"Charlotte's having a little taste of what my childhood was like," Spencer tells Town & Country U.K. of her daughter

By Michelle Tauber
May 16, 2019 04:47 PM

Karen Spencer is breathing new life into one of England’s most historic ancestral homes.

Spencer — who became a countess when she married Princess Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer, in 2011 — is opening a fresh window onto Althorp, the family home where Diana and her siblings spent their early years.

“In a way, life here is about to begin,” Spencer, the founder and CEO of the non-profit Whole Child International, tells Town & Country U.K. in its summer issue, referring to her full-time move to Althorp.

Previously, the mom of three split her time between the English country estate and her home in Southern California (where she raised her older daughters from a previous marriage). Now, with just her youngest daughter still at home — 6-year-old Charlotte Diana, whose middle name is a tribute to the late princess — she is relocating full-time to Althorp.

Countess Karen Spencer
Credit: Courtesy Town & Country/Philip Sinden
Countess Karen Spencer
Credit: Courtesy Town & Country/Philip Sinden

“Charlotte’s having a little taste of what my childhood was like,” says Spencer, who grew up largely in the Canadian National Parks, where her father was a ranger. “That freedom to roam, but within an enormous park with a wall around it. As a parent, it’s fantastic.”

Prince Harry Marries Ms. Meghan Markle - Windsor Castle
Karen and Charles Spencer at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19, 2018.
| Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The move comes as Spencer continues to expand the reach of Whole Child International, the organization she founded in 2004 to improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children.

Karen Spencer in El Salvador with Whole Child International.
| Credit: Scott Chamberlin/Whole Child International

“[When] children have quality primary-care relationships, they grow stronger,” Spencer, who was named one of PEOPLE’s 25 Women Changing the World, said in 2017. “I want to ensure that every child has the experience of a loving long-term relationship, a connection that sets them up to be successful and the intimacy they need to be productive members of society.”

Working to restructure existing children’s institutions, WCI educates caregivers about children’s developmental needs at every age and stage and turns everyday tasks like bath and meal times into bonding experiences. Caregivers are taught how to create memory books for each child — celebrating first steps, first words, birthdays and more — to help deepen the connection, while also providing the children with a sense of individuality and identity.

By making changes to emphasize connective relationships, WCI has seen remarkable health gains while continuing to push their work forward, including a training program for caregivers and policy makers in El Salvador that will be “a comprehensive overhaul of the country’s childcare system,” Spencer tells Town & Country.

As for life at Althorp, it includes a bouncy castle for Charlotte. “I’m passionate about using the whole thing,” she told PEOPLE in 2016 of the estate, which has a 500-year history. “It’s got such great energy. The very first time I walked into it, I just felt instantly at home.”

Countess Karen Spencer
Town & Country U.K.’s summer issue, on newsstands from May 16. Althorp House & Park is open to visitors from July 1 to August 31.
| Credit: Courtesy Town & Country/Philip Sinden