The late Princess Diana and her ex-husband, Prince Charles, had a highly photographed relationship — which was par for the course, considering he’s the heir apparent to the British throne. When they got married, the world expected Diana to one day become the Queen of England. However, as the years went by, she became the “queen of people’s hearts” instead, which was the title she said she’d prefer to have during her infamous BBC1 Panorama interview in 1995. Despite the public’s adoration, she was never crowned queen, and the couple’s divorce was finalized in 1996 — a year before Princess Diana passed away following a tragic car accident in a Paris tunnel.
At the beginning of their courtship, it seemed like Prince Charles and Princess Diana had a true fairytale romance. Unfortunately, that could not be further from the truth. They tried to hide their troubles from the public eye, which became impossible, especially when they began to live separate lives in every possible sense. The world was watching their every move, and with so much going on behind the scenes, the truth was bound to leak throughout the course of their short-lived union.
From the surprising timeline of their relationship to the health struggles they ultimately failed to conceal, there were many convoluted layers to this royal coupling. Let’s find out the truth about Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s complicated marriage.
Prince Charles dated Princess Diana's sister first
In the 1970s, all eyes were on Prince Charles as he dated around, hoping to find a wife. According to The Sun, he had a fling with Princess Diana’s sister, Lady Sarah Spencer, in 1977. The following year, she said they were just friends, telling Time, “There is no chance of [me] marrying him. I’m not in love with him.” Describing Charles as a “romantic who falls in love easily,” Sarah claimed, “I wouldn’t marry anyone I didn’t love whether he were the dustman or the King of England.” She had some nice things to say, as well, sharing, “Charles makes me laugh a lot. I really enjoy being with him.”
However, Princess Diana had a different take on their relationship, according to transcribed audiotapes from 1991 that were later published by the Daily Mail. She recalled, “My sister Sarah was all over him like a bad rash, and I thought: ‘God, he must really hate that.'” Diana claimed that her sister dated the prince for nine months, noting that the three of them attended the same social events for “about two years” before she herself started dating Charles. When he invited both sisters to his 30th birthday in 1978, Diana claimed that her sister asked, “Why is Diana coming as well?'”
Lady Sarah Spencer became Lady Sarah McCorquodale when she married Neil McCorquodale in 1980. By 1981, she referred to herself as “Cupid” when Charles and Diana announced their engagement, boasting, “I introduced them.”
Prince Charles and Princess Diana got engaged after 12 dates
On Feb. 25, 1981, Prince Charles and Princess Diana (then Lady Diana Spencer) announced their engagement. She was 19 and he was 32 years old. Previously, he faced pressure to get married due to his age and status as heir to the British throne. “I think that Diana will keep me young, apart from anything else,” he told The Guardian, before predicting, “I think I shall be exhausted.” Meanwhile, she told the outlet, “No, I haven’t somehow thought about it. I mean, it’s only 12 years and lots of people have got married with that sort of age difference. I just feel you are as old as you think you are.”
“I feel positively delighted and frankly amazed that Di is prepared [to] take me on,” Prince Charles added. After years of speculation about who the Prince of Wales would marry, his courtship with Princess Diana actually progressed pretty quickly, and they tied the knot on July 29th of that year. In her book, Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life, Sally Bedell Smith asked, “Why did he marry Diana, who at twenty was twelve years younger than he and, more pertinently, a woman he barely knew after just a dozen dates?”
However, they actually met each other nearly four years prior in November 1977, when Diana was just 16 years old. Although they were just platonic friends at the time … as he was still dating her older sister, Lady Sarah Spencer.
Princess Diana secretly cooperated for a tell-all book about her life and marriage
In 1992, Andrew Morton released the book, Diana, Her True Story, which included information about Princess Diana’s marriage with Prince Charles. At the time, Palace officials adamantly denied that she cooperated in any way. Shortly after her untimely death, however, Morton admitted (via The New York Times) that she was his source, and changed the title to Diana, Her True Story — In Her Own Words.
Revealing that Diana gave recorded interviews, provided photographs, and approved every page, Morton shared transcripts of the audiotapes in a series of articles published by the Daily Mail in 2017. The recordings were also featured in the documentary, Diana: In Her Own Words. Per the Daily Mail, Morton explained that the princess knew he was researching her for a book. Then, she “gradually started testing” him by giving their mutual friend, Dr. James Colthurst, “snippets of information” for news articles. By 1991, Diana decided to cooperate for a book, but she couldn’t talk with Morton directly. Instead, Morton gave questions to Colthurst, who recorded her answers, and handed the tapes over to Morton. She even passed along love letters she claimed Prince Charles received from then-mistress Camilla Parker Bowles.
While the book was initially boycotted because people thought it was “a pack of lies” about Princess Diana, she was actually the one who provided all of the information. However, with time, she received supportive letters from fans with similar problems.
