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Looking Back: A Complete Timeline of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s Relationship

Diana and Prince Charles in 1981. Photo: Getty

The story of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, is not that of star-crossed lovers. Continuously recounted in film, television, tell-all books, and the gossip pages, it is a tale of a woefully mismatched married couple, lauded as the English monarchy’s future, whose divorce almost unraveled the British Crown. Plagued by infidelity, recriminations and pointed press leaks, the “War of the Waleses” captivated the world. But throughout Princess Diana and the then Prince of Wales’s 20-year odyssey, there were moments of real affection, no matter how fleeting. “We fell in love gradually,” Princess Diana told biographer Andrew Morton. “It wasn’t really dramatic. One blink and it would have gone.”

1977: Charles and Diana Meet

Sixteen-year-old Lady Diana Spencer and 29-year-old Prince Charles meet at her ancestral home of Althorp in the fall of 1977. At the time, Prince Charles was casually dating Diana’s bold older sister Lady Sarah McCorquodale. “I remember thinking what a very jolly and amusing and attractive 16-year-old she was,” Charles remembered. “I mean, great fun, and bouncy and full of life and everything.”

The seeds are planted for a courtship that will captivate the nation and beyond. “He met Miss Right and she met Mr. Right,” her sister Sarah later said. “They just clicked. They have the same giggly sense of humor, and they both love ballet and opera and sport in all forms. It’s perfect, and they are both over the moon about it.”

Charles and Diana pose for photographs at Buckingham Palace after the announcement of their engagement. Photo: Getty

1980: The Courtship Begins

Prince Charles and Diana begin falling in love in July of 1980, when both stay with their mutual friend Philip de Pass, in Sussex. There, the empathetic Diana comforts Prince Charles over the recent murder of his beloved father figure, Lord Mountbatten. Princess Diana recalled the conversation in Diana: Her True Story:

“I said: ‘You looked so sad when you walked up the aisle at Lord Mountbatten’s funeral.’ I said: ‘It was the most tragic thing I’ve ever seen. My heart bled for you when I watched. I thought: ‘It’s wrong, you’re lonely—you should be with somebody to look after you.’ The next minute he leapt on me practically and I thought this was very strange, too, and I wasn’t quite sure how to cope with all this.”

1981: The Infamous Engagement

In February 1981, the Prince of Wales proposes to Diana at Windsor Castle. “In my immaturity, which was enormous, I thought that he was very much in love with me, which he was, but he always had a sort of besotted look about him, looking back at it, but it wasn’t the genuine sort,” Princess Diana recalled. “‘Who was this girl who was so different?’ But he couldn’t understand it because his immaturity was quite big in that department too.”

The awkwardness of the couple is on full display at the formal engagement press call on February 24. When asked by reporters if they are in love, Prince Charles replies cynically, “whatever in love means,” prompting Diana to roll her eyes and giggle. “Lots of people have got married with that sort of age difference,” Prince Charles continues. “You are as old as you feel you are. I think Diana will keep me young, apart from anything else…. I shall be exhausted.”

The starry-eyed 19-year-old Lady Diana strikes a more optimistic note. “With Prince Charles beside me,” she enthuses, “I cannot go wrong.”

The Wedding of the Century

Prince Charles and Diana are married on July 29, 1981, at St. Paul’s Cathedral. A television audience of around 750 million people watch. According to Princess Diana, the couple had only met 13 times, and she has deep reservations after discovering Charles’s continuing affection for his former girlfriend Camilla Parker Bowles. However, according to Diana: Her True Story, her sisters tell her, “‘Duch, your face is on the tea towels so it’s too late to chicken out.’”

While, according to The Prince of Wales: A Biography, by official biographer Jonathan Dimbleby, Charles is similarly wary of going through with the marriage but feels he “would be letting everyone down if he didn’t marry her.”

1982: Prince William Is Born

On June 21, 1982, the Princess of Wales gives birth to Prince William at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. Prince Charles is the first modern royal father to attend the birth. “The arrival of our small son has been an astonishing experience,” Charles writes to his godmother Patricia, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, “and one that has meant more to me than I could ever have imagined. I am so thankful I was beside Diana’s bedside the whole time, because by the end of the day I really felt as though I’d shared deeply in the process of birth and as a result was rewarded by seeing a small creature which belonged to us and even though he seemed to belong to everyone else as well.”

Charles and Diana with their sons Prince William and Prince Harry in 1986. Photo: Getty

1984: Prince Harry Is Born

On September 15, 1984, Princess Diana gives birth to Prince Harry, with the Prince of Wales by her side. “Harry appeared by a miracle,” Princess Diana told Andrew Morton. “We were very, very close to each other the six weeks before Harry was born, the closest we’ve ever, ever been and ever will be.”

However, the birth of the spare signals a new break in the Waleses’ already troubled marriage. “Then suddenly as Harry was born it just went bang, our marriage, the whole thing went down the drain,” Princess Diana recalled in Diana: Her True Story. “I knew Harry was going to be a boy because I saw on the scan. Charles always wanted a girl. He wanted two children and he wanted a girl. I knew Harry was a boy and I didn’t tell him. Harry arrived, Harry had red hair, Harry was a boy. First comment was: ‘Oh God, it’s a boy,’ second comment: ‘And he’s even got red hair.’ Something inside me closed off.”

