Things We Learned About Princess Diana After Her Death

Princess Diana has long been an object of curiosity and infatuation around the world. Her fashion, friendships, foes, and more have gripped our attention spans for more than a decade. Now, years after her death, this statement still holds true. Diana's vibrant personality and playful demeanor have rendered her both a starlet and relatable figure in the eyes of many.

Although every minute detail of Princess Diana's life seems to have been amplified in the press throughout the years — from her affairs to her struggles with mental illness — more secretive information didn't surface until after her tragic death in August 1997. Articles, novels, documentaries, recordings and more have presented little-known facts regarding everything from her friendships to her most vulnerable moments. This information has given the public more of an inside look into the life she lived, making her all the more beloved as a royal icon.

She snuck into a gay bar dressed in drag with Freddie Mercury

In her book "The Power of Positive Drinking," comedian Cleo Rocos describes an unusual bunch of friends: Princess Diana, Freddie Mercury, British comedian Kenny Everett, and Cleo herself. The hangout that Rocos described in her book was one filled with a viewing of "The Golden Girls," champagne, and a plan to hit up a south-London gay bar.

"Freddie told her that we were going to the Vauxhall Tavern — a rather notorious gay bar in London. Diana said that she had never heard of it and she'd like to come too," detailed Rocos. In order to avoid potential tabloid drama, the group disguised Diana as a man, allowing her to effortlessly sneak into the bar and enjoy an undercover night out. And thanks to Mercury's overwhelming popularity at the time, she did.

"She just wanted the thrill of going in, undetected, to order one drink and would then leave right away, she promised," wrote Rocos. "By this point, she had tried on the outfit Kenny had intended to wear — a camouflage army jacket, hair tucked up into a leather cap and dark aviator sunglasses."

She secretly recorded her life story on videotape

Sitting in a London cafe one morning, long-time author and journalist Andrew Morton made a discovery that would change his life — and the world — forever. In his book, "Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words," Morton detailed the first time he heard Diana's "unmistakable voice" on an audio recording that had been placed in his possession.

"It was like being transported into a parallel universe, the Princess talking about her unhappiness, her sense of betrayal, her suicide attempts and two things I had never previously heard of: bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder, and a woman called Camilla," wrote Morton. Diana had recorded these tapes with voice coach Peter Settelen as a form of therapy. According to a 2017 Telegraph article, the vocal coach sold Diana's tapes to Britain's Channel 4 after her death — much to the dismay of Diana's family, who claimed ownership of the tapes.

Her tapes were first discovered in a police raid of Diana's former butler

The Telegraph article also detailed how Diana's personal tapes were first discovered. The former royal butler to Diana, Paul Burrell, was found to have hoarded the princess' personal tapes after a 2001 police raid of his home. Yet, the tapes were considered to have contained exceptionally delicate information and were not used in the prosecution's case against Burrell.

An ABC News article published that Diana's former butler was holding onto more than just her tapes — he also accumulated 300+ items of the late princess. Articles of clothing, photos, and letters to family were also discovered in the raid. But in 2002, Burrell was found not guilty after the queen herself stepped in, explaining that Burrell had previously asked permission to take some of Diana's personal items. The Sun reported that after the news of Diana's tapes was made public, Peter Settelen (the man who helped Diana record the videotapes) sued in order to reclaim the what he believed was rightfully his. Eventually, Diana's tapes were placed in Settelen's possession, only to be sold by him to NBC in 2004.

The surprising reason why her affair with former cavalry officer James Hewitt ended

Many know of Prince Charles' infidelities within his marriage to Diana, but before her death, not many knew of Diana's numerous affairs. Ken Wharfe, Princess Diana's chief bodyguard, wrote of Diana's affair with playboy James Hewitt in his memoir "Diana: Closely Guarded Secret." The pair met at a party in 1986, and according to a transcript of Wharfe's memoir, "It was clear from the way she spoke that she adored the man, even after the affair had cooled."

But the affair didn't heat up until after Prince Harry's birth and after Diana became aware of her husband's affair with Camilla Parker Bowles. Diana and Hewitt would sneak off to her mother's countryside home in Devon, and with Wharfe's main responsibility being the protection of Diana, he went along. Unfortunately, the romance ended with Hewitt's stationing in Germany — a decision that Wharfe says was made due to the "emotional pressures placed on him by Diana." In other words, the playboy had had enough of his once-in-a-lifetime affair.

