It was a memory indelibly engraved upon her soul. Diana Spencer sat quietly at the bottom of the cold stone stairs at her Norfolk home, clutching the wroughtiron banisters while all around her there was a determined bustle. She could hear her father loading suitcases into the boot of a car, then Frances, her mother, crunching across the gravel forecourt, the clunk of the car door being shut and the sound of a car engine revving and then slowly fading as her mother drove through the gates of Park House and out of her life. Diana was six years old. A quarter of a century later, it was a moment she could still picture in her mind's eye and she could still summon up the painful feelings of rejection, breach of trust and isolation that the break-up of her parents' marriage signified to her.
It may have happened differently but that was the picture Diana carried with her. There were many other snapshots of her childhood which crowded her memory. Her mother's tears, her father's lonely silences, the numerous nannies she resented, the endless shuttling between parents, the sound of her brother Charles sobbing himself to sleep, the feelings of guilt that she hadn't been born a boy and the firmly fixed idea that somehow she was a 'nuisance' to have around. She craved cuddles and kisses; she was given a catalogue from Hamleys toyshop. It was a childhood where she wanted for nothing materially but everything emotionally. 'She comes from a privileged background but she had a childhood that was very hard,' said her astrologer Felix Lyle.
The Honourable Diana Spencer was born late on the afternoon of 1 July 1961, the third daughter of Viscount Althorp, then aged 37, and Viscountess Althorp, 12 years his junior. She weighed 7lb 12oz and while her father expressed his delight at a 'perfect physical specimen' there was no hiding the sense of anticlimax, if not downright disappointment, in the family that the new arrival was not the longed-for male heir who would carry on the Spencer name. Such was the anticipation of a boy that the couple hadn't considered any girls' names. A week later they settled on 'Diana Frances', after a Spencer ancestress and the baby's mother.
While Viscount Althorp, the late Earl Spencer, may have been proud of his new daughter -- Diana was very much the apple of his eye -- his remarks about her health could have been chosen more diplomatically. Just 18 months previously Diana's mother had given birth to John, a baby so badly deformed and sickly that he survived for only ten hours. It was a harrowing time for the couple and there was much pressure from older members of the family to see 'what was wrong with the mother'. They wanted to know why she kept producing girls. Lady Althorp, then still only 23, was sent to various Harley Street clinics in London for intimate tests. For Diana's mother, fiercely proud, combative -- and tough-minded, it was a humiliating and unjust experience, all the more so in retrospect as nowadays it is known that the sex of the baby is determined by the man. As her son Charles, the present Earl Spencer, observed: 'It was a dreadful time for my parents and probably the root of their divorce because I don't think they ever got over it.'
While she was too young to understand, Diana certainly caught the pitch of the family's frustration, and, believing that she was 'a nuisance', she accepted a corresponding load of guilt -- and failure for disappointing her parents and family, feelings she learned later to accept and recognize.
Three years after Diana's birth the longed-for son arrived. Unlike Diana, who was christened in Sandringham church and had well-to-do commoners for godparents, baby brother Charles was christened in style at Westminster Abbey with the Queen as principal godparent. The infant was heir to a rapidly diminishing but still substantial fortune accumulated in the fifteenth century when the Spencers were among the wealthiest sheep traders in Europe. With their fortune they collected an earldom from Charles I, built Althorp House in Northamptonshire, acquired a coat of arms and motto -- 'God defend the right' -- and amassed a fine collection of art, antiques, books and objets d'art.
For the next three centuries Spencers were at home in the palaces of Kensington, Buckingham and Westminster as they occupied various offices of State and Court. If a Spencer never quite reached the commanding heights, they certainly walked confidently along the corridors of power. Spencers became Knights of the Garter, Privy Councillors, ambassadors and a First Lord of the Admiralty while the third Earl Spencer was considered as a possible Prime Minister. They were linked by blood to Charles II, the Dukes of Marlborough, Devonshire and Abercorn and, through a quirk of history, to seven American presidents, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, and to the actor Humphrey Bogart and, it is said, the gangster Al Capone.
The Spencer qualities of quiet public service, the values of noblesse oblige were well expressed in their service to the Sovereign. Generations of Spencer men and women have fulfilled the functions of Lord Chamberlain, equerry, lady-in-waiting and other positions at Court. Diana's paternal grandmother, Countess Spencer was a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, while her maternal grandmother, Ruth, Lady Fermoy was one of her Women of the Bedchamber for nearly 30 years. Diana's father served as equerry to both King George VI and the present Queen.
However, it was the family of Diana's mother, the Fermoys, with their roots in Ireland and connections in the United States, who were responsible for the acquisition of Park House, her childhood home in Norfolk. As a mark of friendship with his second son, the Duke of York (later George VI), King George V granted Diana's grandfather, Maurice, the 4th Baron Fermoy, the lease of Park House, a spacious property originally built to accommodate the overflow of guests and staff from nearby Sandringham House.
The Fermoys certainly made a mark on the area. Maurice Fermoy became the Conservative Member of Parliament for King's Lynn while his Scottish wife, who gave up a promising career as a concert pianist to marry, founded the King's Lynn Festival for Arts and Music which, since its inception in 1951, has attracted world renowned musicians such as Sir John Barbirolli and Yehudi Menuhin.
For the young Diana Spencer, this long noble heritage was not so much impressive as terrifying. She never relished visits to the ancestral home of Althorp. There were too many creepy corners and badly lit corridors peopled with portraits of long-dead ancestors whose eyes followed her unnervingly. As her brother recalled: 'It was like an old man's club with masses of clocks ticking away. For an impressionable child it was a nightmarish place. We never looked forward to going there.'
This sense of foreboding was hardly helped by the bad-tempered relationship which existed between her gruff grandfather Jack, the 7th Earl, and his son Johnnie Althorp. For many years they were barely on grunting, let alone speaking terms. Abrupt to the point of rudeness yet fiercely protective of Althorp, Diana's grandfather earned the nickname of 'the curator earl' because he knew the history of every picture and piece of furniture in his stately home. He was so proud of his domain that he often followed visitors around with a duster and once, in the library, snatched a cigar from out of Winston Churchill's mouth. Beneath this irascible veneer was a man of cultivation and taste, whose priorities contrasted sharply with his son's laissez-faire approach to life and amiable enjoyment of the traditional outdoor pursuits of an English country gentleman.
