Princess Diana's Favourite Places To Visit In London
Born into a wealthy family in 1961, Diana Spencer was never going to be ordinary. In 1975, after her father inherited the title Earl Spencer, Diana became a Lady. That same year, the family moved to the stately home of Althorp in Northamptonshire. Mingling with the royals – her grandmother was lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother, while her elder sister Sarah dated Princes Charles in the 1970s – the signs were already there: Diana had a regal air. And yet she was humble. Her parents divorced; she didn’t excel academically at Riddlesworth Hall, West Heath or Switzerland’s Institut Alpin Videmanette, and after leaving school, she worked as a nanny
and nursery teacher.
Later still, following her February 1981 engagement to Prince Charles and subsequent wedding at St Paul’s Cathedral in July that year, Diana became known for her work with the homeless, people with disabilities and those with HIV and AIDS, while campaigning to ban landmines.
No wonder the public loved her. No wonder they supported her through difficult times. And no wonder the world listened when she discussed her struggles in the infamous BBC Panorama interview in 1995 – a year before Charles divorced her.
In her own words, Diana wanted to be ‘a queen of people’s hearts’ – and there’s no doubt she was before and after her death on 31 August 1997, following a car crash in Paris while being chased by paparazzi.
Gone but not forgotten, more than two billion people watched or listened to her funeral at Westminster Abbey on 6 September 1997. Now, 20 years after her death, the People’s Princess and style icon is remembered in Diana, Her Fashion Story at Kensington Palace – her former home. The White Garden in the palace’s grounds, which Diana enjoyed, bloom with English white roses inspired by her. See the evolution of her style, from the pale pink Emanuel blouse worn for her engagement portrait to her glamorous evening gowns. Proving she was revolutionary, Diana was the first royal not to wear gloves
or hats at formal occasions. As she put it: ‘You can’t cuddle a child with
a hat on’.
There are memorials to the princess across London. The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain opened in Hyde Park in 2004, and is inspired by her spirit and love of children. In iconic department store Harrods, meanwhile, visitors can sign a condolence book and admire a fountain, candles, bronze statues and portraits of Diana and Dodi Fayed, the son of the store’s former owner, who died with the princess.
But where else did Diana, Princess of Wales like to escape? Visit her favourite places to discover more about ‘shy Di’.
Built by Sir John Spencer in 1508, Althorp is set within 13,000 acres. It has been home to 19 generations of Spencers, and is Diana’s resting place. Don’t miss the Diana, Princess of Wales exhibition, which displays photos taken by Mario Testino in 1997 for Vanity Fair – they turned out to be Diana’s last official portraits. You can also see Walking in her Shoes, which showcases 20 inspirational young people who hold The Diana Award, to mark the impact they have had on society. www.spencerofalthorp.com
English National Ballet
Diana was passionate about dance. In 1985, she danced with John Travolta at President Reagan’s White House Gala, and performed with Wayne Sleep, a former dancer for the Royal Ballet Company, at the Royal Opera House as a surprise for Charles’ birthday. The princess dreamed of becoming a ballerina and was a fan of the English National Ballet, becoming a patron in 1989. If you want to enjoy the ballet, don’t miss Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet at the Southbank Centre (1-5 Aug). www.ballet.org.uk
St Paul’s Cathedral
Diana and Charles chose St Paul's Cathedral for their wedding to fit their congregation of 3,500. A further 600,000 people lined the streets, while the global TV audience was around 750 million. Diana wore an Emanuel ivory taffeta and lace gown with a 7.6m train, while Charles wore his naval commander uniform. A highlight of your visit will be the Golden Gallery, 85m above ground. The view makes the 528 steps up to it worth the climb.
Launceston Place was Diana’s local – perhaps because she could enter from her car in an alleyway with one step, then hide in its warren of rooms. Diana also liked taking William or her former lover James Hewitt to San Lorenzo, a family-run Italian in Knightsbridge that opened in 1963. Also popular with Princess Margaret, Sophia Loren and Eric Clapton, Diana’s sons William and Harry still dine there. Diana also ate at celebrity favourite L’Escargot in Soho, once visiting with the dancer Wayne Sleep. Established in 1927, it specialises in snails, lobster and coq au vin – although Diana liked the seared tuna with lentils.