In a speech in London the Princess hinted media attention played a role in her decision. There was also speculation that she had been pressed to leave the limelight by courtiers loyal to the Prince of Wales.
The Princess, 32, told charity workers attending the Headway National Head Injuries Association lunch that she had realised there would be some media attention when she started in public life 12 years ago. 'But I was not aware of how overwhelming that attention would become, nor the extent to which it would affect both my public duties and my personal life in a manner that's been hard to bear. At the end of this year, when I have completed my diary of official engagements, I will be reducing the extent of the public life I have led so far.'
The Princess asked for 'time and space' in coming months to devise 'a more suitable way of combining a more meaningful public role with, hopefully, a more private life'. Her priority would continue to be her children, Princes William and Harry. A trip to a Moscow children's hospital has been postponed and a Japanese visit cancelled. It has been emphasised that the decision is not a prelude to the Princess seeking a divorce so that, in theory, she is still entitled to become Queen.
It is thought she will concentrate her charity work on a handful of causes with which she feels a special affinity. The Prince of Wales will continue to pay the living and working expenses of the Princess from his pounds 2.5m annual income from the Duchy of Cornwall.
Michael Fabricant, a Tory member of the Commons national heritage committee, which recently condemned publication of photographs of the Princess exercising in a private gym, said: 'I very much hope she was not motivated by press intrusion.'