May 01, 1988 12:00 PM

When, on July 29, 1981, Lady Diana Spencer said, “I will,” her fairy godmother delivered something far more useful than crystal slippers and a gilded coach. Until that moment Diana had simply been wealthy. But upon uttering the magic words:

•She acquired the titles of Princess of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Duchess of Rothesay, Countess of Chester and Countess of Carrick.

•She became Charles’s partner in disposing of his annual income from the Duchy of Cornwall, which last year grossed approximately $3 million. (She also enjoys the benefits of the rest of his fortune, estimated at $680 million.)

•She began accumulating an extraordinary collection of jewelry and was granted borrowing rights to the Queen’s priceless stash.

•She started using cars leased from the Ford, Jaguar and Rolls-Royce motor companies. Currently, Diana is tooling around in a $32,000 dark-blue Ford Sierra. She also has the use of a $170,000 Bentley Turbo R and a $56,000 Jaguar Sovereign, although she uses the Ford for all but special occasions. When Diana takes the wheel, which is often the case, a detective sits beside her, and other detectives follow in another car. She has been stopped twice for speeding on the motorway, once at 105 mph. On both occasions she was let off with a warning.

•She became eligible to sail away on the Royal Yacht Britannia anytime the Queen okays it. (The ship comes with four master bedrooms and a crew of 277, who must wear rubber-sole shoes so as not to disturb the royal eardrums.)

•She was guaranteed free tickets to any West End theater, all of which hold seats each night for VIPs.

•And perhaps most significant to a young wife and soon-to-be mother, she became the lady of no fewer than four royal homes—the Kensington Palace apartments, stately Highgrove in Gloucestershire, Craigowan in Scotland and the seldom-used Tamarisk cottage in the Scilly Isles, 25 miles off the coast of Cornwall. (The welcome mat is out, too, at Windsor Castle, Sandringham and Balmoral, the Queen’s residences.)

Diana might have just sat back and enjoyed all this, and to some extent she has. But she could never be entirely happy with a life managed for her, and she has taken a very active role in redoing her two main residences, Kensington Palace and Highgrove.

Built in 1689, Kensington Palace is a rambling building of several wings that houses a number of royals—including Princess Margaret, Princess Michael of Kent and Charles’s cousin the Duke of Gloucester—as well as assorted senior staff. Members of the royal family all live there rent free but are required to pick up the tab for repairs. There are 13 apartments in all, and Charles and Di live and work in No. 8 and No. 9, consisting of about 25 rooms on three floors. On the recommendation of her mother, Frances, Diana hired South African-born interior designer Dudley Poplak in 1981 to redo the family quarters; the place is now awash in pastels and Laura Ashley prints.

The ground floor of the Waleses’ quarters features the waiting hall and wine cellar, as well as a loo that contains (Di’s idea) framed original newspaper cartoons depicting Charles in a variety of flattering and unflattering postures. On the first floor is a large drawing room, a dining room (the table seats 16) and a spacious kitchen with German-made appliances. Down the corridor is the master bedroom, with its 7-foot-6-inch-wide four-poster bed—king size, as one would expect. The chamber is flanked by two separate dressing rooms and two marbled-and-mirrored bathrooms. One floor above, the boys, William and Harry, share a beige bedroom and a playroom, featuring red apple rugs, Beatrix Potter paintings and furniture with hand-painted animals.

Though residence in the palace is by no means a hardship, the Waleses flee it most weekends in favor of Highgrove, their classic Georgian country house 100 miles west of London. Charles bought the 30-room house, which is nearly 200 years old, for about $.13 million in 1980. Diana was horrifed when she saw it, but now, after about $500,000 in renovations and redecorating, she happily calls it her dream house.

The Poplak touch, formal and restrained, is evident once again in the coral pink hallway and the pale yellow sitting room with its Laura Ashley prints. The pale-pink master bedroom features flowery pink-and-green drapes on the windows as well as over the royal four-poster. For the top-floor nursery, Diana commissioned a mural from British artist Simon Barnett but found the jungle beasts it depicted too scary and had it painted over with friendlier creatures. To give the exterior stones a look of great age, Highgrove was doused with buckets of cold tea, and barn walls were treated to a milk bath to encourage a picturesque growth of country moss.

Last July, on the heels of the earlier redecorating, additional alterations, costing $1million, were completed at Highgrove, strictly for security purposes. A 20-foot by 20-foot steel-lined room designed to withstand terrorist attack was added to the second floor, and the boys’ nursery windows were barred.

Weekends at Highgrove are informal, designed for rest and relaxation. The boys ride or play with their pets (each has a pony), while Diana swims in the heated outdoor pool. On Saturdays and Sundays, Charles may hunt or, in season, play polo. He often rises early to garden or to take the boys fishing in the private ponds of the 1,000-acre estate. Diana takes walks with the boys too, and last month was seen with them on horseback, a rarity for her. Any entertaining is strictly low key: Saturday night dinner parties are small, with limited menus (soup, chicken, rhubarb crumble) and may include Andrew and Fergie, Princess Anne and her husband, Mark Phillips, who live six miles away, or just a few country neighbors and pals.

Greater formality is expected during vacations with the rest of the clan at Windsor, Sandringham or Balmoral. The Waleses join the Queen at Windsor for Christmas and Easter and are entertained by the strains of a regimental band in the mornings. The Queen often brings her corgis to dinner (at last count there were nine), where they remain until the coffee arrives. On Christmas night the Queen gathers the entire family for charades (Princess Margaret excels) and other festive games.

