Princess Diana undoubtedly left a lasting impact on the world. Not only is she remembered as a humanitarian and fashion icon, but her defiance against royal tradition also set a new precedent for the following generations of royals. Here’s a look at some of the royal rules only she could break so gracefully.
1. A Hands-On Mother
Part of what people believed to be so lovable about Princess Diana was the way she adored her children. Instead of parenting from an arms distance – which was typical of royal mothers – she took on a hands-on approach. This meant arranging her schedule around her sons’ instead of relying on the help of nannies: an action, which according to royal correspondents, Queen Elizabeth didn’t agree with.
According to Victoria Arbiter – a royal correspondent for ABC News – Princess Diana is also considered to be the first royal mother to breastfeed. She added, “Of course, that’s hard for us to know for certain, but Queen Victoria was adamant that she found breastfeeding disgusting.” What we know for sure is that Diana certainly helped remove the taboo of breastfeeding for future royal wives, Middleton and Markle.
2. A Non-Royal Style Of Parenting
The royal family has historically been rooted in tradition, with rigid protocol governing everything from their most sacred ceremonies to their everyday life. And as Princess Diana proved, she wasn’t afraid to rewrite the rules in either of the two settings.
Princess Diana’s attempt to make her kids’ childhoods normal went beyond just their schooling. She also took them to McDonald’s and Disneyland (where they waited in line with everyone else), rode with them on the bus and tube, and dressed them up casually in jeans and a tee. As Prince William later explained, “She understood that there was a real life outside of Palace walls.”
3. Choosing Her Own Bling Bling
As was tradition in the English monarchy before the title of Princess was bestowed upon Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, royal wives had their engagement rings custom made for them using family relics as the main stones. Queen Elizabeth II’s ring, for example, was made from Prince Philip’s mother’s diamond tiara.
The 20-year-old bride, Diana put an end to this norm. She instead picked her ring out of a Garrard jewelry catalog, which inevitably led to a big stir, as it was technically accessible to the public. The 12-carat sapphire ring surrounded by 14 solitaire diamonds was later passed down to her son (Prince William)’s wife, Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge.
4. A Working Woman
At the time Princess Diana and Prince Charles got engaged in 1981, Diana was the first royal woman to have worked in a paying job. According to Business Insider, the future princess was a part-time kindergarten teacher in the Pimlico district of London, England.
She also allegedly shared an apartment with three other roommates during this time. While working with children comes as no surprise given Diana’s love for them, some say her job as an educator was ironic since she reportedly failed her O-level exams (meant for students who wished to continue on to university) not once, but twice.
5. “I do”
English royal weddings typically use a liturgy from the Church of England’s Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Since 1662, this book has included the line, “…to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part” in its wedding vows. But this all changed when Princess Diana wed Prince Charles.
In 1981, Princess Diana made a powerful statement about the power dynamics between husband and wife by choosing to omit the word “obey.” Doing this inevitably led to some backlash at the time but it also started a new tradition. Diana’s action inspired both Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle to follow in her lead.
6. Delivering Her Children
Heirs to the British throne had traditionally always been born at home… until Princess Diana came along and set a new normal. Though the royal home was equipped with all the necessary equipment for childbirth, Diana preferred to deliver Prince William and Prince Harry at St. Mary’s Hospital.
The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton decided to follow in her mother-in-law’s footprints and give birth to all three of her children in the same Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital. Meghan Markle, on the other hand, delivered son Archie at Portland Hospital in London (despite previous rumors of a home birth).
7. Traveling With Her Kids
Before Princess Diana joined the royal family and deviated from its formalities, it was common practice for royal mothers to leave their children at home – and usually under the care of a nanny – while they took trips abroad.
Prince Charles, for example, was left with his grandparents at the age of two while Queen Elizabeth II traveled to Malta to spend Christmas with his father. Princess Diana took a more modern approach to mothering and instead brought her children along on her adventures. When Prince William was nine months old, he accompanied his parents on a six week tour to Australia and New Zealand.
Next: Princess Diana caused a lot of controversy from breaking this next royal rule
8. Public Schools For A Private Family
Per tradition, the children of royal families are typically taught by a governess and private tutors within the walls of Buckingham Palace. But Princess Diana reversed this custom by making Prince William the first future monarch to learn at a public school: Jane Mynors’ nursery school.
At just three years old, Prince William made history. Attending a nursery school with so-called “commoners” was part of Diana’s way to keep her children grounded and similar to other progressive changes she made, Kate Middleton and Prince William followed suit with their own children. In January 2016, Prince George started school at Westacre Montessori nursery school.
9. The “People’s Princess”
Princess Diana was known for being uncharacteristically warm – a trait that earned her the nickname, the “people’s princess.” Speaking to this, she said, “I am following my heart, not my head… there should be somebody who will be closer to people, love them, and show this love to them.”