She also had an affair with Barry Mannakee ... who was allegedly killed because of it

Barry Mannakee was a bodyguard and alleged lover of Princess Diana. Curiously enough, in the spring of 1987, Mannakee was killed during a motorcycle accident after being thrown off the back on his colleague's bike. In tapes recorded by the princess' voice coach Peter Settelen, and later partially transcribed and published by BBC, Diana spoke coyly of Mannakee. "I just, you know, wore my heart on my sleeve. I was only happy when he was around," she said.

Also via the tapes, Diana voiced her suspicions surrounding Mannakee's death, saying she believed he was purposely killed off so the royal family could save face regarding their inappropriate relationship. In fact, Nicola Chopp, the woman charged with the death of Manneakee, doesn't fully believe that she herself is guilty of the death. Chopp told the Daily Mail, "I believe, with conviction, I was not the cause of Barry Mannakee's death," adding, "Accidents can be arranged and something suspicious happened that night. Words that sounded like police jargon were inserted into my police interview, such as 'offside,' a term that I have never used."

Her tumultuous friendship with Elton John

You might know of Diana's friendship with legendary singer Elton John, but you might not know of the rough patches that dotted their relationship. In an exclusive interview with The Sun, Elton revealed, "I loved her because she did so much for AIDS and was a great friend to me. We had out falling-outs but reconciled at the end."

According to a 2007 Vanity Fair article, Elton and Diana's brawl began after the publishing of "Rock and Royalty," a coffee table book by Gianni Versace. The campy publication, whose royalties donated to the Elton John AIDS Foundation, placed photos of the royal family around images of seemingly nude models — a creative liberty that surely would have angered members of the royal family, predominantly the queen. Elton and Diana's friendship almost permanently ended in a tiff, had they not reunited over the death of their mutual friend, Gianni Versace, later that year. "Gianni Versace was murdered then Diana rang me and we reconciled then, six weeks later, she's dead," Elton told The Sun.

We know her sister dated Prince Charles, but here's why it ended

You might've known that Diana wasn't the first in her family to date Prince Charles. In fact, her older sister Lady Sarah was, but it didn't get very far. According to a 2011 Mirror article written by the James Whitaker, the journalist who supposedly squandered the possibility of nuptials between Lady Sarah and Prince Charles, "Sarah was disarmingly frank about her boyfriend and declared she would not marry Charles 'if he were the dustman or the King of England.'"

As stated in the article, the journalist met the couple and a 16-year-old Diana in Klosters, a Swiss ski resort. He was then invited to a lunch in London where all of the juicy details of Sarah and Charles' short and sweet relationship would come to light — and subsequently be published. Allegedly, Prince Charles was wildly upset once he saw the published article and swiftly berated Lady Sarah for her thoughtless rambling. 

She attempted suicide ... more than once

In tapes released after her death, Diana starkly recounted her suicide attempts after having suffered from depression, bulimia, and the effects of Prince Charles' affair. Marie Claire published some of the audio transcripts from these tapes. "We stayed up there [at Balmoral] from August to October. I got terribly, terribly thin. People started commenting: 'Your bones are showing.' By October, I was in a very bad way. I was so depressed, and I was trying to cut my wrists with razor blades. ... I came down early [to London] to seek treatment, not because I hated Balmoral, but because I was in such a bad way," Diana revealed.

But the attempts didn't stop there. In a Daily Mail article written by Andrew Morton, author of "Diana: Her True Story," Morton references a second suicide attempt as detailed in the Diana tapes provided to him. "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," said Diana. Unfortunately, the attempt didn't phase Charles. "When he came back, you know, it was just dismissal..."

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Her last words

In an interview with The Sun, firefighter Xavier Gourmelon revealed what it was like to spend the last moments of Diana's life with her. On the night of August 31st, 1997, the princess was involved in a Paris car crash. 

"The car was in a mess and we just dealt with it like any road accident. We got straight to work to see who needed help and who was alive," he recounted to The Sun. According to Gourmelon, the princess was initially breathing, only to suffer cardiac arrest. "I held her hand and told her to be calm and keep still, I said I was there to help and reassured her. She said, 'My God, what's happened?'" described Gourmelon.

Sadly, the princess died from internal bleeding complications the following morning. Diana's lover, Dodi Fayed, and driver, Herni Paul, also perished in the crash, with the sole survivor being bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones. "To be honest I thought she would live. ... But I found out later she had died in hospital. It was very upsetting," Gourmelon told The Sun.

Princess Diana asked this celebrity for parenting advice

Katie Couric didn't spare anyone in her revelatory tell-all memoir "Going There" (via E! News), released in 2021, but one person the veteran news journalist saw fit to venerate was Princess Diana. As Insider noted, Couric gushed over the People's Princess in the tome, describing her as stunning and having boasted an exquisitely "girlish charm." Although Diana was one of the most famous women in the world when they met in 1996, the former "Today" host was struck by their similarities. "At one point she turned to me and said, 'I like your lipstick,' which took me by surprise," Couric revealed. "I was flattered that she'd noticed." 

