With series four of The Crown launching on November 15th, the Netflix drama is now primed to introduce one of the most emotionally charged, dynamic and tragic figures to have ever been a member of the British Royal Family.
Covering the period from 1977 to 1990, series four seems liable to be heavily shaped by the arc of Prince Charles and Diana’s relationship; 1977 marked the couple’s formal introduction, and by 1990 the couple’s ill-fated marriage was in steep decline - although their marital troubles were yet to break spectacularly in the tabloids, beginning an era of extremely uncomfortable relations between the press and the Royal Family.
Here, we take a look at the events likely to be covered in series four of The Crown - featuring an uncannily accurate lookalike performance by newcomer Emma Corrin - and the disintegration of what once seemed a fairytale romance into an acrimonious battle played out in the British Press.
A formal introduction
Diana Spencer was just 16 when she first met her future husband in 1977 at her home in Northamptonshire, though it’s likely she would have barely registered on Prince Charles’ radar - he was involved in a short-lived courtship with her sister Sarah at the time. Nevertheless, the 29-year-old Prince certainly made an impression on the young Diana, who is said to have told friends almost immediately that Charles was the man she was going to marry.
Their formal introduction did not occur until July 1980, when they met in earnest at a party hosted in West Sussex by Philip de Pass - who invited Diana by saying “Would you like to come and stay for a couple of nights down at Petworth, because we’ve got the Prince of Wales staying. You’re a young blood — you might amuse him.”
According to the account Diana later gave to her biographer Andrew Morton, Prince Charles was in low spirits following the recent death of his friend and mentor Lord Mountbatten and, to a lesser extent, having split with his then-girlfriend Anna Wallace. Charles and Diana were sat together on a hay bale while a barbecue took place, and Diana expressed her sympathy for the death of Charles’s friend, remarking how forlorn the young Prince looked at Mountbatten’s funeral.
“The next minute, he leapt on me practically,” Diana later remembered, and so began an awkward romance of convenience; the strange courtship of Lady Diana Spencer by a Prince who was under pressure to find an appropriate partner - while, by all accounts, wildly in love with another woman.
A fairytale romance?
The pressures of Royal life and the strictures of public scrutiny made for an unusual start to Charles and Diana’s relationship, coupled with the Prince’s apparent urgency to secure a suitable wife. The majority of the couple’s courtship took place via telephone conversations, with the pair reported to have only met a total of thirteen times before Charles asked for Diana’s hand in marriage within six months of having been formally introduced. Prince Charles proposed to Lady Diana Spencer on the 3rd of February 1981, in the nursery of Windsor Castle.
To the outsider, the rapid proposal and the whirlwind of activity that followed could very well have been interpreted as driven by the urgency of young love, but it is equally plausible to construe the courtship and what followed as a result of palace machinery and the perceived duty of Prince Charles to marry and produce an heir to the throne. So it was that the engagement was made official on 24th February 1981, and the ostensibly happy couple presented themselves to the media. One interviewer asked if they were in love, to which Diana replied “Of course!” while Prince Charles - somewhat more ominously - said, “Whatever ‘in love’ means.” Diana, later, would say that his response traumatised her.
The wedding took place on the 29th of July 1981 when, in a lavish ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral, Lady Diana Spencer became Princess Diana of Wales. To all intents and purposes it was a fairytale wedding, watched on television by 750 million people across 74 countries who believed they were seeing one of the greatest love stories of all time writ large on their screens. The reality was something far more complex, fraught with sadness and unrequited love.
An unhappy union
In keeping with the urgent progression of their courtship, the Prince and Princess of Wales wasted no time in producing the all-important ‘heir and a spare’, with Prince William’s birth taking place in February 1982, followed shortly after by Prince Harry on 15th September 1984. Yet even at this early stage, there were warning signs that the marriage was in trouble; Princess Diana fell down a staircase while pregnant with William in January 1982, later admitting that she had fallen deliberately, driven by feelings of inadequacy.
A shadow loomed large over the married life of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the shadow of someone that Diana would ultimately refer to as the third person in their marriage. The inescapable truth was that Charles had been forced to part with his true love Camilla Shand in the 1970s, and continued to yearn for her as she married another to become Camilla Parker-Bowles.
Charles and Camilla’s romance had been secretly rekindled by 1986, not only damaging the foundations of his marriage irreparably, but lighting the fuse for the explosion of tabloid coverage that would come from their recorded conversations being leaked in 1992. Diana, left alone in her marriage, sought solace in the arms of Major James Hewitt, the family’s former riding instructor, and recordings of their conversations too would form the basis of countless tabloid headlines in the early 1990s.
Yet while the interior lives of the Prince and Princess of Wales were a heartbreaking tangle of loneliness and yearning, Diana nevertheless forged her own path as the People’s Princess - bringing an air of unfussy modernism to the traditionally staid and buttoned-down British Royal Family. This period saw her finding a heartfelt passion for charity work, and though she was not quite yet a fashion icon she was beginning to understand the true potential of using her position as a force for good in the world. By the end of the time period covered by the upcoming series of The Crown, Diana was on the precipice of shaping herself into someone truly iconic, who would live on in the hearts of the British people forever.
The Truth Behind the Crown
The period from 1977 to 1990 is rife with dramatic potential, with the young and inexperienced Diana plunged into a life of Royal Duty, public scrutiny and doomed romance that she could have had no way of anticipating. Yet these difficult experiences also served to shape her into the remarkably inspirational woman that she was to become. For the unvarnished truth behind the making of Princess Diana, go #BehindTheCrown with True Royalty TV.
7 Documentaries on Princess DIana that go #BehindTheCrown:
The People's Princess celebrates the life of Diana, exploring her childhood, family life and upbringing with intimate contributions from her nanny, former headmistress and friends among others.
Thrust into public life at age 19, Diana soon became a world-famous mother - a role that remained her chief concern for the rest of her life as she reinvented Royal parenting for a new generation. Her devotion as a mother had an enormous impact on her children who continue the tradition of loving and devoted parenting. Join us for a look behind the scenes.
A Royal Tour of the 20th Century: 80's and 90's
With increasing media attention and the emergence of the paparazzi, a new generation of Royals came to the forefront of popular culture - most notably Charles and Diana.
Whether at the White House, a formal visit to the Vatican or a building site in Australia, Princess Diana always brought spontaneity, enthusiasm and a spectacular sense of style to whatever she did.
Diana, Princess of Wales, was an extraordinary figure. Her effortless elegance, her ability to relate to the common person and her devotion as a mother led to her becoming one of the most adored public figures in history. She helped break down barriers between the British Royal Family and everyday people, and she was never afraid to stand up for the causes close to her heart.
After her tragic and untimely death, Princess Diana leaves behind a charitable and humanitarian legacy. In this documentary Diana is remembered by her closest friends as loyal, steadfast and having an incredible level of compassion and remarkable intuition.
When Prince Charles married twenty year old Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 after a string of unsuitable girlfriends, the public thought that they had finally found their happy ending. It was not long, however, before the cracks began to show when they embarked on their first foreign trip which Diana was to describe later as a 'baptism by fire'.