Diana showed her care and love for members of the public by making a conscious effort to bond with them. She told “Diana” author, Andrew Morton, “If I go out and about…I can always pick up on a TV program…It works so well. Everybody watches it and I say, ‘Did you see so and so? Wasn’t it funny when this or that happened? and you are immediately on the same level.”
10. Reversing The Stigma Of Disease
According to royal protocol, it is forbidden for “common” people to come into physical contact with royal family members. Princess Diana often broke this rule by hugging the sick. And in doing so, she also helped reverse the stigma of disease.
In 1987, Princess Diana famously shook hands with an HIV/AIDS-positive man without wearing gloves. This sparked a change in public thinking, as it was believed at the time that AIDS could be contracted through touch alone. Not only that, but it showed Diana wasn’t afraid of taking risks when it came to being relatable and showing compassion to others.
11. Taking A Stance
Although royal policy deems it unconstitutional for the monarch to involve itself in controversial issues that could convey political sentiment, this didn’t stop Diana from making a strong political statement in 1997. The princess visited an active minefield in Huambo, Angola as a means to campaign against landmines – an action that sparked a great deal of international controversy.
Diana’s advocacy to ban all mines set into motion a domino effect that led to a massive reduction in landmines across the globe. It started with Defense Secretary George Robertson outlawing the use of the weapon by British troops. And while many countries followed suit, there is still more work to be done. Today, Prince Harry is working with the same anti-landmine organization that his mom worked with – HALO – to continue her fight.
Next: Princess Diana was the first to break this next rule
12. Getting On Their Level
Princess Diana strayed away from royal norms in more ways than one. In fact, she was reportedly the first royal family member to take her affection towards the people to the next level by hugging and squeezing children in public, despite it being considered “inappropriate.”
According to ABC News, the editor of Majesty magazine Ingrid Seward said Princess Diana used to say, “If someone might be nervous of you or you’re speaking to a very young child or a sick person, get yourself on their level.” She certainly set a new precedent in the royal family, as her sons and their wives now do the same when interacting with children.
13. Open & Sincere
Despite appearing all the media, the royal family has historically been pretty private until Princess Diana came and changed the game. She was uncharacteristically open and sincere with journalists, detailing both her joys and concerns and making her seem all the more relatable to the average person.
In 1995, Diana gave a televised interview with BBC where she opened up in a way no British royal had ever done before. Aside from addressing her marital problems with Prince Charles, she talked about her struggles with mental health and eating disorders. Her vulnerability set the stage for her sons and daughters-in-law to do the same.
14. No Longer an HRH
At first, Princess Diana and Prince Charles appeared to have a fairy tale relationship. But because of Diana’s openness with the media, it became no secret that their marriage was actually marked by drama and infidelity. After 15 years together, the couple divorced in 1996.
While Princess Diana wasn’t the first divorcee in the royal family, none of her predecessors were likely as high-profile as she was. And because the royal family is in the spotlight and so closely connected to the Church of England, royal divorces turn out to be even more of a scandal than normal ones. Following a divorce, for example, the Queen must agree upon the divorcee’s new title. While Queen Elizabeth II permitted Diana to keep her title of “Her Royal Highness,” Charles refused, which led to the compromised title, “Diana, Princess of Wales.”
15. Ready To Mingle
Enduring such a public separation from Prince Charles wasn’t easy and despite all the stories in the press that were meant to tarnish Diana’s reputation, the Princess of Wales found the strength to move on. Following her separation from the prince, she began publicly dating surgeon, Hasnat Khan, who she even introduced to sons William and Harry.
But after two years of dating, the couple called it quits on their relationship. Diana was then linked to Egyptian millionaire and family friend, Dodi Fayed. In moving on with her romantic life, Princess Diana proved once again that royals are only human to the public.
Next: How Princess Diana unknowingly helped move the monarchy forward
16. Going Out Incognito
According to historian Kate Williams, Princess Diana loved living at Kensington Palace because she felt it gave her more independence than any other royal residence. And as a way to exercise this independence, Williams claims Diana repeatedly snuck out incognito.
The many exits out of Kensington Palace made it easy to reach Kensington High Street, where Diana used to shop while wearing a wig. It was also rumored that she used to take her children out to movie theaters and fast-food restaurants while in disguise. She even reportedly went out to bars to get drinks with friends like Elton John and Freddie Mercury!
17. A Daringly Different Dress Code
Among many other things, Princess Diana was a fashion icon. This was in part due to her bravery in breaking the strict dress code that governed the royal family. For example, she was seen wearing a necklace as a respected tiara during an event in Australia with Prince Charles.
The diamond and emerald necklace actually belonged to Queen Elizabeth, though Princess Diana wore it a number of times. Speaking to the significance of a tiara, Diana’s hairdresser Richard Dalton said, “What people don’t realize, is the magnitude… and the significance of the tiara. It’s a crown jewel and must be respected and protected. You have to be extremely careful and gentle with it, and absolutely no hairspray or styling product can touch the stones.” Only Princess Diana could use a necklace to represent something so valuable and sacred.
