In the late afternoon of 1 July 1961, Diana Frances Spencer entered the world. As the third child of the 8th Earl Spencer, Viscount Althorp, she was born into a world of privilege and tradition, the Spencers being one of the oldest families in Britain and closely linked with the royal family for more than five centuries. Unsurprising, in a way, that she should marry into the House of Windsor. But no one could have predicted the stellar effect she would have not just upon the royal family but throughout the world. We know the rest: motherhood, marital tension, divorce and a horrific, untimely death.
She is forever that beautiful woman captured by Mario Testino, radiating an inner peace; the jet-setting princess, papped on a yacht with Dodi Al Fayed; a worried, grainy image in a hotel elevator minutes before her death. Frozen in youth, like James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison – any icon you care to think of who did not get to grow old.
Had her life not ended in that dark underpass, Diana would have reached her 50th birthday this summer. How would her life have turned out? How would she have celebrated her half-century? Would she have tamed those inner demons and be looking forward to the best years of her life? Or would she still struggle to shake off the shadow of that marriage? high50’s panel of writers and cultural commentators share their thoughts.
PETER YORK, style and marketing guru. Identified Diana’s original clan, the Sloane Rangers
She would be doing something very American. She was happier there; she had a lot of New Yorky friends. She might have even bought a very big pile in the West Village, saying that nobody lives in the Upper East Side any more, and she would be doing something very ‘amortal’, with an American slant. She’d also be having a lot of mental and physical therapy. She liked the gym but she was definitely a therapy chick.
BRUCE OLDFIELD, couturier and confidant
As she approached her 50th birthday, I don’t think it would have troubled her. Diana had found her feet shortly before she died and I think she would have embraced life on her own terms. She was quite tough. She wasn’t a shrinking violet when she set her mind to things. She would have found being 50 quite funny, in the same way we all did – you can’t believe it’s happened but it’s one of those things, you’ve reached your half century and you haven’t turned into an old person!
She would have embraced the next half of her life. She had good genes and she would have looked good. She took care of herself. She was keen on the old gym, and she’d have made the best of what she had, but I’m sure she would have got a few things [cosmetic procedures] done, like many women of her age.
I don’t think she would have turned into one of those ladies who lunch or who are on the boards of endless charities. There was no self-aggrandisement behind her choices. She took things on where she could make a difference. I could see her working with the safe motherhood charity, the White Ribbon Alliance, which would have been close to her heart.
I doubt she would have stayed in the UK. I could see her in the United States, but not Europe – for a start she didn’t speak any languages. But New York, yes, I could see her walking down Fifth Avenue and being allowed to get on with it.
Would she have remarried? Emotionally, she would have dealt with a lot of baggage and come out the other end. Her marriage was not the easiest journey for someone like her. I can think of women who would have taken it in their stride better than she did. Her lot was not insignificant but at the same time she understood that there were many women who had suffered worse things. But no, she’d made such a mess, the likelihood is not very high. I don’t think it would have been Dodi. Who knows? If she found the right guy, perhaps she would have. The thing with Diana, it could have been anybody – a Texan millionaire, a Hollywood star.
Whatever happened, she would have remained close to her boys. Yes, she had been sidelined by the Royal Family, but William’s Royal Wedding was very much a celebration of Diana’s way of doing things. It had all the hallmarks of her. Even though we know a lot of it was the Middletons, she was there.
JILL SHAW RUDDOCK, author, The Second Half of Your Life
As Diana entered the second half of her life, she would be building on the charity work and goodwill she created in the first half of her life and leaving behind her tumultuous personal life.
She would have married Dodi Al Fayed in 1999. At the request of Dodi’s father, she would convert to Islam and have four more children. Three boys: Faruq, Abdul, Mohammed, and a daughter, Yasmin.
Dodi and Diana would separate in 2008 and two years later, Oprah Winfrey would convince her to “tell all” about her two marriages in a six-part television series. Queen Elizabeth would never have allowed Charles to remarry. He would remain single but still very much in love with and attached to Camilla.
Diana’s love of dance would never wane and for five seasons she would be a judge on Strictly Come Dancing. Despite her controversial personal life, she would consistently be voted the most favourite royal. She would be transforming the way we view ageing, and still be considered the most beautiful and iconic woman alive today.
