Diana, Princess of Wales

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Social Action
Diana Spencer (1961-1996) became Princess Diana in 1981 when she married Prince Charles of Wales. She was beloved partially because of her tireless efforts on behalf of the sick and the poor. At the time of her tragic death, she supported a cancer fund; a London children's hospital; the National AIDS Trust; a leprosy mission; the English National Ballet, and Centerpoint Soho (providing services to homeless youth). She raised public awareness worldwide for the ban on land mines. The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund was established in the U.K. and the U.S. in her memory.

Biographical Highlights

Diana, Princess of Wales, was born Diana Spencer in 1961. In 1981, she married Prince Charles of Wales, heir to the throne of England, and became her Royal Highness Princess Diana. She won the hearts of the people immediately with her innocent "English rose" appearance and her ability to give to others. Her marriage, which began like a fairytale, became the interest of tabloid journalism, covering conflicts with her mother-in-law, the Queen of England, and her tumultuous marriage which ended in divorce in 1996. She became Diana, Princess of Wales. A year later, she met a tragic death in an automobile accident in Paris after a high-speed chase with paparazzi photographers. After her death, she was hailed as the "people's princess" by British Prime Minister Tony Blair because of her tireless efforts on behalf of the sick and the poor.

Historic Roots

Diana Frances Spencer was born on July 1, 1961. She was the third daughter of Frances Roche and Lord Althorp (also known as the Viscountess and Viscount Althorp). Her family descended from the Stuart kings Charles II and James II. Her grandmother had been a lady-in waiting to Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. She had two older sisters, Sarah and Jane and a younger brother Charles. As a child, Diana lived a life of luxury, living in a ten-room mansion on the queen's country estate in Sandringham, Norfolk. Her future husband, Charles, Prince of Wales, lived next door. Charles, however, was twelve years older than Diana, so she was more acquainted with his younger brothers, Princes Andrew and Edward.

Though luxurious, Diana's childhood held disappointments and sadness. Her parents divorced in 1969, and each remarried. After a bitter struggle, her father won custody of the children and moved them to the Spencer home at Althorp, a 14,000-acre estate located seventy-five miles north of London. Her father later became the eighth Earl of Spencer (making Diana's title Lady Diana Spencer).

Charles and Diana's lives crossed again in 1977. She was then sixteen, and he twenty-eight. To an interviewer, Diana explained, "'Charles came to stay at my sister's house for a shoot.. We met in a field'" (CNN.com "Royals, Part 2" 2002). In 1979, nurturing her love for children, Diana moved to London and found work as a nanny and, then, as a kindergarten teacher. In the summer of 1980, Prince Charles called her, asking for a date. Six months later, after a fairytale romance, Charles asked Diana to marry him. Diana was the first English woman in 300 years to become a Princess by marriage. As millions watched worldwide on television, Diana and Charles married in St. Paul's Cathedral on July 29, 1981.

The world fell in love with Diana. "'Everybody had gone completely Diana mad. It was amazing the sort of mania about her,' says royal photographer, Jayne Dincher" (Ibid.). The fairytale continued when, less than a year after the wedding, the heir to the throne was born on June 21, 1982, named William Arthur Philip Louis. Then, two years later, Diana gave birth to their second son, Henry Charles Albert David.

In 1986, the fairytale began to turn into a nightmare as the royal couple began having marital problems. There were rumors of an affair between Prince Charles and his old girlfriend, Camille Parker Bowles. Diana suffered from an eating disorder and depression. Instead of giving in to the depression, Diana turned toward philanthropy to make her life meaningful. She used her fame and the media to her advantage, raising money for dozens of causes, including treatment and research for cancer, the homeless, leprosy, and the English National Ballot. She was especially "passionate about children and AIDS charities. 'The image of her holding hands with someone with HIV/AIDS.shattered the stigma, prejudice and fear that surrounded HIV/AIDS in the early days' says Andrew Parkis of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund" (Ibid.). Diana became a powerful philanthropic force.

On Aug 28, 1996, her divorce from Prince Charles was final. Her Royal Highness Princess Diana became Diana Princess of Wales. As an outcast of the Windsor dynasty, she began to concentrate on the six charities closest to her heart, Centerpoint, a London group that aids homeless youth, the Leprosy Mission, various cancer benefits, AIDS and the International Red Cross (on land mine issues). Freed from her royal ties, Diana was willing to take on a more political cause, to bring about a ban on global land mines and provide funds for those injured by them.

