Diana: Princess of the World

Diana favors her soon-to-be husband Charles with one of her charming grins during a visit to the Cheshire Regiment at Tidworth. Five days later, they were wed. Press Association/AP

While beautiful, stylish and soft-spoken, Princess Diana was much more than just a pretty face. A model mother of future monarchs William and Harry and a tireless advocate for those who needed her most, Princess Diana captured the world's attention and affection. America's case of royal fever rose when Charles and Di visited the White House for the first time together in 1985, and her spellbinding impression lives on 30 years later. This article, and others about Diana's life and legacy, are included in a new Newsweek Special Edition, Diana—Celebrating 30 Years.

Why did we weep? Diana was not a saint; in fact, she was a sinner, as she herself admitted in a remarkably candid 1995 television interview. ("I adored him," she said of her lover and riding instructor, James Hewitt.) She could be, at times, foolish, outrageous, extravagant—even a little bit nuts. She suffered from depression and bulimia, and she once slashed her chest and thighs with her husband's penknife in a desperate but unsuccessful plea for his attention. Yet she was also a devoted mother, a faithful friend and a dedicated champion of the causes she cared about. And no matter how bad she felt inside, she always looked so good.

Princess Diana presents the cup to James Hewitt—with whom she later admitted having an affair—at the Inter Regimental Polo Championship in August of 1989. REX/NEWSCOM

Women, especially, felt they knew Diana. They knew her because her experiences resonated with a generation obsessed with self-examination and self-improvement. Her faults did not diminish her stature; they only made her seem vulnerable, accessible, human. In the terrible days between her death and her funeral, the mourners' refrain was notably consistent: "She was one of us."

That's why we wept. We felt she was one of us.

Of course, Diana was Everywoman on a uniquely grand and glamorous scale, morphing from princess bride to rejected wife to confident divorcée—all the while dressed in glorious clothes and coifed to perfection. Her drama played out on the most public of stages, beginning in 1981 with the wedding of the century, which was watched by three quarters of a billion people in 74 countries, and ending in a funeral also televised live around the world. But those who watched her suffer and grow over the years felt there was a real person behind all that gloss. Although she entered our consciousness because of the man she married, by the time of her death she was an object of intense fascination because of the woman she had become on her own. At every step of her journey, women could say: "Been there, done that...wish I'd done that." Diana was a woman scorned who developed a masterful fury. She got mad and then she got even in world-class style. A famous example: In 1994, on the night Charles confessed to adultery in a television interview, Diana appeared at a London benefit in what the tabloids described as her revenge dress, a sexy off-the-shoulder black number. The design, by Christina Stambolian, brought $74,000 when it was auctioned for charity at Christie's in 1997 (now, that's revenge).

Diana's life story had something for everyone. Her parents split up when she was 6. It was a devastating experience that left her with a profound loneliness she said she could never quite erase. It didn't really matter that her father was an earl and that her mother was also from a wealthy, well-connected family; any child of divorce could identify with Diana's sense of loss. Marriage to the most eligible bachelor in the world, a real-life Prince, seemed to be the happy ending every lonely girl dreams of. What union could be more secure? But the reality behind palace doors was instead the stuff of which TV melodramas are made. As we all now know, Charles could not give up the love of his life, Camilla Parker Bowles. According to Diana's biographer, Andrew Morton, Diana began to discover the true nature of the relationship during her engagement. Two weeks before the wedding, she found out that Charles was giving Camilla a bracelet with an enameled disc embellished with the entwined initials G and F, for Gladys and Fred, the couple's pet names for each other. When Diana sought sympathy from her two older sisters, Sarah and Jane, they told her it was too late to back out because "your face is already on the tea towels."

Ah, the ever-present call of duty. Even in her darkest days, Diana understood what was expected of her. And there were quite a few dark days in the first years of her marriage. She was deeply depressed after William's birth. "I can't remember much," she recalled in interviews for the Morton book. "I've blotted it out, it was such pain." Privately, she was bingeing and purging many times a week. But when the spotlight was on, she and Charles appeared blissful. "We didn't want to disappoint the public," she said.