The two women also bonded over parenting. Diana asked the former news anchor how she managed to keep her children from being permanently glued to the television, admitting to "having a terrible time with William and Harry," who were 13 and 11 at the time, respectively. Couric advised the Princess of Wales to simply "hide the remote." However, although their chat was amiable and light-hearted, there was a "sadness" to Diana, who was finalizing her divorce from Prince Charles at the time, too.

Was this Princess Diana's real true love?

Princess Diana's romantic relationships were consistently tabloid fodder, but, according to a royal expert, the love of her life was neither Prince Charles nor Dodi Fayed. Emma Cooper, the executive producer of CNN's docuseries "Diana," told Us Weekly (via Express) that Diana was actually head over heels for a heart surgeon named Dr. Hasnat Khan, whom she'd met in a London hospital, but she knew they could never be together. The two reportedly shared an "extraordinary long relationship" and the Princess of Wales was even ready to marry him. Sadly, such a union wasn't possible because they came from two completely different worlds.

As Cooper explained, marrying somebody like Diana "comes at a price" and Khan, a respected doctor, couldn't risk losing his status in the community to be with her. As a result, he "broke" Diana's heart, which ultimately led her to "settle" for Fayed, who also died as a result of the Paris car crash. Fayed, son of Mohamed Al-Fayed, who owned luxury department store Harrods, was more suited to the limelight. Being with him also gave Diana more "security," while leveling the playing field since they were similarly rich and famous.

Princess Diana empowered herself through fashion

Nowadays, Princess Diana is known predominantly for her humanitarian work and as an example of when the British tabloids go way too far to get a story. But she's also a bona fide fashion icon and, as it turns out, that was all by design. Amanda Wakeley, who met the Princess of Wales when she was still just an up-and-comer, got along well with her immediately, and the two formed a deep bond. As Wakeley told British Vogue, she made some of Diana's most empowering looks, including the perfectly tailored black blazer she wore to give a speech at the height of press intrusion into her eating disorder. Wakeley argued, "She used clothes to [send a] message very powerfully. Just look at the revenge dress."

Wakeley also pointed out that the People's Princess grew into her own sense of style after years of being in the public eye, and she credits much of that to their relationship. Acknowledging how young Diana was when she first came to prominence, Wakeley noted, "Diana used clothes to empower her. In the beginning, she was sort of wearing a costume. Her style became effortless as the years ticked on."

This was Princess Diana's sweet weekend ritual with her sons

They were royals, but underneath it all, Princess Diana and sons William and Harry were a regular family just like any other. The Mirror noted that former royal staffers have made it clear Diana wanted her boys to have as "normal" an upbringing as possible, even while growing up in a literal palace. William and Harry had royal chefs and nannies at their beck and call, but Diana was a famously hands-on parent. In particular, as her former butler Paul Burrell revealed, Saturday nights were their special time together. "The three of them would nip to McDonald's for a Big Mac and fries before coming back to watch 'Blind Date,'" he revealed, referencing the classic British dating show hosted by the legendary Cilla Black (via IMDb). 

The family's penchant for McDonald's is well-documented, with former palace chef Darren McGrady previously telling Marie Claire that Diana once told him to cancel lunch so they could hit up the fast food institution. McGrady offered to cook them burgers and fries himself, but Diana clarified the boys were after some Happy Meals so they could get the toys, too.

Princess Diana had more backbone than anybody realized

In the years since Princess Diana's death, we've heard repeatedly that she wasn't the woman the public knew. In fact, the beleaguered royal was much stronger and more competent than anybody truly appreciated. In an archival clip, featured as part of 2021 CNN docuseries "Diana," the princess and her new husband, Prince Charles, take part in a cringe-worthy interview during which they unconvincingly discuss their hopes for their future together. In particular, she sarcastically makes a quip about being "a good wife," joking that she couldn't be honest with Charles sitting right next to her, per People. As Angela Rippon, who conducted the interview back in the day alongside Andrew Gardner, reasoned in a follow-up chat, the moment was demonstrative of who Diana really was. 

She recalled, "There was something more to Diana, something that was not the marshmallow or the Play-Doh that was going to be molded into what they [the royals] wanted." Underneath it all was Diana's unbreakable sense of self, which would ultimately lead to her divorce from Charles. A press release for the series, in fact, noted it aims to demonstrate how Diana was "truly a blueprint for the modern woman."