By People Staff
December 30, 1991 12:00 PM

She is beautiful, elegant, gracious, sophisticated…with more free cash flow than some small countries. Her husband, once enraptured, now seems callously indifferent, and rumors of his indiscretions abound. Her eldest son suffers a blow to the head. A cherished friend dies of AIDS. She protests in vain as her haughty stepmother sells off family heirlooms. She holds her own against the in-laws who question her work for AIDS charities. In short, there are enough story lines to launch a soap opera. Call it Palace, and tune in to the turbulently fascinating year of England’s Diana—a year that would produce a Princess of renewed resolve.

Certainly the darkest and most dramatic episode occurred on June 3. It began with a literal blow, an accidental crowning with a golf club by a Ludgrove schoolmate of Prince William, 9. When Wills was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery, a distraught Diana dashed to her son’s side—while her husband, Prince Charles, kept a date at the opera. The incident came to symbolize the familial insensitivity of the country’s future king.

So did the noncelebration of Di’s 30th birthday, which came and went July 1 without fanfare. (Charles, 43, said she declined his offer to throw her a party.) Reports of the couple’s chilliness grew loud enough to cause alarums on Fleet Street. British papers dared to name Charles’s alleged “other women,” including old flame Camilla Parker Bowles, 43. And so, even upon their much anticipated 10th wedding anniversary on July 29. the couple did not feel inclined to quash the reports with a show of togetherness. Said a Buckingham Palace source: “They just don’t care anymore.” (Even a highly touted second honeymoon cruise last August turned out to be a family holiday with 10 of the Windsor clan along for the ride.)

Ever dutiful, Diana was able to keep her perfectly coiffed head high and her newly grown-out nails polished and to go about her royal business (including the mothering of Wills and Prince Harry, 7) with good cheer. She even weathered the embarrassing rift with her cash-hungry stepmother, Raine Spencer. Then last fall Diana’s veneer was shattered. After the death of her friend Adrian Ward-Jackson, a homosexual art dealer who succumbed to an AIDS-related illness, she appeared at his funeral in tears.

What followed was even more painful: an open questioning from inside and outside the Palace of Diana’s devotion to AIDS charities. Privately, father-in-law Prince Philip and sister-in-law Princess Anne reportedly objected to the amount of time she spends on the cause. Di became the target of antigay mail, while columnist John Junor asked in The Mail on Sunday: “Could she really want to go down in history as the patron saint of sodomy?”

Such derision, Di told a friend, “has made me even more determined to do everything I can to offer support and comfort.” When Diana presented Vanessa Redgrave with the Evening Standard Drama Award for best actress of the year on Nov. 12, Redgrave said, “I wanted to tell you how much…I appreciate the work you do for AIDS and for children’s charities. I really mean that.” (Poignantly, film director Tony Richardson, Redgrave’s former husband, would die two days later from the consequences of AIDS.)

As she has done in the past, Diana was able to call upon her remarkable inner strength to carry her through the past year’s storms. “Mail sent in the hope that it will demoralize her, knock her off her course or make her abandon her campaign of enlightenment” would only make her more resolute, predicted the editorial writers of London’s Daily Mirror. Then they printed their own letter to the Princess: “Dear Di, Keep up the good work.”