To this day, Princess Diana is remembered for her unusual and defiant spirit amidst the stately world of British royalty. Today, we’re going to explore the countless rules she broke as a beloved princess.
She Was a Hands on Mother
Hands-on parenting was one of the many reasons she was so relatable to the public, especially compared to many traditional royal matriarchs. Diana even arranged her son's schedules, which the Queen wasn't happy about.
Diana even breastfed her sons, something that had previously been taboo for royal mothers. ABC's royal correspondent Victoria Arbiter reported this fact, adding, "Of course, that's hard for us to know for certain, but Queen Victoria was adamant that she found breastfeeding disgusting."
Her Own Style of Parenting
Monarchies in every country have been built around strict protocols, and immoveable behaviors meant to dictate every family member's lives. But Princess Diana rejected many of these expectations, particularly when it came to enjoying time with her children outside of palace walls.
Diana wanted her children to have as normal of a life as possible. "She understood that there was a real-life outside of Palace walls," Prince William once said. She went as far as to take them on trips to McDonald's and Disneyland, showed them how to use public transportation, and let them dress as casually as any other child.
She Chose Her Own Jewelry
Another rigid royal tradition involved engagement rings. Royal wives were always expected to wear a custom-made ring made of stones from the family collection. For instance, Queen Elizabeth had her own ring made from Prince Philip's mother's diamond tiara. But in 1981, Diana broke this wedding tradition for the first time.
At just 20-years-old she resolved to choose her own engagement ring. She selected a 12-carat sapphire and solitaire diamond piece from a Garrard jewelry catalog. Because the ring had previously been on sale to the public, many were against her choice. The piece would reappear on the hand of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
She Worked a Part-Time Job
Back when Princess Diana became engaged to Prince Charles, she was also working a part-time job, which was highly unorthodox for a royal woman at the time. Business Insider reports that she was working as a kindergarten teacher in Pimlico, London, quite pleased with her lifestyle.
She was also living with three flatmates at the time, another strange circumstance for her royal counterparts. Not only that but Diana reportedly also failed her O-levels twice (O-levels being tests that are taken to gain university entrance), an academic failure that was no doubt frowned upon for a royal.
Her Own Wedding Vows
When it came to her royal wedding, it wasn’t just her engagement ring that Diana was criticized for. Since the 17th-century, royal weddings have used a liturgy from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the line “…to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part” as a wedding vow. But not in Diana’s case.
During the ceremony, Diana made a decision that commented on gender roles and relationship dynamics of the time. She left the word “obey” out of her marriage vows, a decision that caused some controversy at the time. But it also paved the way for Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, who did the same at their own ceremonies.
She Delivered Her Children in a Hospital
Another unusual tradition of the British monarchy dictated that all heirs to the throne must be born at home. Royal homes were always well-equipped and prepared for childbirth, but this didn’t mean much to Diana. The rebellious princess chose to deliver both of her sons at St. Mary’s Hospital.
She proved to be a trend-setter again, as Kate Middleton also chose to birth her children in - you guessed it - St. Mary’s Hospital. Her three children were even delivered in the same wing as their father and uncle! Despite rumors of an at-home delivery, Meghan Markle chose to give birth at Portland Hospital, London.
She Travelled With Her Children
As if Princess Di hadn’t already proven to be an unconventional royal mother, she found another way to deviate from the Windsor norms. In the royal family, it was expected that parents leave their children at home while traveling abroad, usually in the care of a nanny. But not Diana.
Even Prince Charles used to stay with his grandparents when his mother and father visited Malta as a child. But regardless, Diana chose to take her children virtually everywhere. At just nine months old, Prince William was taken on a six-week tour of Australia and New Zealand.
She Pushed for Public Education
Hospitals aren’t the only public institution with limited royal visits. Royal children typically never attended public schools, being educated at Buckingham Palace by governesses and private tutors. But Princess Diana made history when she enrolled her first son William at a public nursery school - the first royal parent to do so.
But she wasn’t the last. Her desire to keep her sons grounded by integrating them with “common” society (as much as possible) influenced her daughter-in-law too. Kate Middleton chose to do the same with her own children, enrolling Prince George at Westacre Montessori nursery school in 2016.
