The People’s Princess: Ways Princess Diana Was Just Like the Rest of Us
Diana wasn’t called the “People’s Princess” for no reason. From the moment she was crowned, Lady Diana Spencer was the most down-to-earth royal in history. Through her acts of kindness, her fierce advocacy and her ideas for modernizing the monarchy, she left a lasting mark on the royal family — whether they want to admit it or not.
Although she was known as a royal rebel to those in power, Diana brought an appealing sense of humanity and humility to her royal role, and the people adored her. Here are some fun and interesting ways that Princess Diana was just as pedestrian as the rest of us.
She Had a Complicated Relationship with Her M.I.L.
When Princess Diana joined the royal family, she was young, high-spirited and humble — and she wanted little to do with royal protocol. Her mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II, struggled to respect Diana due to her unwillingness to stick to royal customs.
As Diana struggled with her newfound royalty, the Queen was very sympathetic at first. However, she struggled to remain cool-headed when Diana’s behavior became more unpredictable. Diana’s choices often went against royal tradition, and that irked the Queen. Diana once said, “I don’t go by the rule book. I lead from the heart, not the head.”
She Used a Few Choice Words
Curse words from royals are few and far between. Although Princess Diana didn’t curse frequently — at least, not during public outings or interviews — one particularly vulgar curse hit tabloids in 1992 as rumors of her divorce from Charles swirled. “My life is just torture…Bloody hell, after all I’ve done for this f**king family…I’ll go out and conquer the world.”
While her use of the f-word took people aback, it’s hard to dismiss her reasonable frustrations. Through her humanity and connection with the commoners, she brought a modern approach to the monarchy — and the royal family wasn’t exactly grateful.
Her Sister Was Her Matchmaker
Surprisingly, Charles and Diana didn’t meet through the normal royal channels. By the time they met, Charles was in his early 30s, and his family members were pressuring him to marry. In November of 1977, Charles was dating Diana’s sister Sarah when he met her.
Was it awkward that Charles decide to pursue Diana instead of Sarah? Nope. Sarah was totally cool with her sister stealing her Prince. She told Time, “I wouldn’t marry anyone I didn’t love, whether he were the dustman or the King of England.” Sarah remained one of Diana’s favorite people throughout her life.
She Messed Up Charles’ Name at Their Wedding
Weddings are definitely a nerve-wracking experience for any bride and groom. Imagine hundreds of millions of people tuning in from around the world to watch. That’s a lot of pressure, right? Anyone experiencing that kind of stress could, understandably, lose their marbles. However, Diana somehow kept her cool — for the most part.
She remained perfectly graceful during the highly-publicized wedding, but she did make one “small” mistake during the ceremony — she called her husband by the wrong name. Instead of “Charles,” she said “Philip,” which is Charles’ middle name. Is there anything more hilariously human than forgetting your husband’s name during your own wedding?
She Went to Bed Whenever She Wanted
One royal protocol that is difficult for some to follow is that you absolutely don’t go to bed before the Queen. Diana hated this rule. The Queen’s private secretary, Sir William Heseltine, shared in a book interview, “For Diana, the long royal evenings were agony.”
“There’d be an hour or so in the sitting room of everyone sitting around making conversation, and nobody felt it right to go to bed before the Queen did. And Diana was driven to such extremes that she’d excuse herself and go to bed, which was thought to be rather bad form, going to bed before the Queen.”
She Wrote “Thank You” Notes for Gifts
Have you ever written — or maybe been forced to write — a “thank you” card for a Christmas or birthday gift? Diana did just that for the presents she received. Despite the fact that she was a royal and received thousands of gifts following her wedding and pregnancies, she hand-wrote a majority of the thank you cards herself.
These thoughtful notes were treasured by recipients, who understood how difficult it was for Diana to take time out of her hectic schedule to write them. In light of her never-ending engagements, Diana’s notes were a significant display of her inner generosity.
She Liked to Eat in the Kitchen (But Couldn’t Cook)
Darren McGrady, Princess Diana’s chef, shared that the princess often ate lunch or dinner alone, leaning over the countertop and chatting with the kitchen staff. “If she was on her own for lunch, she’d actually come and eat in the kitchen,” McGrady shared with HuffPost.
