‘I'd like to be a queen in people's hearts but I don't see myself being queen of this country.' - Princess Diana
As the wife of the heir to the throne, the Prince of Wales, Princess Diana was always going to be famous, of course; but it took a troubled life and a tragic death to truly make her an icon.
Lady Diana was born into the aristocracy, and had a model upper class girls upbringing: skiing, finishing school, no educational achievements (despite attending very good schools she failed all her O levels), then a job as a nanny while decorously waiting to snag a husband. And what a husband: the future King of England. The match received royal approval: she was posh, protestant and was (or at least looked like) a virgin.
They married when she was she still only twenty, in July 1981 at St Paul's Cathedral, an event watched by more than 750 million people. In the UK, it was broadcast live on all TV channels, and most British people will tell you that they watched it, or were forced to by their parents. Demure, blushing, her big eyes gazing in shy adoration, Diana looked every inch the fairytale princess. It was clear that she would bring some much needed glamour and modernity to the fusty, slightly weird, out of touch royal family, loved as an institution more than as individuals. But the fact that Diana refused to promise to 'obey' when taking her vows hinted that this lady would not prove as malleable or as on message as the Palace would like.
Life for the young married royal was a long round of public engagements and maternity. Her first child, William, was born in 1982, her second son, Harry, in 1984. Diana was a devoted mother: she took her sons with her on state occasions, banned the royal tradition of circumcison, and chose their nannies and schools and clothes, often fighting against royal protocol in the process.
Princess Diana increasingly found validation in charity work, the only party of her royal duties she really responded to. She was particularly noted for her work with the homeless and with victims of AIDs, landmines and leprosy. To her great credit, she was willing to be photographed touching an AIDs victim, which helped destigmatise the disease for the British public.
Perhaps some of Diana's empathy for the unfortunate came from her own sense of herself as a victim; for her marriage was disintegrating. In public, the couple looked happy enough; in fact, it was a façade. Charles had started an affair with his old flame, Camilla Parker Bowles, only a few years after the marriage, and Diana had started sleeping with her riding instructor, James Hewitt (rumours persist to this day that Hewitt is Harry's real father).
In the early 1990s the splits were so apparent that they could no longer be papered over, and sensationally, the couple separated. A long and bitter battle followed between the Palace and Diana as each tried to get the media to report their side of the story. This was a war that Diana won, the decisive blow being her Panorama interview in 1995, in which she revealed details of her and Charles affairs, and called their marriage 'crowded'.
Following the divorce in 1996, Diana was romantically associated with, among others, England rugby captain Will Carling and pop star Bryan Adams. But few of her relationships proved able to withstand the intense media glare that inevitably descended upon them. Finally, Diana appears to have found love with Dodi Fayed, the son of Harrods owner Mohammed Al Fayed, who she met in 1997.
Tragically, the relationship was to be short lived. On 31 August 1997 Diana and Dodi were being whisked away from the paparazzi at high speed by the Paris Ritz Hotel security manager. He was drunk, and lost control of the black Mercedes in a tunnel. The car hit a pillar at high speed and all its occupants were killed.
Diana's death saw a massive and unprecedented outpouring of public grief. Cynics dismissed it as mawkish but the strength of public feeling was undeniable: tributes of flowers outside her Kensington Palace home were five foot deep. Her funeral, in Westminster Abbey, was watched by an estimated TV audience of 2.5 billion.
Though in life she had been a controversial figure, widely disliked, in death she was lionised as the 'people's princess'. Everyone could relate to some aspect of Diana's gripping story: devoted mother, charity worker, independent woman fighting a cold institution, a victim of divorce looking for love.
Though it had not happened in the expected way, Diana had performed the role everyone had anticipated on that fairy tale wedding day long before: she had brought glamour, interest and modernity to the British Royal family. In death at least, she had achieved her ambition, to be 'the queen of hearts'.