Prince Charles was with Camilla Parker Bowles during his marriage to Princess Diana
In 1992, Princess Diana and Prince Charles announced their separation. However, Queen Elizabeth II reportedly urged them to divorce soon after Diana’s headline-making 1995 Panorama interview with Martin Bashir. When asked whether Charles’ then-alleged affair with Camilla Parker Bowles “was a factor in the breakdown of [their] marriage,” Diana infamously answered, “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”
Let’s back up: In March 1981, footage surfaced of Princess Diana crying at the airport as Prince Charles departed. At the time, it seemed like she missed her fiancé. However, those tears were about something else. According to transcribed recordings released by the Daily Mail, Princess Diana said that moment “had nothing to do with him going,” revealing, “The most awful thing had happened before he went. I was in his study talking to him, when the telephone rang. It was Camilla … It just broke my heart.”
Claiming she’d once heard Charles tell Camilla, “Whatever happens, I will always love you,” Diana also found a personalized bracelet that Charles bought for Camilla ahead of their nuptials: “He took the bracelet, lunchtime on Monday. We got married on the Wednesday.” She recalled, “As I walked up the aisle, I was looking for [Camilla].” Discussing their honeymoon, she claimed, “At night, I dreamt of Camilla the whole time.”
Princess Diana died in August 1997. Prince Charles married Parker Bowles in April 2005.
Princess Diana admitted to affairs of her own
While speaking with the BBC’s Martin Bashir in 1995, Princess Diana opened up about her relationship with British Army soldier James Hewitt, who later wrote a tell-all book called Love and War.
“He was a great friend of mine at a very difficult, yet another difficult time, and he was always there to support me,” the princess said. “And I was absolutely devastated when this book appeared, because I trusted him, and because, again, I worried about the reaction [of] my children.” She admitted, “It was very distressing for me that a friend of mine, who I had trusted, made money out of me.” When Bashir asked whether their relationship went “beyond a close friendship” into being “unfaithful,” Diana responded, “Yes, I adored him. Yes, I was in love with him. But I was very let down.”
The Mirror reports that Diana also had an alleged affair with bodyguard Barry Mannakee in 1985. He sadly died from a motorcycle accident in 1987. In the Andrew Morton recording transcripts that were released in 2017, she discussed an affair, which seemingly alluded to Mannakee, but didn’t actually mention him by name. “When I was 24 or 25, I was deeply in love with someone who worked in this environment [security],” Diana shared. “… Eventually he had to go and then three weeks after he left he was killed in a motorbike accident.” She described him as “the greatest love I’ve ever had.”
Princess Diana claimed her bulimia started after Prince Charles called her 'chubby'
During her interview tapes for Andrew Morton’s book, Princess Diana opened up about her battle with bulimia during her marriage with Prince Charles. Claiming (via the Daily Mail) that it “started the week after [they] got engaged,” she alleged, “My husband put his hand on my waistline and said: ‘Oh, a bit chubby here, aren’t we?’ and that triggered off something in me. And the Camilla thing.”
The princess revealed, “The first time I was measured for my wedding dress, I was 29 inches around the waist. The day I got married, I was 23½ inches. I had shrunk into nothing from February to July.” Her struggle continued, even when she was pregnant with eldest son Prince William. “I couldn’t sleep, didn’t eat, [the] whole world was collapsing around me,” Diana shared. “Very, very difficult pregnancy indeed. Sick the whole time, bulimia and morning sickness.” Diana added, “I don’t know what my husband fed [the Queen]. He definitely told her about my bulimia. And she told everybody that was the reason why our marriage had cracked up, because of Diana’s eating, and it must be so difficult for Charles.”
Neither Prince Charles nor Queen Elizabeth II publicly addressed Princess Diana’s bulimia, but Prince William did during a 2017 documentary about eating disorders, declaring, “Mental health needs to be taken as seriously as physical health.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please contact the National Eating Disorder Association’s Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 or chat with one of their helpline volunteers on NEDA’s website.
Princess Diana's leaked conversation with James Gilbey led to 'Squidgygate'
A 1989 telephone conversation between Princess Diana and her longtime friend, car dealer and gin fortune heir James Gilbey, was secretly recorded and leaked three years later, according to the Mirror. Gilbey reportedly referred to Diana as “darling” more than 50 times and called her by a pet name, “Squidgy,” 14 times. As a result, the ordeal was deemed “Squidgygate.” According to 9Honey, they also appeared to blow kisses to one another, and Gilbey allegedly mentioned “playing with himself.” Meanwhile, Diana complained about the royal family and her marriage with Prince Charles, saying he made her life “real torture.”
During her 1995 BBC interview, Panorama‘s Martin Bashir asked, “What was your reaction when news broke of allegedly a telephone conversation between you and Mr James Gilbey having been recorded?” Diana recalled, “I felt very protective about James because he’d been a very good friend to me … and I couldn’t bear that his life was going to be messed up because he had the connection with me.”