That uncanny ability to put up a good front enhanced the aura of mystery she managed to maintain even as she told her deepest secrets. As she grew ever more skillful in her manipulation of the constant media attention, she doled out tantalizing tidbits, quick peeks into her soul. On a visit to India in 1992, she deliberately posed alone at the Taj Mahal—a monument built by an emperor to show his love for his dead wife. Charles stayed away, even though he had reportedly once promised to take her to the romantic site. Diana was smiling and she looked terrific, but the message was clear. The picture became part of an indelible gallery of celebrated Diana images that helped create her legend.

After she and Charles officially separated in 1992, Diana appeared to be struggling to redefine her life on her own terms. Again, it was a struggle many women could identify with. It's true that some of her problems were clearly unique—how to find a man who wouldn't be intimidated by her celebrity, how to maintain the dignity required of the mother of the future king while enjoying the freedom of singlehood, how to live in princessly style on a mere $26 million divorce settlement.

But the crux of her dilemma was easy for many women to grasp, and she traveled some familiar paths. She worked out regularly at a London gym and was often photographed in exercise clothes that any woman could have worn. She sought out New Age healers and therapists. She tried to find meaning in her work, plunging into a pared-down list of causes she really cared about. Her well-publicized January 1997 visit to Angola did much to raise the world's consciousness on land mines. She met with maimed victims and said it was "traumatic" to witness such suffering. In summer 1997 she was in Bosnia, where she met with more land-mine victims.

Diana's efforts as a single mother also struck a chord with many women. William and Harry were away at boarding school much of the year, and she had to split vacations with Charles. Her empty nest may have been in Kensington Palace, but that did not make it any less empty. At her funeral her brother, Charles, said she was determined that her sons' souls be allowed to "sing openly" despite the constraints of duty and tradition. Over the years, she had tried to cultivate that spirit by taking them on the kinds of excursions millions of parents enjoy with their kids—to amusement parks, sports events, burger joints. "I want them to have an understanding of people's emotions, people's insecurities, people's distress and people's hopes and dreams," she once said.

Princess Diana charms a line of working men—who often toiled two weeks at a stretch since dense fog made traveling to and from such rigs dangerous—on the Forties Charlie North Sea Oil Platform in 1985. “I’m oblivious to the weather,” Diana once said. “It’s the warmth of the welcome that matters.” PHOTONEWS SCOTLAND/REX SHUTTERSTOCK

About the other men in her life...well, she wasn't the only woman in the world with bad taste and bad luck. Another point of empathy. Years earlier, in an interview she gave for the Morton book, Diana said that she longed for a normal life, which to her meant "things like a weekend in Paris." She knew she would have to wait, but, she said, "I know one day if I play by the rules of life—the game of life—I will be able to have those things I've always pined for." Dodi Fayed was an unexpected choice for a princess, but he offered that weekend in Paris, loving attention, enough money to buy some privacy and a luxurious vacation aboard the family yacht.

In those final glorious days cruising the Mediterranean, perhaps Diana remembered another voyage, 16 summers earlier, aboard the royal yacht Britannia. It was her honeymoon, and her new husband's idea of a good time was for the two of them to read and analyze (over lunch) the books of South African philosopher Laurens van der Post. Compare that with a moment captured by the Ritz Hotel's security cameras just before Diana and Dodi disappeared into the black Mercedes S280 for their fatal last ride. Dodi has his arm around her waist, trying to protect and comfort her.

Who knows what image will endure a hundred years from now? The rejected wife, the doting mother, the glamorous superstar, the champion of causes—Diana was certainly all of those. For the moment, it is enough to remember that she was that rare woman who hardly ever had a bad hair day, and, for much too brief a time, she had the brightest smile on earth.

This article appears in Newsweek's Official Collector's Edition, Diana, by Issue Editor Johnna Rizzo.

Anwar Hussein/WireImage. Digital imaging by Eric Heintz