While Diana was in awe of her grandfather, she adored her grandmother, Countess Spencer. 'She was sweet, wonderful and very special. Divine really,' said the Princess. The Countess was known locally for her frequent visits to the sick and the infirm and was never at a loss for a generous word or gesture. While Diana inherited her mother's sparky, strong-willed nature she was also blessed with her paternal grandmother's qualities of thoughtfulness and compassion.
In contrast to the eerie splendours of Althorp, Diana's rambling ten-bedroomed home, Park House, was positively cosy, notwithstanding the staff cottages, extensive garages, outdoor swimming pool, tennis court and cricket pitch in the grounds, as well as the six full-time staff who included a cook, a butler and a governess.
Screened from the road by trees and shrubs, the house is substantial but its dirty, sand-brick exterior makes it appear rather bleak and lonely. In spite of its forbidding appearance, the Spencer children loved the rambling pile. When they moved to Althorp in 1975 on the death of their grandfather, the 7th Earl, Charles said goodbye to every room. The house was later turned into a Cheshire Home holiday hotel for the disabled; during visits to Sandringham Diana would occasionally visit it.
Park House was a home of atmosphere and great character. On the ground floor was the stone-flagged kitchen, the dark-green laundry room, domain of Diana's foul-tempered ginger cat called Marmalade, and the schoolroom where their governess, Miss Gertrude Allen -- known as 'Ally' -- taught the girls the rudiments of reading and writing. Next door was what the children called 'The Beatle Room,' a room devoted entirely to psychedelic posters, pictures and other memorabilia of Sixties pop stars. It was a rare concession to the postwar era. Elsewhere the house was a snapshot of upper-class English life, decorated with formal family portraits and regimental pictures, as well as the plaques, photographs and certificates which were testimony of a lifetime spent in good works.
From her pretty cream bedroom in the first-floor nursery, Diana enjoyed a pleasant prospect of grazing cattle, a patchwork of open fields and parkland interspersed with copses of pine, silver birch and yew. Rabbits, foxes and other woodland creatures were regularly seen on the lawns while the frequent sea frets which softly curled around her sash windows were evidence that the Norfolk coast was only six miles away.
It was a heavenly place for growing children. They fed trout in the lake at Sandringham House, slid down the banisters, took Jill, their springer spaniel for long rambles, played hide-and-seek in the garden, listened to the wind whistling through the trees and hunted for pigeons' eggs. In summer they swam in the heated outdoor swimming pool, looked for frogs and newts, picnicked on the beach near their private hut at Brancaster and played in their very own tree house. And, as in Enid Blyton's Famous Five children's books, there were always 'lashings of ginger beer' and the smell of something appetizing baking in the kitchen.
Like her elder sisters, Diana was on horseback aged three and soon developed a passion for animals, the smaller the better. She had pet hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs, her cat Marmalade, which Charles and Jane loathed, and, as her mother recalls, 'anything in a small cage'. When one of her menagerie died, Diana dutifully performed a burial ceremony. While goldfish were flushed down the lavatory, she normally placed her other dead pets in a cardboard shoe box, dug a hole beneath the spreading cedar tree on the lawn and laid them to rest. Finally, she placed a makeshift cross above their grave.
Graveyards held a sombre fascination. Charles and Diana frequently visited their brother John's lichen-covered grave in the Sandringham churchyard and mused about what he would have been like and whether they would have been born if he had lived. Charles felt that his parents would have completed their family with Diana while the Princess herself felt that she would not have been born. It was a matter for endless unresolved conjecture. In Diana's young mind her brother's gravestone, with its simple 'In Loving Memory' epitaph, was a permanent reminder that, as she later recalled: 'I was the girl who was supposed to be a boy.'
Just as her childhood amusements could have originated from the pages of a 1930s children's book, so Diana's upbringing reflected the values of a bygone age. She had a nanny, Kent-born Judith Parnell who took the infant Diana for walks around the grounds in a well-used, highly-sprung perambulator. Indeed, Diana's first memory was 'the smell of the warm plastic' of her pram hood. The growing girl did not see as much of her mother as she would have wished, and less of her father. Her sisters Sarah and Jane, her seniors by six and four years respectively, were already spending mornings in the downstairs classroom when she was born and by the time Diana was ready to join them they were packing their bags for boarding school.
Mealtimes were spent with nanny. Simple fare was the order of the day. Cereals at breakfast, mince and vegetables for lunch and fish every Friday. Her parents were a benign though distant presence and it wasn't until Charles was seven that he actually sat down to a meal with his father in the downstairs dining room. There was a formality and restraint to their childhood, a reflection of the way Diana's parents had been raised. As Charles recalled: 'It was a privileged upbringing out of a different age, a distant way of living from your parents. I don't know anyone who brings up children like that any more. It certainly lacked a mother figure.'
Privileged yes, snobbish no. At a very early age the Spencer children had impressed upon them the value of good manners, honesty and accepting people for what they were, not for their position in life. Charles said: 'We never understood the whole title business. I didn't even know I had any kind of title until I went to prep school when I started to get these letters saying: "The Honourable Charles". Then I started to wonder what it was all about. We had no idea that we were privileged. As children we accepted our circumstances as normal.'
Their royal nextdoor neighbours simply fitted in to a social landscape of friends and acquaintances who included the children of the Queen's land agent, Charles and Alexandra Loyd, the local vicar's daughter Penelope Ashton, and William and Annabel Fox, whose mother Carol was Diana's godmother. Social relations with the royal family were sporadic, especially as they only spend a small part of the year on their 20,000-acre Sandringham estate. A royal visit to Park House was such a rare event that when Princess Anne said she would call round after church service one Sunday there was consternation in the Spencer household. Diana's father didn't drink and staff frantically searched through the cupboards looking for a bottle of something suitable to offer their royal guest. Finally they found a cheap bottle of sherry, which had been won in a church bazaar, lying forgotten in a drawer.
Occasionally Princess Margaret's son, Viscount Linley, and the Princes Andrew and Edward might come to play for the afternoon but there certainly weren't the comings and goings many have assumed. In fact the Spencer children viewed their invitations to the Queen's winter home with trepidation. After watching a screening of the Walt Disney film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the private cinema, Charles had nightmares about a character called the Children Catcher. For Diana it was the 'strange' atmosphere of Sandringham itself which she hated. On one occasion she refused to go. She kicked and screamed her defiance until her father told her that it would be considered very bad manners if she didn't join the other children. If anyone had told her then that one day she would join the royal family she would have run a mile.
