What Princess Diana's Life Was Like Before She Met Prince Charles

Throughout the royal family's history, few people have made a more significant impact than Princess Diana. Her doomed love story with Prince Charles played out in front of the whole world. Their lavish wedding was watched by 750 million people on TV (via the BBC). Diana became the "People's Princess" and one of the most popular celebrities of her generation. Her infamous BBC interview in 1995 drew in over 20 million viewers. After Diana's horrific death in 1997 sent the entire world into mourning, and her funeral was reportedly seen by 2.5 billion people, according to The New Daily.


But before her difficult life in the public eye as a member of the royal family, Diana was a fairly ordinary girl living a fairly ordinary life. Although she was a member of the British upper class, she lived her life in private and had small ambitions. Of course, when she met Prince Charles, all of that changed.

Diana grew up at Park House surrounded by members of the British royal family

Diana Spencer was born on July 1, 1961, into a well-known upper-class family that stretched back to the 15th century. In her early childhood, Diana lived at Park House, Sandringham (via Royal.uk). While Diana wasn't officially a member of the British aristocracy, her childhood was spent around them. According to the biography, "The Diana Chronicles," Queen Elizabeth II was her brother's godmother, and she was known to have "tea parties" with Prince Andrew (via Oprah Daily). "She had been around the royal family ever since she was a little girl because her father and her family lived on the Sandringham Estate and her father was what's called an [equerry] to the queen," explained royal biographer Ingrid Seward (via Elite Daily). 


Diana may not have been a member of the aristocracy as a child, but she certainly grew up in and amongst the royal family. In fact, according to Darren McGrady, author of "Eating Royally," Diana was given the nickname "Duch" as a child because "she always acted like a duchess" (via Daily Star).

According to her nanny, Diana had a happy, loving childhood

Mary Clarke, the one-time nanny of Princess Diana, wrote a biography about the princess's childhood called "Little Girl Lost: The Troubled Childhood of Princess Diana by the Woman Who Raised Her." While the book title describes Diana's childhood as "troubled," Clarke did explain that, for the most part, she was a happy child. "Diana had a happy, secure childhood," Clarke wrote. "From the moment I met her and worked with the family, I saw she was helpful, laughing, exuberant, loved by both her parents, and the apple of her father's eye." Clarke also explained that she would play with her brother Charles and go to bed at 8 p.m. every night (via The Los Angeles Times).


In another interview with the Express, Clarke described Diana as "a lovely child, a real English rose with rosy cheeks and that downward glance everyone got to know." She also revealed that Diana was well-behaved, shy, and friendly.

Diana was a tomboy as a child

In terms of Diana's interests during childhood, her favorite thing to do was spend time outdoors. As her nanny, Mary Clarke, said in the documentary "Diana at Sixty," "She was happiest in trousers and an old top. She wasn't in the least bit interested in clothes. She absolutely hated dressing up." In fact, Clarke recalled that making Diana wear a dress or skirt was no easy task. "She would go, 'Do I really have to do this? I don't see what it matters what I'm wearing, no one's going to look at me,'" said Clarke.


In another interview, Clarke revealed that Diana also loved her guinea pigs and dog. According to Diana's former music teacher, Penny Walker, she was also always good at sports in school (via Mirror and Express). It sounds like Diana could always be found running around outside as a child.

Diana dreamed of being a ballerina as a child

In addition to her love of the outdoors, Princess Diana was also passionate about dancing when she was young. In fact, according to the Mirror, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up as a teen, she replied, "I would love to be a dancer." As her former ballet teacher, Anne Allan said in the documentary "Diana: In Her Own Words," "She had dance in her soul, and I realized the pure enjoyment that it gave her." She went on to explain that Diana's passion for dance was perhaps a way for her to deal with emotional trauma in her life (via Popsugar). Another former dance teacher, Wendy Mitchell, said in the documentary "Diana," "Here, in the ballet class was somewhere she could shine" (via Express).


Sadly, Diana was unable to pursue her passion for ballet as a career because of her height. As Reader's Digest pointed out, at 5 feet 11, she was simply too tall to become a professional ballerina — apparently, dancers are all around 5 feet 5 inches.