This was against royal protocol, but Diana didn’t care. Additionally, she frequently made coffee for both herself and McGrady on days when the chef was busy. However, Diana was supposedly a horrible cook. In fact, she was so bad that McGrady had to leave behind microwave meals for her on the weekends.
She Struggled with Her Mental Health
Diana suffered from severe depression and bulimia nervosa. On personal audio tapes, she shared that her bulimia began after “my husband…said, ‘Oh, a bit chubby here, aren’t we?’ and that triggered something in me…I got terribly, terribly thin. People started commenting, ‘Your bones are showing.'”
Diana, whose self-esteem was far too low most of the time, also shared that she had attempted to end her own life multiple times. “By October (1981), I was in a very bad way…I was trying to cut my wrists.” Although her struggles were emotionally devastating, her advocacy for mental health helped break the stigma that mental health issues were shameful and embarrassing.
She Had a Job Before Her Engagement
Before Diana became engaged to Charles, she worked at a series of low-paying jobs in London. Eventually, she scored a lovely position as a kindergarten teacher in London’s Pimlico district. She didn’t quit working simply because she was dating a prince.
Despite being in a relationship with Charles (who was filthy rich), Diana continued to work until her engagement to Charles was announced. She was the first bride in the royal family to have held a job before the announcement of her marriage. Sadly, joining the royal family meant that she had to give up her treasured teaching gig in 1981.
She Shared a Flat with Three Roommates
When she worked as a kindergarten teacher, Diana lived in a gorgeous flat with three of her closest gal pals. The luxurious three-bedroom apartment at 60 Coleherne Court was a gift from her parents and Diana’s favorite place to live.
She talked about her time living there on her tapes, stating, “It was juvenile, innocent, uncomplicated and above all fun…I laughed my head off there.” She described the experience of living with her friends there as being the happiest of her life. Her months in the laughter-filled flat preceded her unhappiest years with Charles at the palace.
She Wore Whatever She Wanted and Defined an Era of Style
A royal designer may have created Diana’s clothes, but that didn’t mean she gave up her own style. Princess Diana’s outfits epitomized some of the greatest British fashion trends of the ’80s. She often ignored royal protocol when picking what she wanted to wear, from bright-colored nail polish to bizarre pieces of jewelry.
She frequently wore short or low-cut dresses that opposed the modest royal style. Many of her dresses showed her shoulders (gasp!). She also rocked the color black, which was generally viewed as a color reserved for funerals or mourning among the royals. Diana was a rebel, and her personal style certainly reflected that.
She Advocated for Her Beliefs
In the past, members of the royal family often kept their personal opinions about controversial, political and social matters hidden. In contrast, Diana often expressed her thoughts on topics like mental illness, marriage, infidelity and politics. She voiced her boldest opinions in a fashion that no previous royal ever had before.
One of her most significant (and controversial) advocacy projects focused on efforts to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS during the AIDS crisis. She visited a number of HIV/AIDS clinics and hugged, touched and even kissed patients in the units. She helped change the way the world viewed HIV.
She Had a Hard Time in School
As a princess, she frequently used her powers for good, traveling all over the globe to expand her worldview and invest in charity work, and that included supporting organizations related to education. Although Diana was extremely bright, she had struggled when she was young to make good marks in school.
At the age of nine, Diana — previously homeschooled — was sent to a boarding school called Riddlesworth Hall. At 12, she attended West Heath Girls’ School to finish her education. Despite her intensive schooling, she failed her O-Level exams — equivalent to U.S. 10th grade — two times.
She Picked Her Engagement Ring from a Catalog
Diana’s means of attaining her gorgeous engagement ring wasn’t much different than that of any typical shopper at the time. Often, royals had their rings personally designed to create one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry just for them. What royal would purchase something that anyone else could buy?
Ultimately, Diana wasn’t concerned about having a personalized ring. Instead of demanding a custom piece for her wedding, she chose her engagement ring — a stunning 12-carat sapphire lined with 14 diamonds — from a Garrard’s catalog. The piece was not only beautiful, but also matched her piercing blue eyes.