If the atmosphere at Sandringham was uncomfortable, at Park House it became unbearable as Diana's little world fell apart at the seams. In September 1967 Sarah and Jane went to boarding school at West Heath in Kent, a move which coincided with the collapse of the Althorps' 14-year marriage.
That summer they decided on a trial separation, a decision which came as a 'thunderbolt, a terrible shock' to Charles, horrified both families and shocked the county set. Even for a family with a penchant for turning a drama into a crisis, this was an exceptional event. They remembered how their marriage in 1954 was trumpeted as 'the society wedding of the year', their union endorsed by the presence of the Queen and Queen Mother. Certainly in his bachelor days Johnnie Spencer was the catch of the county. Not only was he heir to the Spencer estates, he also served with distinction as a captain in the Royal Scots Greys during World War Two and, as equerry to the Queen, he had accompanied her and Prince Philip on their historic tour of Australia shortly before his marriage.
The sophistication exuded by a man 12 years her senior was no doubt part of the attraction for the Honourable Frances Roche, the younger daughter of the 4th Baron Fermoy, who was an 18-year-old debutante when they first met. With her trim figure, vivacious personality and love of sports Frances caught the eye of many young men that season, among them Major Ronald Ferguson, father of Sarah, Duchess of York. However, it was Johnnie Spencer who won her heart and, after a short courtship, they married at Westminster Abbey in June 1954.
They obviously took the words of the Bishop of Norwich to heart. Just nine months after he had declared at their wedding: 'You are making an addition to the home life of your country on which, above all others, our national life depends,' their first daughter Sarah was born. They settled for a country life; Johnnie studied at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester and, following an uneasy spell on the Althorp estate, they moved to Park House. Over the next few years they built up a 650-acre farm, a sizeable chunk of which was bought with £20,000 of Frances's inheritance.
Tensions soon simmered beneath the impression of domestic harmony and marital bliss. The pressure to produce a male heir was ever-present and there was Frances's growing realization that a lifestyle which had seemed urbane to her in her youth was, on mature reflection, dull and uninspiring. The late Earl Spencer said: 'How many of those 14 years were happy? I thought all of them, until the moment we parted. I was wrong. We hadn't fallen apart, we'd drifted apart.'
As cracks appeared in the façade of unity, the atmosphere at Park House soured. In public the couple were all smiles, in private it was a different story. While the freezing silences, heated exchanges and bitter words can only be imagined, the traumatic effect on the children was only too evident. Diana clearly remembered witnessing a particularly violent argument between her mother and father as she peeked from her hiding place behind the drawing-room door.
The catalyst which provoked that indignation was the appearance in their lives of a wealthy businessman, Peter Shand Kydd, who had recently returned to Britain after selling a sheep farm in Australia. The Althorps first met the extrovert, university-educated entrepreneur and his artist wife, Janet Munro Kerr at a dinner party in London. A subsequent arrangement to go on a skiing holiday in Switzerland together proved a fatal turning point in their lives. Peter, an amusing bon viveur with an attractive bohemian streak, seemed to possess all the qualities Johnnie lacked. In the exhilaration of their affair Lady Althorp, 11 years his junior, did not notice his bouts of depression and black moods. That would come later.
On their return from holiday Peter, then aged 42, moved out of his London home leaving behind his wife and three children. At the same time he began to see Frances secretly at an address in South Kensington in Central London.
When the Althorps agreed to a trial separation, Diana's mother moved out of Park House into a rented apartment in Cadogan Place, Belgravia. It was then that the myth of 'the bolter' was born, that Frances had left her husband and deserted her four children for the love of another man. She was cast as the selfish villainess of the drama, her husband the innocent injured party. In fact when she left home Lady Althorp had already made arrangements for Charles and Diana to live with her in London. Diana was enrolled at a girls' day school, Charles at a nearby kindergarten.
When Frances arrived at her new home, to be followed weeks later by her children and their nanny, she had every hope that the children would be relatively unaffected by her marital breakdown, especially as Sarah and Jane were away at boarding school. During term-time the younger children returned to Park House at weekends while their father, Viscount Althorp stayed with them in Belgravia when he visited London. They were bleak meetings. Charles's earliest memory is playing quietly on the floor with a train set while his mother sat sobbing on the edge of the bed, his father smiling weakly at him in a forlorn attempt to reassure his son that everything was all right. The family was reunited at Park House for half-term and again during the Christmas holidays. But, as Mrs Shand Kydd later stated: 'It was my last Christmas there for by now it had become apparent that the marriage had completely broken down.'
That fateful visit was marked by a distinct absence of seasonal goodwill or tidings of joy for the future. Viscount Althorp insisted, against his wife's fierce objections, that the children return permanently to Park House and continue their education at Silfield School in King's Lynn. 'He refused to let them return in the New Year to London,' she said.
As the legal machinery for divorce ground into action, the children became pawns in an bitter and acrimonious battle which turned mother against daughter and husband against wife. Lady Althorp sued for custody of the children, an action started with every hope of success as the mother usually wins -- unless the father is a nobleman. His rank and title give him prior claims.
The case, which was heard in June 1968, wasn't helped by the fact that two months earlier Lady Althorp had been named as the 'other woman' in the Shand Kydds' divorce while, most galling of all, her own mother, Ruth, Lady Fermoy sided against her. It was the greatest betrayal of her life and one she never forgave. The Althorps' divorce went through in April 1969 and a month later on 2 May, Peter Shand Kydd and Lady Althorp married in a quiet register office ceremony and bought a house on the West Sussex coast where Peter could indulge his love of sailing.
It was not just the adults who were scarred by this vicious legal battle. However much their parents and the family tried to muffle the blow the impact On the children was still profound. Subsequently, family friends and biographers have tried to minimize the effect. They have claimed that Sarah and Jane were barely troubled by the divorce as they were away at school, that Charles, aged four, was too young to understand while Diana, then seven, reacted to the break-up with the unthinking resilience of her age or even regarded it as 'fresh excitement' in her young life.