Diana's parents divorced when she was 7 leaving her distraught

After a relatively happy childhood, Princess Diana's life changed when her parents split up when she was seven years old. As her nanny, Mary Clarke, said in "Diana At Sixty" (via Mirror), "Diana's father told me that out of all the children she had been the most disturbed at the break-up." Apparently, Diana began to act up, locking nannies in the bathroom or putting their clothing on the roof as she was afraid they would leave the household. It seems she was terrified of more change.


Diana's brother, Charles, also recalled his sister's reaction to their parents' separation. "Diana and I had two older sisters who were away at school, so she and I were very much in it together and I did talk to her about it," he told The Sunday Times. "Our father was a quiet and constant source of love, but our mother wasn't cut out for maternity. Not her fault, she couldn't do it. While she was packing her stuff to leave, she promised Diana [then aged five] she'd come back to see her. Diana used to wait on the doorstep for her, but she never came."

Diana moved to Althorp House after her grandfather's death

After her grandfather's death, Princess Diana and her family moved into Althorp House in 1975. The massive home in Northampton had been in the Spencer family since 1508 — you may remember it from the movie "The Duchess." The estate holds a jaw-dropping 31 bedrooms, a ballroom, numerous historical portraits, and a vast library.


"I remember my sister, Diana, in the main entrance hall — she was very keen on tap dancing... everytime I go through that hall I can remember the clacking of the tap dancing as she practiced," Charles said in the documentary "Secrets of Althorp: The Spencers" (via YouTube). "What a wonderfully spoiling place to grow up when you've got all of this beauty and privacy and safety for children," he said. "You know, a lot of our life centered around just the park land."

Years later, Althorp House became Diana's final resting place, and visitors can visit the grounds and several staterooms (via Insider).

Diana didn't like her father's new wife

In 1976, Diana's father remarried the socialite Raine Legge. The children weren't told about the wedding or invited to the party (via Oprah Daily). According to the documentary "Princess Diana's 'Wicked' Stepmother," Diana and Legge did not get along well. According to Tatler, Diana and her siblings gave their stepmother the nickname "Acid Raine," and the children would sing "Raine, Raine, go away" at her (via The Sun). However, after her father fell ill and Legge helped to nurse him back to health, Diana began to appreciate her stepmother a little more, writing her a letter that read, "Daddy is so lucky to have you" (via the Daily Mail).


In 1989, years after marrying Prince Charles, Diana even reportedly pushed Legge down the stairs — "which gave me enormous satisfaction," as she told biographer Andrew Morton. Eventually, Diana and Legge became friends in the '90s.

Diana had a schoolgirl crush on Charles

As a teenager, Princess Diana didn't have any serious ambitions to marry Prince Charles — but she did harbor a big teen crush on him. As a teenager at boarding school, Diana would allegedly tell her friends that she wanted to be a dancer "or Princess of Wales" (via Mirror).


As Diana's cousin, Diana Macfarlane, said in a documentary, Diana had liked Charles from afar ever since she was 14 or 15 years old."We all used to have pictures of various pop stars that we liked. The Monkees, Rod Stewart, people like that," she said. "I can tell you she used to have photographs of Prince Charles around her bed at West Heath. With Diana, it was always pictures of Prince Charles. She had a schoolgirl crush on him for a very long time" (via The Sun). It's easy to see how the young Diana would have been swept off her feet when she met him at 16.

Diana wasn't a very good student

While Princess Diana may have been clever, she didn't exactly excel when it came to school. According to The Sun, she failed her O-Levels twice (high school exams) and was often a troublemaker. As her music teacher, Penny Walker, said, "She was often slightly in the background with a smile on her face, as though she was just going to be very naughty, which she usually was" (via Mirror).


Diana ended up dropping out of school when she was 16 after failing her exams. In later life, this may have led to some of her insecurities. "I think one of the problems with Diana was that she never got a proper education," royal author Mary Kenny told Woman and Home. "She had a terrible inferiority complex about that, and said that she was as thick as two planks."

According to the Mirror, Diana's former headmistress Jean Lowe said that she stood out for her kindness and helpfulness rather than her academic intelligence.

