August 2017 marks 20 years since the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales. We look back at her life and legacy, and where you can visit her favourite places in London.
Born into a wealthy family in 1961, Diana Spencer was never going to be ordinary. In 1975, after her father inherited the title Earl Spencer, Diana became a Lady. That same year, the family moved to the stately home of Althorp in Northamptonshire. Mingling with the royals—her grandmother was lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother, while her elder sister Sarah dated Prince Charles in the 1970s—the signs were already there: Diana had a regal air. And yet she was humble, too, working as a nanny and nursery teacher.
Following her wedding with Prince Charles in 1981 at St Paul’s Cathedral, Diana became known for her work with the homeless, people with disabilities and people with HIV and AIDS, while also campaigning to ban land mines. No wonder the public loved her, supporting her through difficult times and listening when she discussed her struggles in the infamous BBC Panorama interview in 1995, a year before Charles divorced her.
In her own words, Diana wanted to be ‘a queen of people’s hearts’ and there’s no doubt she was before and after her death on 31 Aug., 1997, following a car crash in Paris while being chased by paparazzi.
Two-and-a-half billion people watched or listened to her funeral at Westminster Abbey on 6 Sept., 1997, and thousands of bouquets of flowers piled up at the gates of Buckingham Palace. To mark her life, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain opened in the centre of Hyde Park in 2004, a fitting tribute.
Now, 20 years after her death, the People’s Princess and style icon is remembered in "Diana, Her Fashion Story " at Kensington Palace, her former home. See her 1980s evening gowns, 1990s Catherine Walker suits and the delicate pink Emanuel blouse that she wore for her engagement portrait. Each summer, a White Garden in the palace grounds blooms with English white roses, inspired by Diana, who liked to stroll around the garden.
Visitors can also sign a condolence book at iconic store Harrods, where Diana bought her blue engagement dress, and see statues and portraits of Diana and Dodi Fayed, the son of the store’s former owner, who died alongside the princess.
But where else did the princess like to escape? Visit Diana’s favourite places to discover more about shy Di.
Built by Sir John Spencer in 1508, Althorp House in Northamptonshire is set within 13,000 acres of glorious countryside. It has been home to 19 generations of the Spencer family and is Diana’s resting place. Don’t miss the "Diana, Princess of Wales" display—15 photos taken by Mario Testino in 1997 for Vanity Fair, which turned out to be Diana’s last official portraits. You can also see the "Walking in Her Shoes" exhibition, which showcases 20 inspirational young people who hold The Diana Award, demonstrating the impact they have had on society.
English National Ballet
Diana was passionate about dance. In 1985, she danced with John Travolta at President Ronald Reagan’s White House Gala and performed with Wayne Sleep—a former dancer for the Royal Ballet Company—at the Royal Opera House as a surprise for Charles’ birthday in the same year. The princess dreamed of becoming a ballerina and was a fan of the English National Ballet, becoming a patron in 1989. Don’t miss Nureyev’s "Romeo and Juliet" at the Royal Festival Hall (from 1 Aug).
St Paul’s Cathedral
While most royal weddings take place at Westminster Abbey, which seats 2,000 people, Diana and Charles chose St Paul’s Cathedral to fit their congregation of 3,500. A further 600,000 lined the streets while the global TV audience was around 750 million. Diana wore an Emanuel ivory taffeta and lace gown with a 7.6-meter train while Charles wore his naval commander's uniform. A highlight of your visit will be the Golden Gallery 85 meters above the ground. The view makes the 528 steps to it worth it.
Launceston Place was Princess Diana’s local—perhaps because she could enter from her car in an alleyway in one step, then hide in its warren of rooms. Diana also enjoyed dining at San Lorenzo, a family-run Italian in Knightsbridge which opened in 1963. Once popular with Princess Margaret, Sophia Loren and Eric Clapton, Diana’s sons William and Harry occasionally dine here. Diana also dined at French restaurant L’Escargot in Soho—once visiting with Wayne Sleep. Established in 1927, it specialises in snails, lobster and coq au vin, although Diana would often choose the seared tuna with lentils.