It has been 40 years since Princess Diana and Prince Charles said “I do” at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1981.
While their marriage and subsequent divorce were well-documented in the press, the details surrounding how the couple met and their courtship are lesser-known.
When Lady Diana Spencer first became linked to Prince Charles, their union was perceived as a whirlwind, fairytale romance – a young, charming woman, who caught the eye of the future King of England, 13 years her senior. The couple were engaged when Diana was 19 years old.
However, as we came to learn years later, their relationship was not as picture-perfect as the world believed it to be. So how did their courtship first begin? Here is everything you need to know.
Connections to the crown
While Prince Charles and Diana’s relationship progressed at a rapid pace, they actually met several years before becoming romantically involved.
Charles, who had reportedly been encouraged by his older relative and mentor Lord Mountbatten to “sow some wild oats” and date several people before settling down, was seeing Diana’s older sister, Sarah, at the time.
Diana was one of four children, her older sister Sarah being six years her senior. Her other sister, Jane, was four years older than her, while her younger brother, Charles, was three years her junior. Diana had another brother, John, who died a year before she was born, hours after his birth.
While Diana may not have been well-acquainted with Prince Charles before their courtship, she and her relatives were closely connected with the royal family. She grew up in a house on the Sandringham estate, even playing with Prince Edward and Prince Andrew during her childhood.
Moreover, her grandmother, Lady Fermoy, was a close friend and confidante of the monarch.
The first meeting
Diana and Charles first met in 1977, when she was just 16 years old and he was 29. At the time, Charles was in a relationship with her sister Sarah, who later went on to state in a magazine interview that she was not in love with the heir apparent.
In an article published in The Daily Times in July 1981, it said that their meeting took place at the Spencers’ ancestral home of Althorp, while Charles was visiting to take part in a pheasant shoot.
“As Diana remembers it, they met in ‘the middle of a plowed field’,” the article states.
Recalling their first meeting, Prince Charles said in an interview conducted in 1981 that he could “remember thinking what a very jolly and amusing and attractive 16-year-old she was”, describing her as “great fun, and bouncy and full of life”.
Diana, meanwhile, said that she found Prince Charles “pretty amazing” upon their first meeting.
In private tapes released as part of the 2017 documentary Diana: In Her Own Words, the late Princess of Wales is recorded saying that she was “amazed” to receive attention from Prince Charles when she was 16 years old. "Why would anyone like that be interested in me?” she said.
The beginning of their courtship
Charles and Diana reportedly next met in 1980, a few years after their first meeting.
By that time, Prince Charles’ relationship with Diana’s older sister Sarah had run its course, with the eldest of the Spencer children marrying Neil Edmund McCorquodale that year.
Diana and Charles are said to have met at the home of the home of a friend of the Duke of Edinburgh, shortly after the Prince of Wales ended a previous relationship.
Their meeting also took place in the year following the assassination of Lord Mountbatten, with whom Charles had been very close.
In a private tape released in the documentary Diana: In Her Own Words, Diana can be heard saying that she sympathised with how “lonely” Charles must have been feeling at the time. She stated that the Prince of Wales was later “all over me for the rest of the evening”.
Before their engagement, rumours were already swirling about the impending betrothal.
It became apparent that Prince Charles was considering Lady Diana Spencer as his bride, as she was invited to spend some time with the royal family at Balmoral in November 1980.
That same month, an article published in The Age said that Diana’s appearance with Prince Charles at the Queen’s country farmhouse in Norfolk County was “fuelling speculation they plan to marry”.
The young Diana evidently made a good impression on the rest of the royal family, as in February 1981, Prince Charles asked her for her hand in marriage when she was 19 years old.
After just five months, they were married in a lavish ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral on 29 July, described by many as the “wedding of the century”.
But their relationship was not meant to be, as just over a decade later, the couple – who shared two children, Prince William and Prince Harry – were separated.
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