1986: Camilla Returns

By 1986, it is reported that Prince Charles resumes his affair with the married Camilla Parker Bowles. Princess Diana also allegedly begins an affair with the caddish former British Army major James Hewitt. “How awful incompatibility is, and how dreadfully destructive it can be for the players in this extraordinary drama. It has all the ingredients of a Greek tragedy,” Prince Charles writes to a friend. “I never thought it would end up like this.”

1989: Diana vs. Camilla

According to Princess Diana, in 1989 she confronts Camilla about her affair with Prince Charles at a birthday party for Camilla’s sister, Annabel Elliot. “I said, ‘I know what’s going on between you and Charles, and I just want you to know that,’” Princess Diana told Andrew Morton. “She said to me: ‘You’ve got everything you ever wanted. All the men in the world fall in love with you, and you’ve got two beautiful children, what more do you want?’ So, I said, ‘I want my husband.’”

1992: The Publication of Diana: Her True Story

In May 1992, the publication of Diana: Her True Story causes an international scandal. Within its pages biographer Andrew Morton details Prince Charles’s horrible treatment of Princess Diana and charts her struggles with self-harm, bulimia, and suicidal ideation. After Princess Diana’s death, Morton reveals what many had known all along—that Princess Diana was behind the best seller’s publication, and even sat down for a series of recorded interviews.

The Glums

In November of 1992, the Prince and Princess of Wales go on a disastrous official trip to South Korea, where their misery is apparent to the world’s media. Tina Brown writes in The Diana Chronicles:

Press spokesman Dickie Arbiter, assigned to Charles by Buckingham Palace, and who had gone ahead of the royal couple to Seoul, recalls, “The door of the plane opened, and they stood there, and I thought, Oh God, we’ve lost it. There was no contact between them. It was as if an aisle curtain had descended between them.

Charles and Diana in Seoul during an official visit to South Korea. Photo: Getty

Announcement of Separation

The inevitable occurs on December 9, 1992, when Prime Minister John Major announces in the House of Commons that Prince Charles and Princess Diana are “amicably” separating, with no plans to divorce. “This decision has been reached amicably and they will both continue to participate fully in the upbringing of their children,” he reads from a statement prepared by Buckingham Palace.

1994: Prince Charles Tells All

On June 29, 1994, Prince Charles sits down for an ill-advised interview with Jonathan Dimbleby, where he admits to cheating on Princess Diana, stating that the marriage had become “irretrievably broken down, us both having tried.”

Princess Diana and the royal family are furious, with biographer Kitty Kelley reporting that Prince Philip exploded, saying of his misguided son, “Maybe he’s the ‘missing link.’”

1995: Princess Diana Appears on Panorama

On November 20, 1995, Princess Diana sits down for the now infamous Panorama interview with the duplicitous Martin Bashir. She speaks of her unhappiness, her eating disorder, and admits to being unfaithful to Charles. She also fires shots at Prince Charles and Camilla, noting wryly, “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

1996: The Fairy Tale Is Over

After years of wrangling between lawyers, it is Queen Elizabeth II who finally lays down the law and writes a letter to her daughter-in-law. Tina Brown writes:

“Dearest Diana,” it began, and went on to request that she agree to an early divorce from Charles “in the best interests of the country.” It was signed “Love from Mama.”

On July 15, 1996, the divorce between the Prince and Princess of Wales is granted. On August 28, 1996, the decree absolute arrives, and the couple is no longer married. That day, while getting ready for an engagement at the English National Ballet, Princess Diana’s brother-in-law Sir Robert Fellowes reportedly wishes her “good luck for this difficult day ahead…It’s a tragic end to a wonderful story.”

“Oh, no,” she replies. “It’s the beginning of a new chapter.”

Post-Divorce Relationship

With the divorce finalized, there is a thaw in the icy relationship between Prince Charles and Princess Diana. In The Diana Chronicles, Tina Brown writes:

Now that the marriage was formally over, both parties were profoundly sad. “I want so much to be Charles’s best friend,” Diana wrote in a forlorn note to Paul Burrell. “I understand more than anyone what he is about and what makes him tick.” Three weeks before—on July 1, Diana’s 35th birthday—Charles had surprised her by dropping in to see her at Kensington Palace. “I suppose you’ve come to take the furniture away, then, Charles?” Diana asked with her old sparkle, and as they laughed together and drank Earl Grey tea….”

Prince William, Prince Harry and Prince Charles follow the coffin to the funeral of Princess Diana. Photo: Getty

1997: Death of the Princess of Wales

Whatever the Waleses’ post-divorce relationship could have been is shattered on August 31, 1997, when Princess Diana is killed in a Paris car crash. At her funeral, Prince Charles angers royal watchers when he wears a navy suit instead of one in mourning black.

However, the suit is Prince Charles’s sweet nod to his former wife, with whom he had shared two tumultuous decades—as Princess Diana had always preferred him in navy.

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