Prince Charles and Princess Diana were married on July 29, 1981, but their marriage was anything but a fairy tale and they ended up divorcing in 1996.
Theirs was the most famous divorce in royal family history and it wasn’t much of a surprise since they had separated four years earlier. What was shocking was everything we learned about their marriage post-split. Who would have thought that following the prince and princess’ lavish royal ceremony watched by millions around the world that the couple would be in such an unhappy union riddled with lies and infidelity? When the princess was killed following a car crash one year after their divorce, many wondered what the reaction would be from the palace and the prince she shared two children with. Here’s how the Prince of Wales and others reacted after they learned Diana had died.
How Prince Charles reacted to Diana’s death
Soon after Diana died on an operating table in La Pitie Salpetriere Hospital at 3 a.m. on Aug. 31, 1997, Prince Charles was told the news. “He was absolutely distraught. He fell apart,” Tina Brown, author of The Diana Chronicles, said in the 2017 TV documentary Diana: 7 Days That Shook the Windsors. “He knew, instantly, that this was going to be a terrible thing, that…he will be blamed, that they [the royal family] will be blamed, for the death of Diana.”
He also dreaded having to tell his children, Princes William and Harry, that their mother was gone and wasn’t sure if he should wake them up at that moment, in the middle of the night, or let them sleep. Eventually, Queen Elizabeth II decided that it was best to let them sleep. Charles flew to Paris that evening along with Diana’s two sisters, Lady Sarah and Lady Jane, to collect her body and in photos taken at the airport, the prince looked just as upset as the two women did. In the car, he reportedly told the British ambassador, “It all seems unreal.”
How the palace handled the news
The palace was heavily criticized for how it handled the tragic news. Almost immediately after Diana’s death, the public was expecting a statement from Buckingham Palace or the queen herself but instead, there was silence. In fact, the royals weren’t even in London, they were in Scotland at the Balmoral Castle and their silence was deafening.
While members of the British public were furious that they weren’t in England where the princess’ body had been brought back to, the family remained in the Highlands with Diana’s two sons in an effort to allow the boys to grieve privately. But the business-as-usual approach including the news that the princes attended mass with their grandmother the morning after Diana died was viewed as cold and rubbed many people the wrong way.
Prince William offered this explanation about his grandmom’s behavior after the tragedy, “She felt very torn between being the grandmother to William and Harry, and her queen role. And I think she– everyone–was surprised and taken aback by the scale of what happened and the nature of how quickly it all happened.” The family finally returned to London on Sept. 5, and the queen spoke to the nation in a live broadcast in which she paid tribute to her former daughter-in-law.
Public reaction to the death of the ‘People’s Princess’
There was no social media at the time of Princess Diana’s death. Had there been, countless tributes would have surely dominated the internet.
News reports back then, however, did show how much of the British public and others around the world had mourned the loss of the princess. And one politician, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, summed up what so many were feeling when he addressed reporters shortly after her death. It was in that very moment that he gave Diana a name no one would ever forget when he called her “The People’s Princess.”
“You know how difficult things were for her from time to time, I’m sure we could only guess at, but the people everywhere–not just here in Britain, everywhere–they kept faith with Princess Diana, ” Blair said. “They liked her, they loved her, they regarded her as one of the people. She was the ‘People’s Princess.’ And that’s how she will stay, how she will remain, in our hearts and in our memories, forever.”