She Snuck Out of the House
When you have royal status, outings are a big deal. You won’t catch any princes or princesses walking around in sweatpants, hoodies or sneakers with all the “regular” people. To hit the town, royals must choose a proper outfit, and they have to be prepared to be photographed at every turn.
Diana wasn’t always a fan of the grandness required to leave the house. When she wanted her own space, she snuck out in normal clothing. She would put on disguises, such as a ball cap or a wig and jeans, and leave the palace for fresh air, coffee or drinks.
She Rocked Out to ABBA
A look at the record collection of Princess Diana would reveal her love for artists like Bob Dylan, John Denver, Paul Simon and the Eagles. However, her favorite musical group of all time was the uber-popular Swedish band ABBA, who sang Dancing Queen and The Winner Takes It All.
It’s not difficult to understand why Diana, who loved to dance from a young age, adored the fresh sounds and beats of the Swedish group. Her son, Prince William, honored her long-term love of the band by having their music played at his 2011 wedding reception.
Her Favorite Film Was The Rocky Horror Picture Show
What’s not to love about The Rocky Horror Picture Show? This cult-classic boasts loving audiences across the globe, and one of its more coveted fans was Princess Diana. She couldn’t get enough of the bizarre musical comedy, and she made sure Tim Curry knew it.
Curry was performing at a theater in Austria when Princess Diana asked to speak with the actor. Of course, he agreed. A star-struck Diana expressed her gratitude to Curry for his fabulous role in Rocky Horror. She told him that the film “quite completed my education,” Curry shared on the radio show Fresh Air.
Her Childhood Wasn’t All That Grand
Princess Diana and her four siblings had a traumatic upbringing. Her parents were frequently in miserable conflict, and her father physically abused her mother. Diana believed a great portion of their sadness and misery was due to the death of the sibling born shortly before her, John.
In her tapes, Diana revealed, “It was a very unhappy childhood. Always seeing our mum crying…we could never ask questions. Very unstable, the whole thing.” She also stated, “The divorce helped me to relate to anyone else who is upset in their family life…I understand it. Been there, done that.”
She Showed Affection to Her Children
Before Diana’s era, royals were encouraged to not show affection toward their children. Kids were often left behind with nannies while their parents attended to their royal responsibilities. However, Diana didn’t want to sit on the sidelines of her children’s’ lives.
As a result, she tried to line up her schedules with her sons’ schedules, and they frequently traveled to royal engagements with her. Diana wasn’t afraid to be photographed hugging, holding and kissing her sons. In the documentary Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, Prince Harry said, “She was the best mum in the world. She smothered us with love.”
She Gave Her Kids a Normal Childhood
Diana wanted to give her boys a normal childhood. That meant showing them love but also exposing them to the world beyond the palace. The boys rode the bus, went to Disney (and stood in line for the rides), ate Happy Meals from McDonald’s and attended public school.
Both of her sons later expressed gratitude for the down-to-earth childhood their mother gave them. In Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, William shared, “She was very informal and really enjoyed the laughter and the fun. She understood that there was a real life outside of palace walls.”
She Had a Precious Nickname for William
Parents come up with cute names to call their children all the time, and Diana was no exception to this parental practice. When her eldest, William, was 2, she began to lovingly call him “wombat.” Where did this come from? On a trip to Australia, Diana and William saw one of the precious creatures in person.
In an interview with Today, William shared, “When we went to Australia with our parents, and the wombat, you know, that’s the local animal. So, I just basically got called that. Not because I look like a wombat. Or maybe I do.”
She Gave Hugs to Non-Royals
In the royal family, touching was once extremely taboo. Even stricter were the rules against touching non-royals. Royal protocol says that strangers, pedestrians and other people beyond the royal bubble are not allowed to touch members of the royal family.
However, Diana broke this rule quite often. She was known to give hugs, handshakes and smooches to children and sick and disabled individuals. Her affectionate attitude toward everyday people earned her the loving nickname “People’s Princess.” She was once quoted as saying, “It’s vital that the monarchy keeps in touch with the people. It’s what I try and do.”