The reality was more traumatic than many have realized. It is significant that at one time in their lives both Sarah and Diana have suffered from debilitating eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia respectively. These illnesses are rooted in a complex web of relations between mother and daughter, food and anxiety and, to use the jargon, 'malfunctioning,' family life. As Diana said: 'Parents were busy sorting themselves out. Always seeing my mother crying. Daddy never spoke to us about it. We never asked questions. Too many changes over nannies, very unstable, the whole thing.'
To the casual visitor Diana seemed happy enough. She was always a busy, tidy little girl, going around the house at night making sure all the curtains were drawn and tucking up the zoo of small furry animals which crowded her bed -- she kept them all her life. She raced around the driveway on her blue tricycle, took her dolls for walks in her pram -- she always asked for a new doll as a birthday present -- and helped to dress her smaller brother. The warm, maternal, caring streak which characterized her adult life was becoming evident in her daily life. There were more frequent visits to grandparents and other relations. Countess Spencer often stayed at Park House while Ruth, Lady Fermoy taught the children card games. In her elegant home, described as 'a little corner of Belgravia in Norfolk', she explained the intricacies of mah-jong and bridge. However, there was no disguising the bewilderment Diana felt.
Night-times were worst. As children, Diana and Charles were afraid of the dark and they insisted that the landing light was left on or a candle lit in their rooms. With the wind whistling in the trees outside their window and the night-time cries of owls and other creatures, Park House could be a creepy place for a child. One evening when their father casually mentioned that a murderer was on the loose in the vicinity, the children were too terrified to sleep, listening anxiously to every rattle, creak and squeak in the darkened house. Diana daubed luminous paint on the eyes of her cuddly green hippo so that at night it seemed as though he was keeping watch and looking after her.
Every night as she lay in her bed, surrounded by her cuddly toys, she could hear her brother sobbing, crying for his mother. Sometimes she went to him, sometimes her fear of the dark overcame her maternal instincts and she stayed in her room listening as Charles wailed: 'I want my mummy, I want my mummy.' Then she too would bury her head in the pillow and weep. 'I just couldn't bear it,' she later recalled. 'I could never pluck up enough courage to get out of bed. I remember it to this day.'
Nor did she have much confidence in many of the nannies who now worked at Park House. They changed with alarming frequency and ranged from the sweet to the sadistic. One nanny was sacked on the spot when Diana's mother discovered that her employee was lacing her elder daughters' food with laxatives as a punishment. She wondered why they constantly complained of stomach pains until she caught the woman redhanded.
Another nanny beat Diana on the head with a wooden spoon if she was naughty, or alternatively banged Charles and Diana's heads together. Charles recalled kicking a hole in his bedroom door when he was sent to his room for no good reason. 'Children have a natural sense of justice and if we felt they were unjust we would rebel,' he explained. Other nannies, such as Sally Percival, were kind and sympathetic and still receive Christmas cards from the 'children' today.
However, the task of a new nanny was made all the more difficult because the children, bewildered and unhappy, felt that the nannies had come to take the place of their mother. The prettier they were, the more suspicious Diana was of them. They put pins in their chairs, threw their clothes out of the window and locked them in the bathroom. In fact Charles's childhood experiences confirmed him in his decision not to employ a nanny for his own children.
Their father sometimes joined the children for tea in the nursery but, as their former nanny Mary Clarke recalled, 'it was very hard going. In those early days he wasn't very relaxed with them.' Johnnie buried himself in his work for Northamptonshire County Council, the National Association of Boys' Clubs and his cattle farm. Charles recalled: 'He was really miserable after the divorce, basically shell-shocked. He used to sit in his study the whole time. I remember occasionally, very occasionally, he used to play cricket with me on the lawn. That was a great treat.'
School simply cast the problem in another mould. Charles and Diana were 'different' and knew it. They were the only pupils at Silfield School whose parents were divorced. It set them apart from the start, a point emphasized by her former form captain, Delissa Needham: 'She was the only girl I knew whose parents were divorced. Those things just didn't happen then.'
The school itself was welcoming and friendly enough. Run by headmistress Jean Lowe, who gave evidence on Lord Althorp's behalf during the divorce case, it had a real family atmosphere. Classes were small and teachers were generous with house points and gold stars for achievements in reading, writing or drawing. Outside was a tennis court, a sandpit, a lawn for playing netball and rounders as well as a garden for weekly 'scavenger hunts'. Diana, unused to the hurly-burly of school life, was quiet and shy although she did have her friend Alexandra Loyd to keep her company.
While her handwriting was clear and she read fluently, Diana found the scholarly side rather confusing. Miss Lowe remembered her kindness to the smaller children, her love of animals and general helpfulness, but not her academic potential. She was good at art as well, but her friends couldn't explain why she burst into tears for no apparent reason during a painting class one sunny afternoon. They remember that she dedicated all her pictures to 'Mummy and Daddy'.
As she muddled through her 'tables' and Janet and John books, Diana became increasingly envious of her younger brother, who was remembered as a 'solemn' but well-behaved little boy. 'I longed to be as good as him in the schoolroom,' she said. As with all siblings there were fights which Diana, being bigger and stronger, invariably won. As she pinched, Charles complained. Soon he realized that he could wound with words, teasing his sister mercilessly. Both parents ordered him to stop calling his sister 'Brian', a nickname derived from a slow and rather dull-witted snail who featured in a popular children's TV show, The Magic Roundabout.
He had sweet revenge with the unexpected help of the local vicar's wife. Charles recalled, with relish: 'I don't know whether a pyschologist would say it was the trauma of the divorce but she had real difficulty telling the truth purely because she liked to embellish things. On the school run one day the vicar's wife stopped the car and said: "Diana Spencer, if you tell one more lie like that I am going to make you walk home." Of course I was triumphant because she had been rumbled.'
While the sibling competition was an inevitable part of growing up, far less bearable was the growing parental rivalry, conscious or not, as Frances and Johnnie vied with each other to win the love of their children. Yet while they showered their offspring with expensive presents this wasn't accompanied by the affectionate cuddles and kisses that the children craved. Diana's father, who already had a reputation locally for organizing splendid fireworks displays on Guy Fawkes Night, laid on a wonderful party for her seventh birthday. He borrowed a dromedary called Bert from Dudley zoo for the afternoon and watched with evident delight as the surprised children were taken for rides around the lawn.