Diana went to a finishing school in Switzerland

Shortly after Diana left school without finishing her exams, she was sent to a finishing school in Switzerland called Institut Alpin Videmanette. According to the Express, this was a suitable alternative to university at the time. Apparently, the school was taught entirely in French, which Diana struggled to speak and understand. During her time at the school, she became even more shy and afraid to engage with her classmates and teachers.


As Howard Hodgson wrote in his 2007 biography, "Charles: The Man Who Will Be King," "The result was that she had difficulty fitting in socially, and her class work — which she had always found difficult enough in her native tongue — was now nothing short of pathetic" (via Showbiz CheatSheet). Apparently, Diana begged her father to let her come home. "If you love me, you won't leave me here," she allegedly wrote to him. After just one term, she dropped out of the finishing school and returned to England.

Diana lived in an apartment in London

After returning from Switzerland in 1978, Princess Diana moved to London into an apartment with three friends: Carolyn, Anne, and Virginia (via The Sun). For a year or so, her life was incredibly relatable. In the princess's book "Diana: Her True Story — In Her Own Words," Diana recalled returning to her flat after getting engaged to Prince Charles. "I came back [to the flat] and sat on my bed. 'Girls, guess what?' They said: 'He asked you. What did you say?' 'Yes please,'" Diana wrote. "They screamed and howled and we went for a drive around London with our secret. I rang my parents the next morning."


Diana's flatmates were also interviewed at the time, giving some insight into the nature of their apartment. Apparently, Carolyn had been "on the loo" when Diana returned with the news, and Virginia had run in and "grabbed her." The three then explained that they had champagne for breakfast the next day (via Cosmopolitan).

Diana worked as a kindergarten assistant and nanny

While living in London, Princess Diana had a few real-life jobs, working as a kindergarten assistant and a nanny. "I adore children, that's really why," she told an interviewer at the time (via YouTube). As a nursery assistant, Diana worked at Young England Kindergarten in Pimlico, London (via The Sun). As Diana once said, she got the job "through friends," adding, "I wanted to teach children, and they said, 'Well, why not come along.' So I first started off doing afternoons, and then I took over the mornings and did whole days."


She worked there three days a week. "The other two I looked after an American baby boy — which nobody seems to realize — who was very special to me," she said. As Mary Robertson, the mother of the child, later said, "She came to us just as Diana Spencer. She did not tell me that she was seeing Charles... We'd chat often; she'd stand in the doorway as I blow-dried my hair and put on makeup" (via Time).

Prince Charles dated Diana's older sister

When Prince Charles first met Princess Diana, she was only 16 — a little too young for him to take out on a date. In fact, at the time, Diana wasn't dating anyone. "She never dated; she used to go out with friends in groups," Herbert Harry, an old friend of Diana's, said, adding, "Prince Charles was the first man she dated. She was very much head over heels in love" (via Time).


But before she dated Charles, he dated her older sister, Sarah, in 1977. The pair were a pretty good match, as they were both known for having numerous love affairs, but their relationship ended when Sarah reportedly said she'd never marry Charles "​​if he were the dustman or the King of England" (via Mirror). However, Sarah does consider herself responsible for introducing Charles to her sister. "I introduced them; I'm Cupid," she once said to The Guardian.

Diana thought she was ready for married life at 19

When Princess Diana and Prince Charles got engaged, she was just 19 years old — he was 12 years her senior. And, according to reports, she had never dated anyone else. Despite this, Diana claimed that she wasn't worried about their age gap. "It's only 12 years and lots of people have got married with that sort of age difference," she told The Guardian. "I just feel you are as old as you think you are."


As Diana later explained in her infamous 1995 BBC interview (via PBS), she thought she was "prepared for everything." Plus, she had been confident that she could make her marriage work. "I think like any marriage, especially when you've had divorced parents like myself, you'd want to try even harder to make it work and you don't want to fall back into a pattern that you've seen happen in your own family," she said. "I desperately wanted it to work, I desperately loved my husband and I wanted to share everything together, and I thought that we were a very good team." Her only concern at the time, she said, was the press.

Of course, Diana later learned that she and Charles weren't a great match and that their age difference did matter.