When an emotionally spent Princess Diana announced last December that she would be leaving public life, at least one insider predicted that she would never be allowed the "time and space" she claimed she craved; the press, he said, would "chase her to her grave." As it happened, Di's startling decision to abandon most of her royal duties only added to her troubles: In the year since, she has been embroiled in a topless-photo scandal sparked by a photographer who caught her sunbathing in Spain; accused of adultery with former officer James Hewitt; labeled mentally unstable; and embarrassed by Prince Charles's revelation that theirs was a loveless marriage. Never mind that she is likely to be divorced from Charles in the next 12 months (after Dec. 9, a permanent split became legally possible) or that she was marginalized by her pragmatic in-laws; for much of the year, she played the princess in peril—and garnered sympathy from an endlessly patient public.
Behind the headlines, though, Diana, 33, was a woman adrift; bored and depressed without the I charity work that had sustained her, she filled her days with shopping, lunch dates and workouts. Keen on becoming a "real person," as she has put it, she dismissed her bodyguards, but she learned that autonomy has its price. Without her minders, she was vulnerable to curiosity seekers, as well as the paparazzi. Lonely, embattled, she turned not only to discreet friends such as Lucia Flecha de Lima (wife of Brazil's ambassador to the U.S.) but to Richard Kay, a Daily Mail reporter who can be trusted to produce sympathetic stories when she needs a bit of spin.
Happily, 1995 promises to be more rewarding for Diana. Impatient with "retirement," at year's end she reentered public life via her work for the Red Cross—"returning to the things she does best," as a friend puts it. Predicts royal watcher Brian Hoey: "She will again be striding the world stage as she did so successfully for 12 years." And the world, no doubt, will welcome her return.