Diana 1961-1997: The legacy - Earl spoke in revenge for his lonely childhood

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Earl Spencer's devastating attack on the Royal Family and the tabloid press was, like the best forms of revenge, served up cold after a week of calculated preparation. But the seeds of its ferocity were planted long ago.

His desire that the Princess of Wales's sons should be sheltered from the "duty and tradition" of a cold, emotionless, royal upbringing has its roots in his own childhood, an impersonal rearing within a broken home.

His loathing of the tabloid press is well known. It was nurtured during the years he watched his sister being hounded by the paparazzi and it bloomed when some newspapers printed pictures of his emaciated former wife, Victoria, receiving treatment for bulimia at a private clinic.

When Charles Edward Maurice Spencer was christened at Westminster Abbey 33 years ago, the Queen was his principal godparent. His is an astonishingly wealthy family that began making vast sums of money from sheep farming in Northamptonshire 500 years ago. The family estate, Althorp, was bought in the 16th century with the proceeds of the trade.

The Earl's childhood was shattered by the divorce of his parents in 1967 when his mother, Frances Ruth Burke Roache, ran off with Johnny Shand- Kydd - an event which, of course, attracted the attentions of the press. His parents vied for his and Diana's affections in material ways but there appears to have been a cold distance between him and his father, Johnnie, the eighth Earl.

When Johnnie married his second wife, Raine, the children were not told of the wedding in advance. Charles is reputed to have been told about it by his prep school headmaster: the children allegedly called her "Acid Raine" thereafter.

The young Charles and Diana enjoyed privileged childhoods, playing together in the grounds of Royal Sandringham, another family estate. But Andrew Morton in his book Diana, Her True Story tells of fears they shared and of their unhappiness over their parents' divorce.

"As children, Charles and Diana were afraid of the dark and they insisted that the landing light was left on or a candle lit in their rooms. Every night as [Diana] lay in her bed, surrounded by her cuddly toys, she could hear her brother sobbing, crying for his mother."

Charles attended Eton, where he was remembered as quiet but loyal, and Magdalen College, Oxford. In 1989 he married Victoria but their relationship broke down despite the arrival of a daughter, Kitty.

Meanwhile, he carved out a career for himself in the media, working as a reporter for the American network NBC. Colleagues speak of him as being intelligent and reliable, but one said: "He was keen to learn and he mixed very well with people and was likeable. There was always the feeling, though, that it was a bit like a hobby - he was so rich he didn't have to do it and, once he got bored with it, he was able to walk away."

But it was never that simple. As Diana's brother, he had always been hounded by the tabloid press and he tenaciously fought back, through the Press Complaints Commission or the courts.

But the pictures of a terribly ill Victoria were the last straw; two years ago, he moved to Cape Town in South Africa to escape the media glare.