Charles and Di are expected to spend the New Year’s holiday with the Queen at Sandringham, her 269-room country home on the windswept Norfolk coast, where Elizabeth breeds dogs and horses. Diana is not fond of touring the stables, but she has the opportunity here of visiting with her maternal grandmother, Ruth, Lady Fermoy, who lives on the estate.

Of all the royal residences, Diana is least enamored of Balmoral, a 50,000-acre estate overlooking Scotland’s sparkling River Dee. It is usually damp and chilly even in August, when the royal family settles in for six weeks. The 40-room granite castle, which has been described as “formal, stuffy and yet very ordinary,” has noisy plumbing and rudimentary heating and is the setting for various numbing rituals. The men shoot grouse, stalk deer or fish every morning except Sunday, while the women are encouraged to stay home to play the piano or join the Queen at jigsaw puzzles. The Queen and some of the women join the men for shooting in the afternoon. After a few days Charles and Diana usually settle in at their cottage, Craigowan, a five-bedroom lodge about a mile and a half from the castle. Here they have more privacy and may entertain their own guests, but are expected to drop in on the Queen twice a week.

No matter which grand mansion she is holed up in, Diana never truly has a feeling of complete privacy. But there is, of course, one consolation. Wherever she goes, no matter how long she stays, housecleaning is not one of her duties.

DIAMOND DI’S WORTH A MILLION

As a wedding gift, it was reported that Lady Diana Spencer’s father gave her a lovely but empty leather jewel case. Nearly seven years later, the jewel case from Dad is still beloved, but it is hardly empty. Diana’s enviable stash of sparklers is currently estimated at $1.5 million.

Prior to her marriage, Diana had accumulated a modest collection of gold and pearls, valued at about $3,000. Among the girlish gewgaws was a gold charm bracelet, a pinkie ring with the family crest on it, the initial Don a gold chain necklace, a pair of plain gold hoop earrings, a strand of pearls, and the three-row pearl choker (often worn with the clasp in front) that was to become an early Di trademark.

That may not seem like much for a girl of Diana’s noble background, but well-heeled English girls—even future princesses—are not normally laden with family jewelry until they marry. So Diana went out and got married. While it can be assumed that she did so for love, not for profit, there’s no arguing that the union put her on the map jewelrywise.

Diana received her first major gem after a private dinner at Windsor Castle with her future mother-in-law, just two days before Di’s engagement to Prince Charles was announced. The story is told by Leslie Field, author of The Queen’s Jewels, who reports that a tray of dazzling rings was produced, courtesy of Garrard, a royal jeweler. “There were about a dozen rings,” says Field, who was allowed to study Di’s collection for her book, “and it’s always been said that Diana immediately chose the biggest. But the princess told me that wasn’t true. She chose the one she liked best, and though it certainly is large [an oval sapphire surrounded by 14 diamonds, said to be worth $40,000], it was not the biggest.”

For the wedding itself, Diana was virtually pelted with rocks. From the Queen’s own magnificent 300-piece collection, Elizabeth picked out the 74-year-old Lover’s Knot pearl-and-diamond tiara for Diana, and also came across with her late grandmother Queen Mary’s Art Deco emerald-and-diamond choker, worth approximately $200,000, which she had inherited herself but never worn. From the Queen Mother came an oval Sri Lankan sapphire brooch. (Since the princess is never seen without earrings but is almost always seen without brooches, Diana had it adapted to wear as the centerpiece of a seven-row pearl choker.) Prince Charles chipped in with a pair of diamond-and-emerald pendant earrings and an exquisite Art Deco bracelet to match Queen Mary’s choker.

Not to be outdone, royalty elsewhere has contributed the occasional forget-me-not over the years. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia presented her with a $318,000 diamond-and-ruby necklace with matching earrings, the Sultan of Oman provided a $451,000 diamond-and-sapphire collar with matching earrings and bracelet, and the Emir of Qatar came through with an exquisite pair of pearl-and-diamond earrings worth about $40,000.

Charles, too, keeps donating to Diana’s collection by regularly adding sentimental trinkets. At William’s birth, he had a gold pendant made for her with William inscribed on it in Charles’s own handwriting. Each year he adds to her charm bracelet and once contributed a little gold wombat, in honor of William’s nickname.

Should Diana, amid all these riches, ever the feel the need of something completely different, she can always rummage around the strong room at Buckingham Palace and borrow something from the Queen’s own collection, known to be the world’s most valuable. It wasn’t unusual once to see Diana wearing necklaces belonging to her mother-in-law, although as Di’s own prodigious bounty has increased, the Queen has cut back on the loans. Somewhere down the road, Diana also may inherit part of the Spencer family’s formidable jewelry collection, which includes a tiara once owned by Marie Antoinette.

As the beneficiary of all this largess, Diana is probably more blasé than she used to be, but her unflappability is sometimes put to the test. She began to get a clue concerning what she was in for when Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, as a wedding gift, sent her a five-piece sapphire-and-diamond suite—necklace, earrings, ring, bracelet and watch—said to be worth upwards of $404,000. “Gosh, I don’t even know this man!” she exclaimed as she opened the green leather case. Chances are she hasn’t forgotten him.

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