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Prince Charles and Princess Diana: What really happened in their relationship?

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·7-min read

Watch: Emma Corrin says Princess Diana ‘feels like a friend’

In its eagerly awaited fourth season, Princess Diana finally makes her appearance in The Crown.

Played by relative newcomer Emma Corrin, the role comes with added pressure because of the tragic circumstances around the princess’s death.

This season will see the young princess-to-be meet and marry her prince. But how did the couple really meet and how did Charles propose?

How did Charles and Diana meet?

In the Netflix series, Diana meets Charles when he is at her family home to see her sister, though she has been warned to keep out of sight.

It prompts an unusual interaction involving Diana darting behind objects to avoid being seen, all while dressed as a tree.

The show’s interpretation gets some things right. According to reports, Diana first met Charles when she was just 16-years-old. He came to her family home, Althorp House, but not to see her.

He was actually dating her older sister, Lady Sarah Spencer, but the romance didn’t blossom. Lady Sarah even later claimed to be matchmaker of her sister and Charles.

Diana recalled: “We sort of met in a ploughed field.”

It’s unlikely she was dressed as a tree at the time.

According to the biography The Diana Chronicles, she told her friends at that time she was going to marry Charles, saying he was “the one man on the planet who is not allowed to divorce me”.

WINDSOR, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 01:  Prince Charles Sitting Next To Lady Sarah Spencer (diana Sister) At A Polo Match (exact Date Not Certain)  (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
Prince Charles with Diana's sister Lady Sarah Spencer, who he dated briefly in the 1970s. (Tim Graham Photo Library)
12th November 1980:  Lady Diana Spencer (1961 - 1997), fiancee of Prince Charles, leaving her home in West London.  (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
Diana, here in November 1980, had to leave her home in West London to avoid press attention. (Central Press)

Read more: Charles and Camilla mark 15 years of marriage: Their love story

However it was some time later, when the pair were at a barbecue that things apparently heated up.

Diana recorded some of her memories and impressions of their meeting on tapes, later used in a documentary about her.

She said: “I was asked to stay with some friends in Sussex and they said, ‘Oh, the Prince of Wales is staying,’ and I thought I hadn’t seen him in ages.

“He’d just broken up with his girlfriend and his friend Mountbatten had just been killed. I said it would be nice to see him. I was so unimpressed. I sat there and this man walked in and I thought, well, I am quite impressed this time round. I was different.”

Diana was 18 at the time, and Charles was 31.

How did Charles propose?

The Crown covers the brief courtship between the couple, showing them attending a show together and suggesting they only met five times.

But Diana revealed the couple met 13 times before they got married.

They sent each other letters and he would call her in between as well, but they did not physically spend much time together.

LONDON - 1981:  (FILE PHOTO) Prince Charles and his fiancee Lady Diana Spencer with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, 7th March 1981. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)  On July 1st  Diana, Princess Of Wales would have celebrated her 50th Birthday Please refer to the following profile on Getty Images Archival for further imagery.  http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/Search/Search.aspx?EventId=107811125&EditorialProduct=Archival For further images see also: Princess Diana: http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/Account/MediaBin/LightboxDetail.aspx?Id=17267941&MediaBinUserId=5317233 Following Diana's Death: http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/Account/MediaBin/LightboxDetail.aspx?Id=18894787&MediaBinUserId=5317233 Princess Diana  - A Style Icon: http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/Account/MediaBin/LightboxDetail.aspx?Id=18253159&MediaBinUserId=5317233
Prince Charles with then-fiancee Lady Diana Spencer and Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in March 1981. (Fox Photos/Hulton Archive)

According to Robert Jobson, in his biography of Charles, Prince Philip wrote to his son in January 1981, telling him to either propose to Diana or let her go.

Jobson said he told a friend: “To have withdrawn, as you can no doubt imagine, would have been cataclysmic. Hence I was permanently between the devil and the deep blue sea.”

In the engagement interview, Charles said he asked Diana “two or three days before she went to Australia” because then she could think about it if she needed to.