Christmas was simply an exercise in extravagance. Before the big day Charles and Diana were given the catalogue for Hamleys, a large toyshop in London's West End, and told to tick what presents they wanted Father Christmas to bring. Lo and behold, on Christmas Day their wishes came true, the stockings on the end of their beds bulging with goodies. 'It makes you very materialistic,' said Charles. There was one present which gave Diana the most agonizing decision of her young life. In 1969 she was a guest at the wedding of her cousin, Elizabeth Wake-Walker to Anthony Duckworth-Chad held at St James's Piccadilly. For the rehearsal her father gave her a smart white dress and her mother an equally smart green dress. 'I can't remember to this day which one I got in but I remember being totally traumatized by it because it would show favouritism.'
That tightrope was walked every weekend when Charles and Diana took the train with their nanny from Norfolk to Liverpool Street station in London where their mother met them. Shortly after they reached her apartment in Belgravia the standard procedure was for their mother to burst into tears. 'What's the matter, Mummy?' they would chorus, to which she invariably answered: 'I don't want you to go tomorrow.' It was a ritual which resulted in the children feeling guilty and confused. Holidays, split between parents, were just as grim.
In 1969 life became more relaxed and carefree when Peter Shand Kydd was officially introduced into their lives. They first met him on the platform at Liverpool Street station during one of their regular Friday shuttles between Norfolk and London. Handsome, smiling and smartly suited, he was an immediate hit, all the more so when their mother told them that they had been married that morning.
Peter, who had made his fortune in the family wallpaper business, was a generous, demonstrative and easy-going stepfather. After a brief time in Buckinghamshire, the newlyweds moved into an unassuming suburban house called Appleshore in Itchenor on the West Sussex coast, where Peter, a Royal Navy veteran, took the children sailing. He allowed Charles to wear an admiral's hat and so his nickname 'The Admiral' was born. Diana he dubbed 'The Duchess', a nickname her friends still use. As Charles observed: 'If you want an insight into why Diana was not just some sort of spoilt toff it is because we had very contrasting lifestyles. It wasn't all stately homes and butlers. My mother's home was an ordinary set-up and every holiday we spent half the holiday with our mother so we were in an environment of relative normality for much of our time.'
Three years later in 1972 the Shand Kydds bought a 1,000-acre farm on the isle of Seil, south of Oban in Argyllshire, where Mrs Shand Kydd lives today. When the children came for summer holidays they enjoyed a 'Swallows and Amazon' idyll, spending their days mackerel fishing, lobster potting and sailing and, on fine days, having barbecues on the beach. Diana even had her own Shetland pony called Soufflé.
It was on horseback that she suffered a broken arm which made her anxious about riding afterwards. She was galloping on her pony, Romilly, in the grounds of Sandringham Park when the horse stumbled and she fell off. Although she was in pain, there was no evidence that the arm was broken and so two days later she went skiing to Switzerland. During the holiday her arm felt so lifeless that she went to a local Swiss hospital for an X-ray. She was diagnosed as suffering from a 'greenstick' fracture, a condition in which children's bones are so flexible that they bend, not break. A doctor strapped the arm but when she later tried to go riding again she lost her nerve and dismounted. She continued to ride in adult life but preferred to exercise by swimming or tennis, sports which were better suited to life in Central London.
Swimming and dancing were also activities at which she excelled. They stood her in good stead when her father enrolled her at her next school, Riddlesworth Hall, two hours' drive from Park House. She learned to love the school, which tried to be a home away from home to the 120 girls. However, her first feelings when she was sent there were of betrayal and resentment. Diana was nine and felt the wrench from her father keenly. In her motherly concerned way, she was cosseting him as he tried to pick up the pieces of his life. His decision to send her away from her home and brother into an alien world was interpreted as rejection. She made threats such as: 'If you love me, you won't leave me here' as her father gently explained the benefits of attending a school which offered ballet, swimming, riding and a place to keep her beloved Peanuts, her guinea pig. She had won the Fur and Feather Section with him at the Sandringham Show -- 'Maybe that was because he was the only entry,' she observed drily -- and later won the Palmer Cup for Pets' Corner at her new school.
Her father also told her that she would be among friends. Alexandra Loyd, her cousin Diana Wake-Walker and Claire Pratt, the daughter of her godmother Sarah Pratt, were also at the all-girls boarding school near Diss in Norfolk. Nonetheless, as he left her behind with her trunk labelled 'D. Spencer' and clutching her favourite green hippo -- girls were only allowed one cuddly toy in bed -- and Peanuts, he felt a deep sense of loss. 'That was a dreadful day,' he said, 'dreadful losing her.'
An excellent amateur cameraman, he took a photograph of Diana before she left home. It shows a sweet-faced girl, shy, yet with a sunny, open disposition, dressed in the school uniform which consisted of a dark red jacket and grey pleated skirt. He saved too the note she sent requesting 'Big choc. cake, ginger biscuits, Twiglets', just as he kept the clipping she sent him from the Daily Telegraph about academic failures who become gifted and successful later in life.
Although quiet and demure in her first term she was no goody-goody. She preferred laughter and skylarks to solid endeavour, but while she could be noisy she shied away from being the centre of attention. Diana would never shout out answers in class or volunteer to read the lessons at assembly. Far from it. In one of her first school plays where she played a Dutch doll, she only agreed to take the part if she could remain silent.
Noisy with her friends in the dormitory, she was quiet in class. She was a popular pupil but somehow she always felt that she was set apart. Diana no longer felt so different because of her parents' divorce but because a voice inside her told her that she would be separate from the herd. That intuition told her that her life was, as she said, 'going to be a winding road. I always felt very detached from everyone else. I knew I was going somewhere different, that I was in the wrong shell.'
However, she joined in the school's activities with gusto. She represented her house, Nightingale, at swimming and netball and developed her lifelong passion for dance. When the annual nativity play came around she enjoyed the thrill of putting on make-up and dressing up. 'I was one of those people who came and paid homage to Jesus,' she recalled with amusement. At home she loved donning her sisters' clothes. An early picture shows her in a wide-brimmed black hat and white dress owned by Sarah.
While she respected Jane, the sensible member of the foursome, she hero-worshipped her eldest sister. When Sarah returned home from West Heath school, Diana was a willing servant, unpacking her suitcases, running her bath and tidying her room. Her loving domesticity was noticed not only by Viscount Althorp's butler, Albert Betts, who recalls how she ironed her own jeans and performed other household duties, but also by her headmistress at Riddlesworth, Elizabeth Ridsdale -- Riddy to pupils -- who awarded her the Legatt Cup for helpfulness.