She Was the "People's Princess"
Diana's public image as a warm and loving mother was unusual for royals at the time, but the public loved it. This led her to adopt the name the "people's princess." She responded by saying, "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."
She went out of her way to form a bond with the public, telling 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."
Changing the Stigma of Diseases
As per centuries-old tradition, “commoners” are not permitted to touch any royal family member. But Princess Di stood firmly against this rule, frequently hugging ill members of the public. Such a simple gesture even went as far as to change the public’s mind about certain diseases.
In 1987, Diana made headlines for meeting with an HIV/AIDS-positive patient and shaking his hand without wearing gloves. At the time, many people believed that AIDS could spread through touch, but Diana’s actions quickly reversed this stigma. It also showed her willingness to break boundaries in favor of showing compassion.
She Made a Statement
It has always been a contentious issue for royal family members to involve themselves in political disputes or overshare their opinions on controversial matters. But Princess Diana chose to take a stand on a matter close to her heart. In 1997 she campaigned against landmines in Angola by visiting an active minefield.
Her actions soon became an international incident, but her advocacy led to widespread support and an eventual reduction in global landmine numbers. The use of landmines by British troops was banned by the Defense Secretary, and today, her son Harry still works with HALO - the same anti-landmine organization his mother patronized.
She Was Approachable to the Public
Princess Di’s public image as a kind and affectionate woman wasn’t just an act. She ignored royal norms by sharing this warmth and affection with members of the public, even going so far as hugging and embracing children, something that was labeled as “inappropriate.”
Majesty magazine editor Ingrid Seward once reported Diana as saying, “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 knew how to interact with others regardless of their social status and set a valuable precedent for her adult sons.
She Was An Open Book
Before Diana joined the Windsor family ranks, her royal counterparts had always been very private, limiting public access to their inner lives. The new princess changed all of that, choosing to be unusually open with the media, often talking about her thoughts and feelings in interviews.
In 1995, a televised interview with Diana aired on BBC, one of the most open interviews a British royal had ever given. Not only did she open up about her marriage, but she even addressed her eating disorders and other mental health issues. This public sincerity later encouraged her children and their spouses to do the same.
She Acknowledged Her Crumbling Marriage
After Princess Di chose to air out some of the difficulties in her life with the press, people soon realized that her marriage to Prince Charles was not the fairytale relationship that many people had perceived. And not long after, the marriage would end in divorce, after 15 years together.
Well, it certainly wasn’t the first failed marriage in royal history, but it was the most public one. And royal divorcees were always a scandal. It was the Queen’s right to dictate what Diana’s post-divorce title would be, and after some negotiation with Prince Charles, she was left with the title, “Diana, Princess of Wales.”
She Lived the Single Life
The following year was incredibly challenging for Diana, with her trial separation posted all over the tabloids, and a national press determined to ruin her standing with the public. But she pushed forward regardless and soon began a relationship with a surgeon named Hasnat Khan.
Diana even introduced Hasnat to her sons, but sadly the relationship lasted for only two years. Not long after, she was linked to Dodi Fayed, an Egyptian millionaire and long-time friend. The public had more sympathy for her than the media did, understanding that she needed to move on.
She Snuck Out Incognito
Historian Kate Williams wrote that Diana spent much of her married life in Kensington Palace, as she felt that it gave her the strongest sense of independence. This was likely because she could "escape" the royal residence, often sneaking out in a disguise.
Kensington Palace had many exits, and the Princess found it easy to slip away and blend into the public while wearing a carefully-chosen wig. According to some reports, she often took her sons out for fast-food and visits to the cinema. Some say she even met with famous friends Elton John, Freddie Mercury, and others at local bars.
She Challenged the Dress Code
One of the many things Princess Diana is remembered for is her iconic fashion sense. Despite the strict dress codes dictated by the royal family, she often chose to dress how she pleased. One such example occurred during a tour of Australia when Diana wore queen Elizabeth's diamond and emerald necklace as a tiara.
Richard Dalton, Diana's hairdresser, explained the tiara's significance. "What people don't realize, is the magnitude… and the significance of the tiara. It's a crown jewel and must be […]protected," he said. "You have to be extremely careful and gentle with it, and absolutely no hairspray or styling product can touch the stones."
