Just over a year ago, her adoring public consisted of a small crowd of knee-high children at London's Young England Kindergarten. Then in February Buckingham Palace announced the engagement of Charles Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer, 19, and she became the world's instant inamorata. In the months that followed, from the fairy-tale July wedding to the announcement in November of an heir on the way, Diana has not disappointed her new legion of admirers. By almost universal consent, this simple girl of noble blood, with her strong sense of both whimsy and elegance, could not be more perfect for the role of future queen if the British had designed her themselves.
In a way, they have. Far more British than Charles himself with his heavy German ancestry, she is the first English subject in 300 years to marry an heir to the throne. The most beautiful Princess of Wales since Edward VII's Danish Princess Alexandra 118 years ago, Diana, at 5'10", will be the tallest British queen since Mary Queen of Scots, who stood six feet tall with her head still on.
As a contributor to the royal gene pool, Diana has "ancestors in every county of England and Wales." One-eighth American, she is also distantly related to Humphrey Bogart, Gen. George Patton and eight U.S. Presidents. But what makes Diana unique to present royalty is her troubled family background and the legacy of strong female role models who emerged from it.
When Diana was only 6, her mother fell in love with Peter Shand Kydd, a wealthy—and married—Scottish cattle farmer. In a series of sticky court cases, she was named as an adulteress in Shand Kydd's suit, divorced by her own husband, now Earl Spencer, and then lost custody of her four children to him. Nonetheless, Frances Shand Kydd, who today helps her husband on the farm and runs her own novelty shop in Scotland, has become increasingly close to Diana, her youngest daughter. It was Mrs. Shand Kydd, and not Buckingham Palace, who wrote to the Times of London before the engagement announcement, begging the press to leave Diana alone as she traveled between home and kindergarten. Diana's stepmother, Raine Spencer, daughter of romantic novelist Barbara Cartland, was not well received by the Spencer children, but Diana was the only one not to snub her openly. Described by one colleague as "an iron hand in an iron glove," Raine shaped up the finances at the Spencer family seat in Althorp and is unanimously credited with nursing Earl Spencer out of a series of comas and back to health after his 1979 stroke. "Without her I would be dead," he says. "She is my miracle."
A third influence on Diana is Lady Fermoy, her maternal grandmother. A lady-in-waiting and longtime chum of the Queen Mother, she opposed her own daughter in the custody battle and was a constant presence after the Spencer divorce. And though Lady Diana sees little of her flamboyant step-grandmother, one observer notes that "with her well-developed sense of humor, Diana is bound to have a keen appreciation of Barbara Cartland."
Diana, who not only worked but shared an apartment with three other girls and drove her own Mini Metro, portends a new openness for the royal family. While canceling some official engagements, she has been seen in tight-fitting jeans popping into town for a bit of shopping. (Unhappily, she is said to be suffering from inordinate morning sickness in the third month of her pregnancy.) Another generation of royals might have tried to hold Diana down, but her mother-in-law, the Queen, is more inclined to defend the Princess. Recently the British media chiefs were invited to the palace to hear protests that photographers were lurking in the shrubbery outside High-grove and causing Diana "signs of strain." The message was clear. Vowed the Times of London: "It would be nice to think that we are grown up enough not to imprison a princess in a palace."
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