody says to me, ‘So she was fun, give us an example,’ all I can hear is her laugh in my head. That sort of crazy laugh of where there was just pure happiness shown on her face.” That memorable laugh is seen here, during a family trip to Thorpe Park, an amusement park.
Diana wears the Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara — one of her favorites — in Hong Kong.
By 1992, tensions between Charles and Diana were at an all-time high. In November, they took what would be their final trip together, to South Korea. In December, Prime Minister John Major announced their separation.
Charles’s affair with his ex-girlfriend Camilla Parker-Bowles was revealed to the public in 1994, as was Diana’s own affair with her riding instructor, James Hewitt. Shortly after Charles’s admission, Diana wore this black stunner to a party at London’s Serpentine Gallery, which became affectionately dubbed the “revenge dress.”
Though they were separated, Charles and Diana continued to attend events together on occasion, like this VJ Day commemoration in August 1995. That same year, Diana gave a bombshell interview to BBC’s Panorama where she discussed Charles’s affair with Camilla and her feelings about the royal family.
On August 28, 1996, Charles and Diana divorced. She lost her “Her Royal Highness” style, but retained the title of Princess of Wales. She dated a few men in the years after her divorce, most notably heart surgeon Hasnat Khan and businessman Dodi Al-Fayed. She visited Pakistan in the year of her divorce.
Diana’s often remembered for her charity work, and her fearless activism in support of several causes. One of the most notable was HIV/AIDS. She made waves by shaking hands with people who were suffering from AIDS, a move seen as revolutionary in a time when worries about “catching HIV” were at a high.
She also was a strong supporter of the homeless. In 1995, she made a speech in defense of the charity Centrepoint. Her sons continue to work with the organization today.
In January 1997, she visited Angola with the Halo Trust, continuing her advocacy against land mines. A cause Harry champions today.
In 1997, just a few months before she died, Diana held an auction of her clothes at Christies in N.Y.C., which raised over $3 million. At the auction, she chats with her stepmother, Raine, Countess Spencer.
In August 1997, Diana visited Sarajevo, Bosnia, where she met with victims of land mines and continued her advocacy against the use of land mines worldwide.
Just a few weeks later, Diana was in Paris with her then-boyfriend, Al-Fayed. They were in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma on August 31, 1997, that killed both her and Al-Fayed, as well as the driver, Henri Paul.
After her death, there was an outpouring of public mourning and sympathy. Flowers, cards and photos covered every inch of space outside of Kensington Palace, Diana’s London home.
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