She Wore Revealing Outfits
She frequently defied the royal dress codes in everyday life, much to the dislike of her in-laws. Royals were forbidden to wear "immodest" or "provocative" clothing, but Diana often wore dresses that left her décolletage uncovered. She sometimes had to hold her purse over her neck to hide the plunging neckline from the paparazzi.
According to Anya Hindmarch, Diana's handbag designer, she often called her purses "cleavage bags." The Queen had also used purses as a social function, to block "commoners" from shaking her hand or to end a conversation. But of course, Diana's purses served an entirely different purpose.
She Wore Black
Another royal tradition dictates that family members should only over wear black during a funeral or mourning period. Black outfits were often strictly carried during trips in the unexpected event of death or tragedy. But this didn’t stop Diana, who enjoyed wearing sophisticated black dresses on various occasions.
Her black outfits and accessories were some of the visual features that most set her apart from other royal women. Many of her counterparts, including the Queen, will be seen dressed in bright colors at public functions, usually as a means to make themselves more noticeable in crowds of people.
She Didn't Wear Gloves
The British royals had a laundry list of dress codes, and Diana broke virtually all of them. Royal men and women typically wore gloves during formal functions, both as elegant ornamentation and “protection” from dirt and germs. Diana ignored this too, not because of her own fashion sense but because of the symbolism involved.
Fashion expert Eleri Lynn believes that Diana chose to forego the formal gloves because she felt that bare hands would “convey approachability and warmth.” She wanted to make direct contact with the people she was meeting and often shook hands longer than the suggested two shakes that most royals gave to “commoners.”
She Didn't Wear Hats
If you look through all of these photos, you may notice one thing - Diana rarely ever wore hats. While this isn’t strange for the average person, it is highly unusual for a royal woman. Traditionally, a woman in her position was expected to wear hats at public daytime events. But as you might expect, Diana ignored this.
Eleri Lynn discussed this at “Diana: Her Fashion Story,” an exhibition she curated at Kensington Palace. “[Diana] said, ‘You can’t cuddle a child in a hat.’” She refused to wear them in situations where she would be meeting with children, particularly during hospital visits.
She Experimented With Makeup
One thing that is rarely talked about when it comes to Diana’s many “transgressions” is her use of bright blue eyeliner. She wore it frequently to compliment her blue eyes, a bold move for anyone, let alone a royal family member. It was custom for royals to wear more neutral, muted colors.
Eventually, Diana’s signature makeup choice came to an end, but not because of the royal rules. Instead, it was her makeup artist who recommended she give up the blue eyeliner. According to Mary Greenwell, “Blue eyes should never wear blue pencil or shadow – it dulls your eyes!”
She Wore Daring Nail Polish Colors
For royal women, wearing neutral-colored nail-polish is preferred, whereas flashy colors are generally frowned upon. Queen Elizabeth II has even famously worn the same brand of pale pink polish for three decades! But of course, Princess Diana wasn’t having any of that.
Diana often wore bright red nail polish, one of the most vibrant colors a person could possibly wear. It seems her cosmetic defiance has certainly paved the way for her daughter-in-law Meghan Markle, who regularly dons red, purple, and black nails at formal events, along with many other things.
She Suited up
Diana had a way of finding every opportunity to push the envelope for royal women. Another fashion-forward decision she made was to wear pants and pantsuits to formal events in favor of dresses. This was a look that bordered on scandalous since pants were reserved for royal men.
In fact, Diana was the very first woman in the British royal family to dress like this at public functions. But again, her boldness inspired another married-in member of the family. Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, boasted a similar blazer and suit combination at multiple formal events.
She Sported Laid Back Hairdo's
When it comes to royal femininity, hair is more important than you probably think. Just look at the Queen, who has maintained the same immaculately-manicured perm for decades now. Truthfully, Princess Diana's hair was far more conservative than seemingly every other aspect of her life.
She was so careful that she had to have it cut in secret. Richard Dalton, her hairdresser at the time, 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." Regardless, Diana's 'do' helped popularize the short-haired look.