Diana 1961-1997: The life - The problem who wouldn't go quietly and per ished as a result of her fame

She became a far more complex and interesting character than the one dimensional fairy princess
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The life

It would have been superfluous for any other brother to say: "I would ask you please at this time to respect the fact that Diana was part of a family." But so indelibly burned into global consciousness is the image of Diana, the most famous woman in the world, that it is hard to remember that it is private, as well as public property.

No woman in history has occupied such a hold on the public imagination - or prompted such controversy - as the 19-year-old who grew up in public, seemingly shedding her skin as she went.

As Diana metamorphosed from innocent nursery nurse to revered princess and mother, to wronged, vengeful woman and, more recently, to confident campaigner, the one constant was her determination to be seen as "Queen of people's hearts", her image as both a victim of and as a benefactor of love.

When Diana Spencer first came to public attention, as a teenage kindergarten nanny, she was the perfect image of a virginal bride. Beautiful, shy and self-effacing (she once famously said of herself, "I'm thick as two short planks"), she received a rapturous welcome from a public more used to the inhibited utterances of the Windsors.

But when she married into that family, on 29 July 1981, the girl so shy that she would accept only non-speaking parts in school plays was catapulted to the status of world superstar. That wedding, her increasingly glamorous appearance, and the birth of Prince William in 1982 added fuel to the fairy-tale myth that grew up around her, a myth in which she appeared to be complicit. Diana became an icon - of fashion, of motherhood and of royalty.

But by the birth of her second son, Harry, there were hints that the fairy-tale was beginning to sour. The couple appeared increasingly separate and damaging reports about her and Prince Charles began to surface with increasing regularity, many of them apparently planted by their respective camps.

The Princess began to look gaunt and depressed, and reports of an eating disorder grew. She turned to a bewildering array of alternative treatments, from psychotherapy to colonic irrigation, prompting allegations that she was at the least self-indulgent, and worst, unsound.

As speculation about her private life increased in intensity, Diana sought refuge in the charitable role she cherished. Those who met her spoke of her "magic touch" and her ability to connect, and realising that this was her greatest asset, she utilised it. She began to metamorphose into a self-styled ambassador for compassion, relying on the goodwill of ordinary people.

The transition wasn't easy. In a later interview, she told how Prince Charles had told her to go and speak to a crowd during one of her first walkabouts, and she had replied: "I can't, I just can't." The fear of it, she said, "practically finished me off there and then".

But by the age of 24, Diana's love affair with the public had blossomed and she had become patron of 18 charities. Some roles, such as her work with Aids organisations, proved controversial. Her urging of "hugs" for sufferers of illness was seen as simplistic, and her appearances at hospital beds were seen as a cynical ploy.

But she was also widely praised for having broken down the barriers of ignorance. Her determination to represent even unpopular causes suggested she would go where her conscience drove her.

The love affair was not always reciprocated. As her marriage collapsed, so, temporarily, did her public image and she, like Prince Charles, was dogged by rumour and scandal. The infamous secretly-recorded "Squidgygate" tapes revealed intimate conversations between her and confidante James Gilbey, in which she discussed her unhappy marriage.

With the tapes, and the publication of Andrew Morton's book, Diana: Her True Story, the fairy-tale was finally revealed for the myth it was. Diana, the book said, had tried to commit suicide five times and had mutilated herself out of frustration at her unhappy marriage.

Perhaps because of her iconic status, there was an initial unwillingness to believe the book's horrific claims. The Press Complaints Commission, for example, condemned the claims as "an odious exhibition of journalists dabbling their fingers in the stuff of other people's souls''.

But the claims were given credence when Diana chose to publicly visit friends who were quoted in the book, suggesting she had sanctioned the revelations. This prompted a backlash: The then prime minister, John Major, for example, made it clear that he would not be able to facilitate a dignified departure from the Royal Family for Diana if she "continued to manipulate the press''.

If the myth was ended, the public's fascination with her had not. Diana became something new: the manipulative, wronged woman, a far more complex and interesting character than a one-dimensional fairy princess. Her image was made all the more potent by the fact that she rarely spoke, and subsequently her every gesture was analysed for clues.

In the same way that she had once used press photographers to illustrate her state of mind, Diana began to use her charity work to express herself, dropping broad hints about everything from marriage problems to the "self- revulsion" of the bulimic.

Such selective revelations made it difficult for her simultaneously to complain about the increasingly intrusive nature of her press coverage, and in late 1993, as she became an increasingly marginalised and criticised figure, she made the tearful announcement that she was to drop out of public life and focus on her two sons.

This self-imposed exile did not last long. After Charles admitted publicly to having been unfaithful to her during her marriage, the gloves apparently came off, and Diana pulled off one of the most astonishing television coups ever seen.

In an interview with the BBC programme Panorama, Diana destroyed every remaining vestige of a Royal marriage that never was. Her quote about Charles' mistress - "There were three in this marriage - it was crowded", and her admission that she had had an affair with guardsman James Hewitt, caused shockwaves throughout the nation.

This vengeful Diana was dangerous, a fact she herself acknowledged. "I was a problem, I was a liability, and how are we going to deal with her. This hasn't happened before," she said of the "Establishment's" reaction to her. "She won't go quietly, that's the problem. I'll fight to the end."

Her hints of a conspiracy against her, she acknowledged, drew claims that she was unstable; a view seemingly validated by the reaction of Conservative MP Nicholas Soames, a former equerry to Prince Charles, who famously accused her of being in the "advanced stages of paranoia".

With that interview, the Princess's confidence grew. Likewise, her whole image changed. The nervous young Princess transformed herself, through intensive workouts, into a sleek, visibly strong Amazon.

Last summer, just prior to the divorce, she cut her ties with almost 100 charities, in order to focus on a few favourites, and to illustrate this new, focused approach, and perhaps cut ties with the past, she auctioned off most of her evening dresses on the advice of her sons.

Her last and key campaign - one in which she came closest to fulfilling her ambition to become "Queen of Hearts" - was to rid the world of landmines. It was a controversial cause that again brought claims that she was out of her depth and should not interfere in the political arena. But a new, seemingly tougher Diana, refused to heed them, basking in the support of the public - the ordinary people she believed understood her aims.

This new confidence was recently aided by another, important factor. The woman embittered by her divorce, and "very let down" by Hewitt, appeared to have found something of a kindred spirit in the playboy arms of Dodi Fayed.

Unlike previous romances, there were no serious attempts to deny the affair, and perhaps significantly, she appeared to be trying to conduct it in what, to her at least, was an everyday manner. Photographs showed the couple sharing loving embraces, enjoying an intimacy rarely seen in Royal relationships. It will be seen as a cruel irony that she should die just as she had seemed at her most relaxed and happy in years.

In a quote that now seems prescient, the princess once said of her public image: "Everyone said I was the Marilyn Monroe of the 1980s and I was adoring every minute of it. Actually, I have never sat down and said `Hooray how wonderful'. Never ... " Monroe was also 36 when she died. Now Diana looks set to join her as another eternal icon of blonde femininity, one who created herself in the image she saw reflected of her, and one who lived and ultimately died as a result of her fame.