OLIVER JAMES, psychotherapist, author and broadcaster
I think, strictly speaking in terms of diagnosis, Diana suffered from a borderline personality disorder. She was someone who lacked identity at a very primitive level, and had a tendency towards narcissism, feeling comfortable only if she was the centre of attention.
She was certainly a survivor psychologically, which may be an unfortunate term given the circumstances of her death, but she knew in the end – egged on by Susie Orbach – how to stick up for herself. So she would have presented a face to the world of a new woman: 50 yet still very attractive, a much more sophisticated version of what Fergie failed to do. She would be a heroic figure, doing a lot of work for charity, still seeking the approval of the public.
As William and Harry grew into adults, she would not have found that easy. Her capacity to let them grow up would not have been large. She was one of those histrionic mothers who put her children in the position of having to look after her, William especially. I think that would have palled for them. She’d be phoning them up, quite a burden to them with her neediness. Neither of those boys would have insight into the situation, but they could have carried on protecting her.
She would still be manipulating the media and appearing to be a success but, in her intimate life, I suspect she would still be unhappy. She would have remained someone who felt deep down rather desperate. I think she would have paled in the public’s imagination; they’d have seen through her.
SALLY BRAMPTON, author, pundit and agony aunt
Diana was such a wounded bird and emotionally so fragile and damaged, both by her family and the Firm, that she was always going to be in search of something. But she was too confused to know what was healthy for her. Dodi Al Fayed? Please not. Every alternative therapy or boss-eyed promise of spiritual healing? Most of them were provided by charlatans. She was a seeker but didn’t know where to look. Her judgement was way off line – look at the book, Panorama and so on – and she couldn’t trust anyone to give her good advice.
Were it not for her death, would the paparazzi have ever learned to rein in the hyenas – as they did, out of shame, for William and Kate? Would she have been hounded forever? Would the cat and mouse game she played with the media – as desperate for any attention as she was for any affection, of any sort (to whit, creating herself as the princess of people’s hearts) – ever have ended? Being as insecure in her appearance as she was – look at the bulimia and anorexia – would she ever have submitted gracefully to the indignities and invisibility of fading beauty and the constant sniping of the media?
She was a force for good, certainly, but not necessarily for her own good. And she was definitely not a role model for my generation.
NANCY DELL’OLIO, socialite
First of all, I would like to say that I’m sorry she’s not here to celebrate her birthday. We don’t have a crystal ball, so who really knows how she would have turned out? But I like to think she would be in a very happy place.
At the time of her death she was just starting to be ‘in her best skin’. I like to think that at 50 she’d be even better, look even more beautiful. She was just beginning to find herself and you couldn’t miss it. She had that inner glow. So I am sure she would have looked absolutely beautiful. But this would have been thanks to more than her good genes or looking after herself; it would have come from within. She would have absolutely been enjoying her best time, and looking forward to life.
MICHAEL COLE, PR and journalist, former BBC royal correspondent. Friend of, and former spokesman for, Mohamed Al Fayed
Diana at 50 would have been just as beautiful and fascinating as she always was and she would still command the world’s attention. I believe that she and Dodi Al Fayed would have married and, I am certain, lived happily ever after. She was always looking for a happy family life and in the Fayed family that summer 14 years ago, she found it. “We are all here in KP [Kensington Palace] suffering the most awful withdrawal symptoms,” she told me when she returned from the south of France. “We have had the best holiday of our lives.”
Dodi adored Diana and wanted only to give her the happiness that had eluded her. He was her first affair as a free woman again. I knew her for 12 years and am sure she would not have devoted most of that last summer to him had she not intended it to be a lasting relationship. ‘Bliss’ was the one word she used when a friend asked how it was with Dodi. They would have lived in Malibu, California, and, ironically, Paris. But everywhere they would have gone, people would have felt more alive because of their presence.
Diana, Princess of Wales was a good person who made the world a better place. So take no notice of the revisionist propaganda emanating now and then from her ex-husband’s spin machine. The whole of the Al Fayed family will never get over her loss and that of Mohamed’s eldest and beloved son. I miss them both but most of all I miss her naughty laugh.
ANNA HARVEY, Vogue magazine, personal stylist to the young Lady Diana Spencer (Photo by Snowdon)
I believe the late Princess of Wales would have set a maddeningly high standard for the rest of us women at 50. She would have worked hard at looking good (probably amazing!) for her age. As ever, a difficult act to follow.