Article related image

8 Fascinating Facts You Might Not Know About Princess Diana

Diana, Princess of Wales, was — and arguably, still is — one of the most famous women in the world. From the time she began dating Prince Charles in 1980 to her tragic death in 1997 at age 36, she was constantly photographed by paparazzi, surrounded by crowds, and the subject of daily headlines, whether truthful or not. Detractors and fans alike scrutinized almost every facet of her life. "It took a long time to understand why people were so interested in me," Diana once said.

While it feels like every detail about the People’s Princess’ short, but impactful life is well-known — thanks to a constant stream of books, articles, TV, and film projects (including this season’s Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart) — some stories haven’t grabbed as much attention. Here are eight lesser-known facts about the royal.

Baby Diana Waited a Week for Her Name

Diana Spencer on a blanket at Park House, Sandringham, Norfolk on her first birthday.
Credit: PA Images via Getty Images

When Diana was born on July 1, 1961, her parents had been hoping for a son. They already had two girls and had lost a baby boy who died shortly after his birth in January 1960. Her father, due to inherit an earldom, desperately wanted a male heir. Diana's parents were so focused on having a boy that they hadn't come up with names in case their newborn turned out to be a girl. A week passed before Diana was named Diana Frances Spencer. Frances honored her mother, while Diana was a nod to the Spencer family tree.

Diana Had Her Own Royal Heritage

Portrait of Charles II of England in robes sitting on his throne.
Credit: Fine Art Images/ Heritage Images via Getty Images

Before Diana married into the British royal family, she had her own royal connections via her ancestors; illegitimate offspring of Kings Charles II and James II had joined the aristocratic Spencer line. Thanks to her lineage, Diana actually had more English royal blood than Prince Charles, as the Windsors have strong Germanic ties. Charles' great-grandfather, King George V, changed the family name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor in 1917, due to tensions with Germany during World War I.

Diana Left School at 16

When Diana was a 15-year-old student in June 1977, she took her O level (ordinary level) exams. These standardized tests are supposed to demonstrate mastery of different subjects; in Diana's case, English literature, English language, history, art, and geography. Unfortunately, she failed all these exams, perhaps due to anxiety or lack of studying. She then failed a second attempt at her O levels later that year.

After her O level failures, Diana had to leave school when she was 16. Even after becoming a princess, she remembered this setback with a degree of shame. A 1985 documentary recorded her telling a boy at a children's home, "I never got any O levels: brain the size of a pea, I've got."

Diana Didn’t Say “Obey” in Her Marriage Vows

 Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales in a carriage on their wedding day.
Credit: Anwar Hussein/ WireImage via Getty Images

Diana was only 20 when she wed Prince Charles, who was 12 years her senior. Despite being so young, she was willing to buck royal tradition when it came to her 1981 wedding vows. Other royal brides, even Queen Elizabeth II, had stuck to traditional Church of England wording from 1662 and promised to "obey" their husbands (men were not required to say they would obey their wives). Diana instead opted for the church's updated marriage service. At the altar, she told Charles she would "love him, comfort him, honor, and keep him, in sickness and in health."

Though Diana never met future daughter-in-laws Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, they followed in her footsteps by omitting "obey" in their wedding ceremonies.

Diana Loved To Dance

Princess Diana dancing with John Travolta in Cross Hall at the White House during an official dinner on November 9, 1985
Credit: Pete Souza/ The White House via Getty Images

Dance was a longtime passion of Diana's. After years of ballet, tap, and ballroom lessons, she won a school dance competition in 1976. And she didn't abandon dancing when she became a princess. She even asked ballet dancer Wayne Sleep for lessons in the early 1980s; his schedule couldn't accommodate her, but he found a colleague to teach her.

After seeing a performance of the musical Cats, Diana and Charles visited Andrew Lloyd Webber backstage. According to Webber's memoir, Charles remarked on the dancing and Diana demonstrated some splits herself. At the White House in November 1985, First Lady Nancy Reagan prompted John Travolta to ask Diana to dance; they impressed onlookers as they shared the floor in one of the famous photo ops of Diana’s life. In December 1985, Diana stunned Charles at the Royal Opera House — though not in a good way — with an onstage choreographed number with Sleep, set to Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" (an incident depicted on The Crown). Sleep later said, "She loved the freedom dancing gave her."

Diana Went Clubbing With Freddie Mercury

According to actress Cleo Rocos, in the late 1980s she, Diana, comedian Kenny Everett, and rock star Freddie Mercury once got together to watch reruns of The Golden Girls, the sound muted so they could spice up the dialogue themselves. Diana then wanted to join the group on their outing to a gay bar that night. Some were hesitant, but Mercury said, "Go on, let the girl have some fun." Hidden by sunglasses and a cap, Diana was able to sneak into the bar. She remained unrecognized and, per Rocos, "She loved it."

That wasn’t the only time Diana went under disguise for a night out on the town. Shortly before her sister-in-law Sarah Ferguson (aka Fergie) wed Prince Andrew on July 23, 1986, Diana, Fergie, and others donned police outfits and staged a fake arrest in front of Buckingham Palace for a bachelorette party prank. They were picked up by a police van, but released once the officers realized who their passengers were. After this, Diana and the gang, still in disguise, headed to a nightclub. They only left when they were recognized.

Diana Considered Starring in a Sequel to “The Bodyguard”

Kevin Costner standing and looking in the distance in The Bodyguard.
Credit: TCD/Prod.DB / Alamy Stock Photo

After the success of 1992’s The Bodyguard with Whitney Houston, Kevin Costner wanted to replicate the successful formula in a sequel that would feature his bodyguard character watching over a post-divorce Diana instead of a popular singer. And, of course, the pair would fall in love. With help from Fergie, Costner was able to speak to Diana about the project. She was interested enough to discuss her lack of acting experience, and also asked if there would be "a “kissing scene." However, Diana passed away before anything came to fruition.

Diana Walked Through a Cleared Minefield ... Twice

Princess Diana wearing protective body armor and a visor while walking on a minefield being cleared by the charity Halo in Huambo, Angola
Credit: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

Following her divorce from Prince Charles, Diana decided to bring attention to the dangers and devastation of landmines. In January 1997, she traveled to Angola to meet with victims of these mines. She famously walked through a cleared — but still dangerous, should any explosives have been missed or improperly deactivated — path in an active minefield.

But what some may not know is that when some photographers said they needed a second take, Diana didn't object — she walked through the field once more because she realized how important those images would be. Pictures of Diana made it to the front pages of papers around the world. Mike Whitlam of the British Red Cross said, "It was Diana's involvement in the anti-personnel landmines that made this appalling weapon of war a global issue and persuaded many countries to sign the Ottawa Convention. Her involvement made a real difference, not just to those people running the charities, but to those people who were helped by them." In 1997, after Diana's death, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to campaigners to ban landmines.

You Might Be Interested In