That achievement was greeted with satisfaction by her grandmother, Countess Spencer who had kept an affectionate eye on Diana since the divorce. The feeling was mutual and when, in the autumn of 1971, she died of a brain tumour, Diana was heartbroken. She attended her memorial service along with the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret at the Chapel Royal in St James's Palace. Countess Spencer held a very special place in Diana's heart and she sincerely believed that her grandmother looked after her in the spirit world.
These otherworldly concerns gave way to more earthly considerations when Diana took the Common Entrance exam to enable her to follow in the footsteps of her sisters, Sarah and Jane, at West Heath boarding school, set in 31 acres of parkland and woods outside Sevenoaks; in Kent. The school, founded in 1865 on religious lines, emphasized the value of 'character and confidence' as much as academic ability. Her sister Sarah had, however, shown a touch too much character for the liking of the headmistress, Ruth Rudge.
A competitor par excellence, Sarah passed six O-levels, rode for the school team at Hickstead, starred in amateur dramatic productions and swam for the school team. Her strong competitive streak also meant that she had to be the most outrageous, the most rebellious and the most undisciplined girl in school. 'She had to be the best at everything,' recalled a contemporary. While her grandmother, Ruth, Lady Fermoy forgave her when the exuberant redhead rode her horse into Park House when she was visiting, Miss Rudge could not excuse other instances of her colourful behaviour. Sarah complained that she was 'bored' and so Miss Rudge told her to pack her bags and leave for a term.
Jane, who captained the school lacrosse team, was a complete contrast to Sarah. Highly intelligent, she gained a hatful of O- and A-levels and, eminently sensible and dependable, she was a prefect in the sixth form when Diana arrived.
Doubtless there was discussion in the teachers' common room about which sister the latest Spencer recruit to Poplar class would emulate, Sarah or Jane. It was a close-run thing. Diana was in awe of her eldest sister but it wasn't until later in life that she forged a close relationship with Jane. During their youth Jane was more likely to put her weight and invective behind brother Charles than her kid sister. Diana's inevitable inclination was to imitate Sarah. During her first weeks she was noisy and disruptive in class. In an attempt to copy her sister Sarah's exploits she accepted a challenge which nearly got her expelled.
One evening her friends, reviewing the dwindling stocks of sweets in their tuck boxes, asked Diana to rendezvous with another girl at the end of the school drive and collect more supplies from her. It was a dare she accepted. As she walked down the tree-lined road in the pitch black she managed to suppress her fear of the dark. When she reached the school gate she discovered that there was no-one there. She waited. And she waited. When two police cars raced in through the school gates she hid behind a wall.
Then she noticed the lights going on all over the school but thought no more about it. Finally she returned to her dormitory, terrified not so much at the prospect of getting caught but because she had come back empty-handed. As luck would have it a fellow pupil in Diana's dormitory complained that she had appendicitis. As she was being examined, Diana's teacher noticed the empty bed. The game was up. It was not just Diana who had to face the music but her parents as well. They were summoned to see Miss Rudge who took a dim view of the episode. Secretly Diana's parents were amused that their dutiful but docile daughter had displayed such spirit. 'I didn't think you had it in you,' said her mother afterwards.
While the incident curbed her wilder high jinks, Diana was always game for a dare. Food was a favourite challenge. 'It was always a great joke: let's get Diana to eat three kippers and six slices of bread for breakfast,' says one schoolfriend. 'And she did.' Her reputation as a glutton meant that while she often visited the matron with digestive problems, these escapades did little harm to her popularity. On one birthday her friends clubbed together to buy her a necklace decorated with a 'D' for Diana. Carolyn Pride, now Carolyn Bartholomew, who had the next bed in Diana's dormitory and later shared her London flat, remembers her as a 'strong character, buoyant and noisy'.
She added: 'Jane was very popular, nice, unassuming but uncontroversial. Diana, by contrast, was much more full of life, a bubbly character.' Carolyn and Diana were drawn to each other from the start because they were among the only pupils whose parents were divorced. 'It wasn't a great trial to us and we didn't sit sobbing in a corner about it,' she says although other pupils remember Diana as a 'private and controlled' teenager who did not wear her emotions on her sleeve. It was noticeable that the two pictures which took pride of place on Diana's bedside dressing-table were not of her family but of her favourite hamsters, Little Black Muff and Little Black Puff.
However, she did fret constantly about her average academic abilities. Her sisters proved to be a hard act to follow while her brother, then at Maidwell Hall in Northamptonshire, was displaying the scholastic skills which later won him a place at Oxford University. The gawky teenager, who tended to stoop to disguise her height, longed to be as good as her brother in the classroom. She was jealous and saw herself as a failure. 'I wasn't any good at anything. I felt hopeless, a dropout,' she said.
While she muddled through at maths and science she was more at home with subjects involving people. History, particularly the Tudors and Stuarts, fascinated her while in English she loved books like Pride and Prejudice and Far from the Madding Crowd. That didn't stop her from reading slushy romantic fiction by Barbara Cartland, soon to be her step-grandmother. In essays she wrote endlessly, her distinctive, well-rounded hand covering the pages. 'It just came out of the pen, on and on and on,' she said. Yet when it came to the silence of the examination hall, Diana froze. The five O-levels she took in English literature and language, history, geography and art resulted in 'D' grades which were classed as fails.
The success which eluded her in the classroom did arrive, but from an unexpected quarter. West Heath encouraged 'good citizenship' in the girls, these ideas expressed in visits to the old, the sick and the mentally handicapped. Every week Diana and another girl saw an old lady in Sevenoaks. They chatted to her over tea and biscuits, tidied her house and did the odd spot of shopping. At the same time the local Voluntary Service Unit organized trips to Darenth Park, a large mental hospital near Dartford. Dozens of teenage volunteers were bussed in on Tuesday evening for a dance with mentally and physically handicapped patients.
Other youngsters helped with hyperactive teenagers who were so severely disturbed that to encourage a patient to smile was a major success story. 'That's where she learned to go down on her hands and knees to meet people because most of the interaction was crawling with the patients,' says Muriel Stevens, who helped organize the visits. Many new school volunteers were apprehensive about visiting the hospital, anxieties fed by their fear of the unknown. However, Diana discovered that she had a natural aptitude for this work. She formed an instinctive rapport with many patients, her efforts giving her a real sense of achievement. It worked wonders for her sense of self-esteem.
