September 20, 2016 05:52 AM

Did you really have to show them to everybody?” Charles asked his fiancée after the kindergarten aide’s backlit legs made front pages. Honeymooning at Balmoral (left), Di sat by her man.

Shy Di? A myth. Sly Di is more like it. At 19, when she first blinked for the paparazzi, Diana was unsophisticated but nonetheless naturally shrewd—always listening, watching, learning. Yes, she once called herself thick as a plank, but that, she later explained, was to put a nervous child at ease. Despite the personal torments endured in her 15-year marriage, there is no denying she had a great run: efficiently producing the requisite “heir and a spare,” reshaping the role of public princess for an egalitarian, mass-media age and leaving the world, in the process, an incomparable album of memorable images. She’ll probably never be Queen of England, but at almost 35, she is clearly Empress of Op. As in photo op.

During the Waleses’ first major tour—to Australia in 1983—the crowds went wild for Diana, stinging the prince, heretofore the unrivaled star. While Diana sympathized, she adapted to the spotlight. “You couldn’t indulge in feeling sorry for yourself,” she later recalled. “You had to either sink or swim…. I swam.”

After William’s birth in 1982, Diana suffered postpartum depression and a serious bout of bulimia. Her son (at 18 months) was the only joy in her life, she told friends.

Although their marriage was deeply troubled by 1985, Charles and Di (dancing in Australia that year) kept smiling because, she said, “we didn’t want to disappoint the public.”

While Charles chatted up Nancy Reagan, Diana twirled with John Travolta at the White House in 1985. Later she waltzed with Clint Eastwood and Neil Diamond.

Visiting West Palm Beach in 1985, Diana flirted with polo players while her husband looked the other way.

I think the biggest disease this world suffers from…[is] people feeling unloved,” said Diana (at a London hospice in 1985). “I can give love…. I’m very happy to do that, and I want to do that.”

By 1986 her bulimia was “rampant,” recalled Diana (at a Vienna banquet that year). “I was crying out for help.”

Fergie’s boisterous personality lifted Diana’s spirits (at Epsom in 1987). But the Queen was not amused by the umbrella-poking antics of the all-too-merry wives of Windsor.

When they visited Toronto in 1991, Charles and Diana could no longer conceal their private estrangement from the public. A year later, Prime Minister John Major announced their official separation.

Impassive as bookends, Charles and Diana endured each other at a V-J Day parade in London last August as Harry and Wills spoke volumes with their wrists.

At a benefit in Manhattan last December for United Cerebral Palsy, Diana—now the solo superstar—and Colin Powell (reportedly her many-times-removed cousin through Spencer ancestors who once lived in Jamaica) received awards from Barbara Walters and Henry Kissinger.

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