The Secret Tapes and Leaked Calls That Led to Prince Charles and Princess Diana's Divorce: 'It Rocked the Royal Family'
Leaks, interviews and other factors that led to the 1996 royal split
Throughout the 1980’s, many viewed the couple as a fairy tale come to life — especially after their extravagant 1981 wedding. Quickly, Diana became one of the most photographed (and talked-about) people in the world.
By the time the ’90s rolled around, the press attention on Charles and Diana’s marriage was at an all-time high. So high, in fact, that Parliament called the editors of U.K. newspapers to Westminster to debate a person’s right to privacy versus the public’s right to know.
But it was their own admissions that truly shook the world — and pushed their marriage towards divorce.
First, in 1992, Andrew Morton’s now-famous book, Diana: Her True Story, was published. In it, revelations of Diana’s private unhappiness, including her struggles with bulimia and past suicide attempts were made known to the public for the first time. Little did the public know at the time, however, that it was Diana herself who supplied the interviews to Morton, through her friend James Colthurst. Though the news was shocking, it did drive some sympathy towards Diana. Her charity partner, Vivienne Parry, said, “it made her real.”
And this was just the beginning: Calls between Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles (now Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall), as well as Diana and her then-lover James Gilbey, were released in the press later in 1992. By the end of the year, the couple’s separation had been announced by Prime Minister John Major in Parliament.
Later on, in 1994, Charles sat down for an interview in a documentary that painted a not-so-great portrait of his marriage to Diana, in which he admitted to being unfaithful and called their union “irretrievably broken down.”
But it was the Panorama interview where things really crossed the point of no return — for Queen Elizabeth, at least. In 1995, Diana sat down with host Martin Bashir for an interview in which she candidly discussed Charles’s infidelity, her own affairs, and a feeling of isolation in the royal family. In her most-repeated quote, she said there were “three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” referencing her husband’s affair with Camilla.
“When you look at why she did these things, you have to look at the circumstances,” her younger brother, Charles Spencer, said of her decision to open up to Panorama in The Story of Diana.“Whether she was right or wrong in these decisions, she felt really in a tight spot.”
A month later, the Queen had written to Charles and Diana and encouraged them to divorce. They were granted the divorce in 1996, just a year before Diana’s death.
For full PEOPLE coverage of the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death:
•The Story of Diana, a two-part television event from PEOPLE and ABC, airs on ABC Aug. 9 and 10 at 9 p.m. E.T.
•PEOPLE’s special edition Diana: Her Life and Legacy is available now
•Princess Diana: Behind the Headlines is streaming on the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the PEN app on your favorite mobile or connected TV device