At the same time she was a good all-round athlete. She won swimming and diving cups four years running. Her 'Spencer Special', where she dived into the pool leaving barely a ripple, always attracted an audience. She was netball captain and played a creditable game of tennis. But she lived in the shadow of her sporty sisters and her mother, who was 'captain of everything' when she was at school and would have played at junior Wimbledon but for an attack of appendicitis.
When Diana started to learn piano, any progress she made was always dwarfed by the achievements of her grandmother, Lady Fermoy, who had performed at the Royal Albert Hall in front of the Queen Mother, and her sister Sarah, who studied piano at a conservatoire in Vienna following her abrupt departure from West Heath. By contrast her community work was something she had achieved on her own without looking over her shoulder at the rest of her family. It was a satisfying first.
Dance gave her a further chance to shine. She loved her ballet and tap-dancing sessions and longed to be a ballet dancer but, at 5ft 10 1/2 inches, was too tall. A favourite ballet was Swan Lake which she saw at least four times when school parties travelled to the Coliseum or Sadler's Wells theatres in London. As she danced she could lose herself in the movement. Often she crept out of her bed in the dead of night and sneaked into the new school hall to practise. With music from a record player providing the background, Diana practised ballet for hours on end. 'It always released tremendous tension in my head,' she said. This extra effort paid dividends when she won the school dancing competition at the end of the spring term in 1976. Little wonder then that during the build-up to her wedding she invited her former teacher Wendy Mitchell and pianist Lily Snipp to Buckingham Palace so that she could have dancing lessons. For Diana it was an hour away from the stresses and strains of her new-found position.
When the family moved to Althorp, in 1975 she had the perfect auditorium. On summer days she would practise her arabesques on the sandstone balustrades of the house and when the visitors had gone she danced in the black-and-white marble entrance hall, known officially as Wootton Hall, beneath portraits of her distinguished ancestors. They were not her only audience. While she refused to dance in public, her brother and staff took turns to look through the keyhole and watch her as she worked-out in her black leotard. 'We were all very impressed,' he said.
The family moved to Althorp following the death of her grandfather, the 7th Earl Spencer, on 9 June 1975. Although 83 he was still sprightly and his death from pneumonia following a short hospital stay came as a shock. It meant considerable upheaval. The girls all became Ladies, Charles, then aged 11, became Viscount Althorp while their father became the 8th Earl and inherited Althorp. With 13,000 acres of rolling Northamptonshire farmland, more than 100 tied cottages, a valuable collection of paintings, several by Sir Joshua Reynolds, rare books, and 17th-century porcelain, furniture and silver, including the Marlborough Collection, Althorp was more than just a stately home -- it was a way of life.
The new Earl also inherited a £2.25 million bill for death duties as well as £80,000-a-year running costs. This did not prevent him paying for the installation of a swimming pool to amuse his children who roamed around their new domain during the holidays. Diana spent her days swimming, walking around the grounds, driving in Charles's blue beach buggy and, of course, dancing. The staff adored her; they found her friendly and unassuming with something of a passion for chocolates, sweets and the sugary romances of Barbara Cartland.
She eagerly awaited the days when Sarah arrived from London bringing with her a crowd of her sophisticated friends. Witty and sharp, Sarah was seen by her contemporaries as the queen of the season, especially after her father had organized a splendid coming-of-age party in 1973 at Castle Rising, a Norman castle in Norfolk. Guests arrived by horse-drawn carriages and the path to the castle was lit by blazing torches. The lavish party is still talked about today. Her escorts matched her status. Everyone expected her relationship with Gerald Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster and Britain's wealthiest aristocrat, to end in marriage. She was as surprised as anyone when he looked elsewhere.
Diana was happy to bask in her sister's glory. Lucinda Craig Harvey, who shared a house in London with Sarah and later employed Diana as a cleaner for £1 an hour, first met her prospective charlady during a cricket match at Althorp. First impressions were not flattering. Diana struck her as 'a rather large girl who wore terrifying Laura Ashley maternity dresses'. She said: 'She was very shy, blushed easily and was very much the younger sister. Terribly unsophisticated, she certainly wasn't anything to look at.' None the less, Diana joined in the parties, the barbecues and the regular cricket matches with enthusiasm. These sporting contests between the house and the village ended with the arrival of a character who could have been dreamt up by Central Casting.
As a cryptic entry in the visitors' book noted: 'Raine stopped play.' Raine Spencer, later the Countess de Chambrun, is not so much a person but a phenomenon. With her bouffant hairdo, elaborate plumage, gushing charm and bright smile she was a caricature of a countess. The daughter of the outspoken romantic novelist Barbara Cartland, she already had a half-page entry in Who's Who before she met Johnnie Spencer. As Lady Lewisham and later, after 1962, as the Countess of Dartmouth, she was a controversial figure in London politics where she served as a councillor on the London County Council. Her colourful opinions soon gave her a wider platform and she became a familiar face in the gossip columns.
During the 1960s she became notorious as a parody of the 'pearls and twinset' Tory councillor with views as rigid as her hairdos. 'I always know when I visit Conservative houses because they wash their milk bottles before they put them out,' was one howler which contributed to her being booed off the stage when she addressed students at the London School of Economics.
However, her outspoken opinions masked an iron determination matched by a formidable charm and a sharp turn of phrase. She and Earl Spencer worked on a book for the Greater London Council called What is Our Heritage? and soon found they had much in common. Raine was then 46 years old and had been married to the Earl of Dartmouth for 28 years. They had four children, William, Rupert, Charlotte and Henry. During their schooldays at Eton, Johnnie Spencer and the Earl of Dartmouth had been good friends.
Raine wielded her overwhelming charm on both father and son, effecting something of a reconciliation between Earl Spencer and her lover during the Earl's final years. The old Earl adored her, especially as for every birthday and Christmas she bought him a walking stick to add to his collection.