She Crouched to Speak to Kids
If Diana was having a conversation with a child, she always crouched down to speak to them. Why was this so significant? She was the first royal to ever talk to young people at their eye level. She did this to ensure that they felt heard.
This action of respect earned her criticism from some of the royals but adoration from a wider audience. Majesty Magazine editor Ingrid Seward shared that Diana said, “‘If someone might be nervous of you or you’re speaking to a very young child or a sick person, get yourself on their level.”
She Was Sincere About Her Emotions
Up until Diana joined the royal family, royals didn’t publicly discuss their feelings. The press could report what they perceived to be true of the lives of the royals, but interviews and other media events were often choreographed, scripted and apathetic (or just pathetic).
However, Diana broke this tradition when she gave a raw and vulnerable interview on the BBC with Martin Bashir in 1995. She discussed her marriage, her burning love for another man and her frustrations with the royal lifestyle. Although this interview became infamous — and Diana immediately regretted it — at least, her sons and daughters-in-law can now discuss their feelings openly.
She Was a Killer Dancer
Along with being one of the kindest royals in history, Princess Diana had hidden talents. She loved to dance as much as she loved music. As a child, she even intended to become a ballerina, but she was too tall.
Anne Allan, her ballet teacher, told Bazaar, “She had dance in her soul. I realized the pure enjoyment that it gave her. She loved the freeness…I could see it helped to alleviate her emotional life.” As a princess, she danced with celebrities such as Wayne Sleep at the Royal Opera House and John Travolta at the White House.
She Loved to Play Piano
Diana could play a killer set on the piano. She knew how to perform a number of songs, including complex pieces. She had a gorgeous grand piano in her post-palace apartment, and she would sit and play for herself and her guests.
Her butler, Dickie Arbiter, remembers how emotional it was to watch her play. “Watching her in private…eyes closed, head back, playing chords of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 on her grand piano in the drawing room. A private picture of the woman I knew. Lonely but never alone…refusing to be silenced,” he shared with AARP Magazine.
She Took Off Her Heels When Her Feet Hurt
As a princess, Diana wore a variety of formal dresses, jewelry and shoes during outings. One section of her wardrobe that she absolutely rocked? Her heels. She wore a variety of incredible pumps during her time as a princess, in all different colors and styles.
However, she wasn’t immune to the foot-ache that came with wearing heels. Rather than sucking it up and dealing with the pain after the fact, she sometimes solved the problem immediately — by kicking off her heels in public. Who can blame her for wanting to wiggle her toes rather than rub them raw?
She Went to the Gym
With the pressure of royalty on her shoulders, Diana had enough anxiety to last her a few hundred lifetimes. Wisely, she developed an exercise routine to help her shake some stress. She spent mornings each week swimming, stretching or hitting the gym.
On the way to and from the gym, she was often seen wearing the same iconic workout gear that included a “Fly Atlantic” pullover gifted to her by Richard Branson. Her trainer, Jenni Rivett, told the New York Post that “photographers would gather…where we trained…she would purposefully wear the same outfit as a result.”
She Let Her Children Eat Junk Food
Pizza, fish sticks and McDonald’s hamburgers aren’t what most people imagine seeing on a royal menu. However, Diana ensured that her sons were able to eat what they wanted. This included some of the processed, sugary staples of childhood, such as fast food and potato chips, but not in excessive amounts.
Although the royals had a meal schedule, Harry and William would sneak into the kitchen for snacks and treats when they were hungry. Diana, who developed a healthier diet after her bulimia, felt that this behavior was perfectly okay. She wanted her sons to develop their own appetites.
She Thrived as a Single Woman
When Diana and Charles divorced, she was stripped of the title Her Royal Highness (at Charles’ insistence), although she remained Princess of Wales. However, this did not devastate her. Her life before her marriage to Charles was a happy time, and she was happy once again without him.
Diana dated again before her untimely death, and her boyfriend at the time sadly died with her in the wreck. However, she wasn’t lonely in between relationships. She was grateful for the ability to regain autonomy over her life. She was able to enjoy plenty of normal, quality time with her sons, which was all she ever wanted.