She described Gilbey as “a very affectionate person,” but denied that they were more than friends: “The implications of that conversation were that we’d had an adulterous relationship, which was not true.” She also theorized that the conversation was published in order to “make the public change their attitude towards” her. Diana explained, “If we are going to divorce, my husband would hold more cards than I would — it was very much a poker game, chess game.”
Then Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles had 'Tampongate'
Not long after Prince Charles and Princess Diana called it quits, a transcript of a leaked call between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles was made public. During the graphic conversation, which took place in 1989, the Prince of Wales appeared to say, among other things (via the Mirror), “Oh, God. I’ll just live inside your trousers or something. It would be much easier!” Camilla replied, “What are you going to turn into, a pair of knickers? Oh, you’re going to come back as a pair of knickers.”
The word “knickers” is a British term for underwear, but that wasn’t the strangest part of their talk. Charles said, “Or, God forbid, a Tampax. Just my luck,” which Camilla deemed “a wonderful idea.” Unfortunately, the metaphor continued with a discussion about flushing a tampon down the toilet. Specifically, Camilla imagined that Charles would be “a box of Tampax, so you could just keep going.” The infamous conversation was referred to as “Tampongate” and “Camillagate.”
Josh O’Connor, who plays Prince Charles on The Crown, told SiriusXM’s EW Live (via ET Canada), “When they offered me the role, one of my first questions was — I say questions; I think it was pretty much a statement — ‘We are not doing the tampon phone call.'” That’s probably for the best.
Princess Diana said she attempted suicide five times when she was married to Prince Charles
In the taped interview Princess Diana recorded for Andrew Morton in 1991, she admitted to harming herself months after she and Prince Charles got married. Per the Daily Mail, she recalled, “I was so depressed, and I was trying to cut my wrists with razor blades,” noting that doctors put her on “high doses of Valium and everything else.”
The princess continued, “When I was four months pregnant with William I threw myself downstairs, trying to get my husband’s attention, for him to listen to me.” She claimed that Prince Charles told her she was “crying wolf” when she said she was going to hurt herself: “So I threw myself down the stairs. The Queen comes out, absolutely horrified, shaking — she was so frightened.” Another time, Princess Diana explained that she “wanted to talk to Charles about something,” but claimed “he wouldn’t listen to” her. She said she picked up a knife and “scratched [herself] heavily down [her] chest and both thighs.” She alleged, “There was a lot of blood — and he hadn’t made any reaction whatsoever.” She noted, “I was just so desperate.”
According to Morton, Princess Diana revealed that she’d attempted suicide five times throughout the marriage (via the Daily Mail).
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
Prince Charles was reportedly jealous of Princess Diana's popularity
When Princess Diana started dating Prince Charles, she was a relatively unknown teenager. Almost overnight, she became one of the most photographed women in the world. Diana even earned the nickname “The People’s Princess” because of how she interacted with the public during appearances. In 2018, Queen Elizabeth II’s cousin, Lady Elizabeth Anson, told People that it was not lost on Charles that, in the eyes of the public, “[Diana] sort of metamorphosed into a very, very elegant blonde beauty.”
During an appearance on the Fatal Voyage podcast, Paul Burrell, Princess Diana’s butler, claimed, “When the royal couple were doing engagements all around the world, the crowds wanted to see Diana and they would chant Diana’s name. And of course, Charles would come back from the engagement and be furious.” Burrell went on to allege that Charles would tell his wife, “Why do they want to see you? I married you and made you royal, you weren’t born royal. Why do they want to see you? I can’t understand it.”
Princess Diana’s former press secretary, Patrick Jephson, claimed on ITV’s Inside the Crown: Secrets of the Royals (via the Daily Mail), “Diana enjoyed upstaging her husband and if she was laughing and smiling more it wasn’t that she was having more fun but that she knew it got on his nerves.” It goes without saying that, decades after her tragic death, Princess Diana is still very popular.
Princess Diana did not want to divorce Prince Charles
Despite all of the drama in their relationship, it turns out that Princess Diana did not actually want to divorce Prince Charles. During her 1995 Panorama interview, she told Martin Bashir, “I think like any marriage, specially when you’ve had divorced parents like myself, you’d want to try even harder to make it work and you don’t want to fall back into a pattern that you’ve seen happen in your own family.” Confessing that she “desperately wanted it to work,” Diana revealed that she thought she and Prince Charles made “a very good team.”
However, after Andrew Morton’s book was released, the couple “got the lawyers together” and “discussed separation.” Of moving forward with their legal separation, Diana admitted to Bashir that she had “deep, deep, profound sadness,” but clarified, “My husband asked for the separation and I supported it … I come from a divorced background, and I didn’t want to go into that one again.” At that point, she claimed that they hadn’t discussed divorce, even though “the rest of the world seems to have.” After the interview aired, Queen Elizabeth II reportedly sent Princess Diana a letter, encouraging a divorce (via Express).
Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ divorce was finalized in August 1996, but their marriage will, most likely, be discussed forever — as there are still new revelations coming to light about their time together even decades later.
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