The children were less impressed. Like a galleon in full sail, she first hove into view during the early 1970s. Indeed, her presence at Sarah's 18th birthday party at Castle Rising was the source of much muttering among the Norfolk gentry. A 'sticky' dinner at the Duke's Head hotel in King's Lynn was the first real opportunity Charles and Diana had of assessing the new woman in their father's life. Ostensibly the dinner was organized to celebrate a tax plan which would save the family fortune. In reality it was a chance for Charles and Diana to get to know their prospective stepmother. 'We didn't like her one bit,' said Charles. They told their father that if he did marry her they would wash their hands of them. In 1976 Charles, then 12 years old, spelled out his feelings by sending Raine a 'vile' letter while Diana encouraged a schoolfriend to write her prospective stepmother a poison pen letter. The incident which prompted their behaviour was the discovery, shortly before the death of Diana's grandfather, of a letter which Raine had sent to their father discussing her plans for Althorp. Her private opinions of the incumbent Earl did not match the way Diana and Charles saw her behave in public toward their grandfather.
With the family adamantly opposed to the match, Raine and Johnnie married quietly at Caxton Hall register office on 14 July 1977, shortly after he had been named in divorce proceedings by the Earl of Dartmouth. None of the children were told about the wedding in advance and the first Charles knew of his new stepmother was when the headmaster of his prep school informed him.
Immediately a whirlwind of change ripped through Althorp as the new mistress endeavoured to turn the family home into a paying proposition so that the awesome debts the new Earl had taken on could be paid off. The staff were pared to the bone and in order to open the house to paying visitors the stable block was turned into a tea room and gift shop. Over the years numerous paintings, antiques and other objets d'art were sold and often, claimed the children, at rock bottom prices while they described in disdainful terms the way the house was "restored'. Earl Spencer always stoutly defended his wife's robust management of the estate and said: 'The cost of restoration has been immense.'
However there was no disguising the sour relations that existed during this period between Raine and his children. She publicly commented on the rift when she spoke to newspaper columnist Jean Rook: 'I'm absolutely sick of the "Wicked Stepmother" lark. You're never going to make me sound like a human being, because people like to think I'm Dracula's mother but I did have a rotten time at the start and it's only just getting better. Sarah resented me, even my place at the head of the table, and gave orders to the servants over my head. Jane didn't speak to me for two years, even if we bumped in a passageway. Diana was sweet, always did her own thing.'
In fact, Diana's indignation at Raine simmered for years until finally it boiled over in 1989 at the church rehearsal for her brother's wedding to Victoria Lockwood, a successful model. Raine refused to speak to Diana's mother in church even though they were seated together in the same pew. Diana vented all the grievances which had been welling up inside her for more than ten years. As Diana challenged her Raine replied: 'You have no idea how much pain your mother put your father through.' Diana, who later admitted that she had never felt such fury, rounded on her stepmother. 'Pain, Raine, that's one word you don't even know how to relate to. In my job and in my role I see people suffer like you'll never see, and you call that pain. You've got a lot to learn.' There was much more in the same vein. Afterwards her mother said that was the first time anyone in the family had defended her.
However, in the early days of her tenure at Althorp, the children simply treated Raine as a joke. They played upon her penchant for pigeonholing house guests into their appropriate social categories. When Charles arrived from Eton, where he was then at school, he had primed his friends beforehand to give false names. So one boy said that he was 'James Rothschild', implying that he was a member of the famous banking family. Raine brightened. 'Oh, are you Hannah's son?' she asked. Charles's schoolfriend said that he didn't know before compounding his folly by spelling the surname incorrectly in the visitors' book.
At a weekend barbecue one of Sarah's friends wagered £100 that Charles couldn't throw his stepmother into the swimming pool. Raine, who appeared at this shorts and T-shirts party in a ballgown, agreed to Charles's request for a dance by the pool. As he tensed for a judo throw, she realized what was going on and slipped away. Christmas at Althorp with Raine Spencer in charge was a bizarre comedy, a sharp contrast to the extravagances of Park House. She presided over the present-opening like an officious timekeeper. The children were only allowed to open the present she indicated and only after she had looked at her watch to give the go-ahead to tear the paper off. 'It was completely mad,' said Charles.
The only bright spot was when Diana decided to give one of her presents away to a rather irascible nightwatchman. While he had a fearsome reputation, Diana instinctively felt that he was just lonely. She and her brother went to see him and he was so touched by her gesture that he burst into tears. It was an early example of her sensitivity to the needs of others, a quality noticed by her headmistress, Miss Rudge who awarded her the Miss Clark Lawrence Award for service to the school in her last term in 1977.
Diana was now growing in self-confidence, a quality recognized by her elevation to school prefect. When she left West Heath, Diana followed in sister Sarah's footsteps by enrolling at the Institut Alpin Videmanette, an expensive finishing school near Gstaad in Switzerland, where Diana took classes in domestic science, dressmaking and cookery. She was supposed to speak nothing but French all day. In fact she and her friend Sophie Kimball spoke English all the time and the only thing she cultivated was her skiing. Unhappy and stifled by school routine, Diana was desperate to escape. She wrote scores of letters pleading with her parents to bring her home. Finally they relented when she argued that they were simply wasting their money.
With her schooldays behind her, Diana felt as if some great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She visibly blossomed, becoming jollier, livelier and prettier. Diana was now more mature and relaxed and her sisters' friends looked at her with new eyes. Still shy and overweight, she was nevertheless developing into a popular character. 'She was great fun, charming and kind,' said a friend.
However, the blooming of Diana was viewed with jealous misgivings by Sarah. London was her kingdom and she didn't want her sister taking the spotlight away from her. The crunch came on one of the last of the oldstyle weekends at Althorp. Diana asked her sister for a lift to London. Sarah refused saying that it would cost too much in petrol to have an extra person in the car. Her friends ridiculed her, seeing for the first time how the balance in their relationship had shifted in favour of adorable Diana.
Diana had been the Cinderella of her family for long enough. She had felt her spirit suppressed by school routine and her character cramped by her minor position in the family. Diana was eager to spread her wings and start her own life in London. The thrill of independence beckoned. As her brother Charles said: 'Suddenly the insignificant ugly duckling was obviously going to be a swan.'
Copyright © 1992, 1997, 1998 by Andrew Morton
Her True Story in Her Own Words
Her True Story in Her Own Words
From her fairy-tale wedding and the births of her two wonderful boys to the stunning collapse of her marriage, Diana's luminous but troubled life transfixed millions. Despite enduring heartbreak, illness, and depression, she never wavered in her commitment to the less fortunate, or in her determination to make a better life for herself and her sons. This revealing book is the closest we will ever come to her autobiography -- a lasting and powerful testament to her courage and spirit.