#SheDidThat

August 31, 1997: Princess Diana Died in a Car Crash

Photo: Francois LOCHON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

On August 31, 1997, Princess Diana died in a car crash in a Paris tunnel. Formally known as Diana Princess of Wales, her death captivated the world, with over three million mourners arriving at her funeral on September 6 at London’s Westminster Abbey while an estimated 2.5 billion people around the world watched on television.

Born Diana Frances Spencer on July 1, 1961 to British aristocracy, she became known as Lady Diana Spencer when her father inherited the title Earl Spencer. She was recognized internationally after her engagement to Prince Charles in 1981. Over 750 million people around the world tuned in to watch their “fairytale wedding” on July 29 of that same year.

Dubbed the “People’s Princess,” Diana would modernize the legendarily staid monarchy. As the first Englishwoman in 300 years to become the spouse to an heir apparent, Princess Diana was also the first royal bride to have been gainfully employed (as a kindergarten teacher) before getting engaged. Diana proved uninhibited by the formalities of her role, using the relentless spotlight that followed her to promote causes particularly important to her, including support for AIDS patients (she famously shook the hand of an HIV-positive patient despite hysteria around the disease at the time) and the dangers of landmines. She also, famously, broke with longstanding convention about disclosing private details of royal life by revealing her public about her struggles with bulimia and depression.

The fashion-forward, beloved Princess would become the most famous person in the world. Although they had two children together (Harry and William), Princess Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles did not end happily ever after. After years of estrangement and infidelities, they were divorced in 1996.

Controversy surrounded Diana’s death. Many placed blame on the retinue of paparazzi trailing her car. Some speculated that it was a royal conspiracy. An investigation of the accident later found that her driver, who also perished, was intoxicated that night.

Of the beloved Princess, Queen Elizabeth, with whom she had a famously frosty relationship, said, “No one who knew Diana will ever forget her. Millions of others who never met her, but felt they knew her, will remember her. I, for one, believe there are lessons to be drawn from her life and from the extraordinary and moving reaction to her death. I share in your determination to cherish her memory.”

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