18. Baring Her Bare Skin
Princess Diana not only pushed the boundaries on royal protocol when it came to work and family, but also when it came to the way she dressed. Despite it being forbidden for royals to dress in anything immodest or provocative, Diana frequented dresses that showed her décolletage.
As a means to shield her plunging neckline from paparazzi, she used to hold her purses over her chest when she exited the car. It was for this reason that her handbag designer, Anya Hindmarch said Diana referred to her purses as “cleavage bags.” The purpose of covering up differed greatly from why royal women before Diana carried clutches. For example, the Queen uses purses to signify social cues, like when not to shake her hand, when to finish eating, or when to end a conversation.
19. Bold In Black
Members of the royal family have traditionally only worn black when they are in mourning or when they are attending a funeral. It is also a known rule that they must carry a black outfit with them while they travel, in case of a sudden death.
It seems these norms didn’t stop Princess Diana from rocking an LBD to a number of different events. In fact, her affinity for black set her apart even more from the queen, who we’ll most likely never see wearing anything dark, as her brightly-colored outfits aren’t without purpose. As part of another royal protocol, the queen dresses in bright tones so that it is easier to see her in a crowd.
20. No Gloves, No Problem
Typically, royals are expected to wear gloves to formal events as a way to convey elegance and provide a protective barrier against germs. But unsurprisingly, Princess Diana didn’t uphold this royal rule either. Experts argue that Diana’s choice had less to do with fashion and more to do with how gloves were perceived socially.
An expert on Princess Diana’s fashion, Eleri Lynn argued that Diana’s decision not to wear gloves was meant to “convey approachability and warmth.” She wished to be able to shake and hold hands with “commoners” using direct contact. This differed greatly from royal protocol, which says a handshake should last no more than two shakes to avoid having contact with “commoners” for too long.
21. Bye Bye, Hats
Another accessory Princess Diana didn’t wear were hats. While it was tradition for royal women to wear jeweled tiaras at night, they were expected to wear hats or fascinators to formal events during the day. Princess Diana, however, didn’t follow the latter.
Expert on Princess Diana’s fashion and curator of the “Diana: Her Fashion Story” exhibit at Kensington Palace, Eleri Lynn spoke of Diana’s decision not to wear hats, saying, “[Diana] said, ‘You can’t cuddle a child in a hat.’” This was the main reason she stopped wearing hats to visit children in the hospital. During hospital visits, she was also said to wear bright colors to cheer the kids up and chunky necklaces that they could play with.
22. Experimenting With Makeup
Despite being one of the world’s most photographed women, many people failed to notice one of Princess Diana’s funnest beauty trademarks: her bold, bright blue eyeliner. It was part of her signature look, even though being part of the royal family means dressing in more conservative, neutral colors.
Unbeknownst to many, it wasn’t royal protocol that interfered with Diana’s choice of makeup, but instead her own makeup artist, Mary Greenwell. Greenwell apparently wasn’t on board with Diana’s choice of eyeliner, saying, “Blue eyes should never wear blue pencil or shadow – it dulls your eyes!” But leave it up to Princess Diana to do things her own way.
23. Not Picky With Polish
Per Queen Elizabeth II’s rule, royal women are not allowed to wear any nail polish of a non-neutral color, as it is considered to be too flashy. But you wouldn’t know this is a rule by looking at Princess Diana’s manicures.
In fact, never known to play by the rules, Princess Diana often broke this rule by sporting bright red on her nails. Her opposition to the rule that royal women were meant to keep their beauty simple and plain also seemed to have rubbed off on Meghan Markle. Taking after her mother-in-law, Markle often wears dark reds, purples, or blacks on her nails when she attends events.
24. Suiting Up
Known as the original royal rule-breaker, Princess Diana wasn’t afraid to be bold with her wardrobe. One example of this is seen in the way she often wore pantsuits to formal events, despite the fact that pants in this type of setting were traditionally meant to be worn only by men.
Princess Diana may have been the first royal woman to wear pants to a formal event, but she certainly wasn’t the last. The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle has followed in her footsteps and regularly rocks the blazer and suit look. Although – according to Bustle Digital Group – Harry doesn’t believe this look is traditional enough.
25. Attention To Detail
Royal women have been known for having well-maintained hair. While Queen Elizabeth II is known for her perm, Princess Diana is known for her short, not so “done” hairdo. In fact, Diana’s hair was one area where she seemed to stray away from the boldness she showed in her mannerisms, parenting, and fashion and instead revert to something more simple.
Princess Diana definitely helped make short hair on women “cool.” But while the up-keep seemed simple, her hairdresser Richard Dalton claimed she actually got it cut every few weeks in secrecy. This was because she didn’t want a noticeable haircut to make headlines. Dalton explained, “Whatever I did to her hair became front page news. We had to be very careful. We had to do it one-fourth of an inch at a time over several weeks.”
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