September 01, 1997 12:00 PM

Over the course of 17 years, one stopped biting her nails, the other didn’t. “We’d always have a giggle about that,” says Jayne Fincher, who, as one of the few female photographers covering Princess Diana, remembers being nabbed by her subject between takes for “typical girl talk. She’d always ask, ‘Haven’t you grown them yet?’ ” says Fincher, 39, whose work has illustrated dozens of articles that PEOPLE has published about Diana since 1981. “She was as interested in everyone’s private life as we were in hers.”

“You can tell from Jayne’s photos that there was a genuine ease between them,” says PEOPLE Special Issues picture editor Maddy Miller, who supervised the photo selection for this special tribute. So much so that in 1988 Diana chose Fincher to take a family portrait at her country estate, Highgrove. “It was a lovely, lived-in home,” says Fincher, “wellies and coats all over the place, a hamster in its cage in the hall, toys everywhere.”

Even at her most unguarded, Diana astounded Fincher, who lives with her insurance executive husband Alan Barlow, 40, and 2-year-old son in Blackheath, Surrey. “I couldn’t get over her beauty,” Fincher says. “I was so emotional when I covered the funeral. I was in an awful state. It was terrible. Like so many in the crowd, I was weeping.”

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