But finishing his sentence, Diana interjected to add that she said “yes, quite promptly”.

She said she’d had a long time to think about it and in the end it “wasn’t a difficult decision”.

In Diana: Her True Story, written by Andrew Morton, it is revealed Diana thought Charles was joking when he proposed to her.

Christopher Wilson claimed Charles called his mother soon after the engagement to tell her he had proposed.

It’s also reported that Diana chose her own engagement ring from a catalogue, as her new fiancé had not proposed with one. In 2011, the ring became Kate Middleton’s, as she accepted a proposal from Prince William.

What happened at Charles and Diana’s engagement interview?

Something which has become infamous is Charles’s answer to the question posed at the couple’s engagement interview, of whether or not they were in love.

Read more: Fashion historian reveals secrets of Princess Diana's wardrobe

24th February 1981:  Charles, Prince of Wales, and Diana, Princess of Wales, (1961 - 1997) at Buckingham Palace in London on the occasion of their engagement.  (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
Charles and Diana in 1981 at Buckingham Palace in London after announcing their engagement. (Central Press)

Diana, in the tapes used in the documentary, said: “We had this ghastly interview the day we announced our engagement.

“And this ridiculous [news] man said, ‘Are you in love?’

“I thought, what a thick question. So I said, ‘Yes, of course, we are,’ and Charles turned round and said, ‘Whatever love means.’ And that threw me completely. I thought, what a strange answer. It traumatised me.”

In the interview, Charles said: “Whatever ‘in love’ means, you can put your own interpretation...”

However when the interviewer responded with “usually two very happy people” Charles said: “Yes, absolutely”.

Charles’s biographer, Sally Bedell Smith, went on to defend him for the comment, suggesting it was an ill-judged attempt to be philosophical.

She said: “You should look at those words in the context of the series of interviews he gave in the 1970s about what he wanted in a wife and what being in love was all about.

“He can over-think things and was thinking out loud. I don’t see it as a cynical, cruel statement.”

Did Charles give Diana a signet ring?

In the show, Charles gives Diana a signet ring as they prepare to rehearse for their wedding day.

The gift was real, but the method by which the prince is shown to give it to Diana is not quite accurate. Diana said he sent her the ring from his home at Clarence House to Kensington Palace, where she lived before they married, while they were married and when they separated.

In the Morton biography, she is quoted as saying: “I remember my husband being very tired - both of us were quite tired. Big day.

“He sent me a very nice signet ring the night before to Clarence House, with the Prince of Wales feathers on and a very nice card that said: 'I'm so proud of you and when you come up I'll be there at the altar for you tomorrow. Just look 'em in the eye and knock 'em dead’.”

Watch: Charles vs Diana was like being caught in a ‘domestic row’

Where was Charles and Diana’s wedding?

Charles and Diana married in St Paul’s Cathedral in London when he was 32 and she was 20.

Their wedding, on 29 July, 1981, was broadcast on television and watched by an estimated 750million people in 50 countries.

As well as those who watched online, about 600,000 people lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the couple.

Watch: Princess Diana’s wedding dress designer David Emanuel talks to Yahoo UK

There were 3,500 people inside the cathedral who were able to see the wedding itself.

However, while the world was captivated by the royal love story, it emerged years later that both the bride and groom were having doubts about the big day.

Diana revealed to Morton in the biography he wrote that she wanted to pull out, but that her sister told her: “Your face is on the tea towels, so you're too late to chicken out.”

She also revealed: “I remember being so in love with my husband that I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I just absolutely thought I was the luckiest girl in the world. He was going to look after me. Well, was I wrong on that assumption.”

Charles’s own reservations emerged much later, in Jobson’s biography to mark his 70th birthday. He revealed Charles had been frustrated by being unable to speak to Diana about his day and his work commitments.

It’s also been reported that he told her he wasn’t in love with her the night before the wedding.

Charles and Diana had two children together - William, and then Harry - but their marriage was breaking down by the mid-1980s.

They announced their separation in 1992, and divorced in 1996.

The Crown is streaming now on Netflix.

WATCH: The Crown releases images of Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana