It was a small gaffe, particularly for a 12-year-old boy. But when, on an outing to the movies this summer, Prince Harry turned up his nose at the seltzer he’d been served and sent a woman who worked for the theater to fetch him a glass of plain water instead, his mother chided him sternly. “She told him that it didn’t matter what it was he had wanted, he should simply have thanked her for what he had been given,” Rosa Monckton, a close friend of Diana’s, wrote in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph. “She said it was that sort of behavior that gave the royal family a bad name.”
For Di’s boys, there would be none of that. Put off by the Windsors’ chilly reserve, she decided that Wills, 15, and Harry, 13, would grow up to be a new breed of royal—warm and unpretentious, openly compassionate and grounded in the world outside the royal gates.
It was no easy feat for the mother of a future king. But motherhood, Diana once said, was the one area of her life where she knew she had not failed. When her sons were small, she put them on a weekly allowance to teach them the value of a pound and insisted they wait in line with the other children to see Santa Claus at a London department store. As they matured, she took them with her to visit homeless shelters and AIDS hospices—places she told Martin Bashir in her 1995 BBC interview, “I’m not sure anyone of that age in this family has been, before. I want them to have an understanding of people’s emotions, people’s insecurities, people’s distress and people’s hopes and dreams.”
Diana tried to give her sons as normal a childhood as possible. Where her husband had been raised primarily by nannies, Diana, who breast-fed both boys, reveled. in being a hands-on mom. In a break with tradition, she enrolled her sons in a private nursery school. When they played soccer, she cheered from the stands. Before planning her professional schedule, she pulled out their school calendars to make sure their commitments wouldn’t conflict. “Her whole life revolved around Prince William and Prince Harry,” says her friend Lana Marks, a Palm Beach fashion designer. “She would drop everything whenever her boys would come home from school. It didn’t matter which head of state she had to see or what gala she had to attend. Those were secondary.”
Still nursing wounds from her own parents’ bitter divorce, Diana wanted her sons to feel loved and secure, and she lavished attention on them. Although Charles can be an affectionate father in private—friends recall seeing him crawl around with Wills and gently kiss the boys good-night—Diana was openly demonstrative wherever she was. After her own separation, the boys remained the center of her universe. When they had to split their school vacations between their parents, Diana would say that she dreaded Christmas because she knew she would be home alone while the boys spent it with the royal family and their nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke, who she feared would take her place in their affections.
As her brother Earl Spencer put it in his eulogy, Diana’s goal for her boys was to ensure that “their souls are not simply immersed by duty and tradition but can sing openly.” She packed as much fun as she could into the time they had together, regularly taking them out for burgers and pizza and jetting off with them to Disney World or the Caribbean. When Wills confided that he had a crush on Cindy Crawford, Di invited her for tea.
Diana also guided her sons in their public walkabouts and taught them to write thank-you notes and letters to friends and family. She divided their time into fun days, when they could put on jeans and baseball caps and head for McDonald’s, and workdays, when, she said, they “had to dress properly, shake hands and forget any thoughts of selfishness.” Recalls her friend, author Jeffrey Archer: “She didn’t want William to go through life thinking, ‘You’re a member of the royal family, and that’s how you live all the time.’ But she was particularly aware that William had this role to play, that she was the mother of the future King of England.”
In her final weeks, Diana told The New Yorker’s editor-in-chief Tina Brown that she hoped Wills would grow to be as press-savvy as John Kennedy Jr. “I try to din into him all the time about the media, the dangers and how he must understand and handle it,” she said. Likewise, “she was grooming Prince Harry to be a huge support to his brother,” Monckton wrote. The boys “will be properly prepared,” Diana once said. “I am making sure of this. I don’t want them suffering in the way that I did.”