At perhaps the height of her philanthropic work, on Sunday, August 31, 1997, Diana, was killed in a car accident in Paris following a high-speed auto race with paparazzi photographers. She was thirty-six years old. The world mourned the loss of one of the most famous women in the past sixteen years. Elizabeth Dole, American Red Cross president, said after her death,

"The Princess brought the power of her presence, her compassion, and her position to some of the most important humanitarian issues of our time, saving countless lives and bringing comfort to countless others. Her work to bring about a global ban on land mines did more to galvanize world opinion on this issue than any other single individual. Her death is mourned by an entire world. We at the American Red Cross share the grief of the British people in the loss of a national and global treasure. We will miss her special touch and the love that she so effectively expressed through action." (Britannia Internet Magazine 2003)

Worldwide reaction to her death is a testimony that her philanthropic endeavors greatly endeared Diana to the hearts of the world and live on as her legacy. The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund was established in her honor. She is remembered not only for the money her name could raise, but also for the loving acts she bestowed on so many. She was the "People's Princess."


Diana's philanthropic legacy has inspired many to give to charitable causes. At the time of her death, thousands of Americans responded to raise more than two million dollars in charitable gifts. The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund (U.S.) was created as a way of continuing Diana's work in the United States. To date the fund has contributed $4 million to forty-two youth driven groups (The Diana, Princess U.S. 2003). Diana made philanthropic work glamorous again, especially among the rich and famous.

Not only did she raise millions of dollars for many causes benefiting the sick and the poor, but she also gave of her time and herself. Many examples exist of Diana's personal visits to homeless shelters and leprosy wards, of her physically touching those with HIV/AIDS or sitting with children dying of cancer. She was known to take her sons, Princes William and Harry, with her to poverty-stricken areas of South London to meet homeless people camped in cardboard shelters. She ministered to the children and adult victims of unretrieved landmines. To outsiders, her life began in a fairytale fashion; yet, she rose to demonstrate to the world that one can overcome adversity and leave a meaningful legacy. She restored a sense of mission and humanity in a stodgy institution, the monarchy of England.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Britain's royal family is known for its philanthropic endeavors. It has long been an expectation that the rich give to the poor, and so it is with the royal family. Prince Charles is patron to approximately 200 charities and his mother, the Queen, to 221. Diana transformed a family obligation into a personal calling. "'Her overall effect on charity is probably more significant than any other person's in the 20 th century,' says Stephen Lee, director of Britain's Institute of Charity Fundraising Mangers" (Hubbard et al., 1998). At the time of her death Princess Diana was the official patron of Royal Marsden NHS Trust (a cancer fund); Greater Ormond Street Children's Hospital, London; the National AIDS Trust (an umbrella group for a wide array of AIDS causes in the United Kingdom); The Leprosy Mission; the English National Ballet, and Centerpoint Soho (which provides services to homeless youth). She was also closely associated with the British Red Cross Anti-Personnel Land Mines Campaign. After her death, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund was established. There are many fundraising efforts contributing to this fund, and many foundations and charities receive gifts from the fund.

Key Related Ideas

HIV/AIDS : One of Diana's favorite causes was for the research and treatment of HIV/AIDS. Diana understood and saw firsthand, the ravaging effect of this disease. Five people die from AIDS every minute (The Diana, Princess 2003). This work took Diana's philanthropic efforts internationally, something new to the monarchy of Britain. Her philanthropic activities raised millions of dollars for AIDS treatment during her life and after her death. Many other foundations and charities have joined her in the fight. For example, the Elton John Foundation raised over $2.1 million to support those vulnerable to HIV and People magazine established a Diana's Fund for children infected with HIV.

Landmines: One of the causes the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund champions is the campaign for a worldwide ban on landmines and medical treatment for those injured by explosives. In the months preceding her death, Diana's most publicized activities were her agitation against land mines. She visited victims of landmines in countries including Angola, and spoke in favor of the treaty to ban landmines before the present Labor government took office. This was one of the few political causes Diana supported.

Palliative Care: Palliative care is an approach to caring for people who are dying. It is a holistic way of enabling people to die with dignity and to support the families through the grieving process. A very important component is pain relief and the relief of troubling symptoms. It is also one of the causes championed by the Diana, Princess Wales Fund.


Important People Related to the Topic

Charles Philip Arthur George, the Prince of Wales: Prince Charles, Diana's ex-husband, had a substantial impact on her life and philanthropy. His selection of Diana Spencer to become his wife made her the Royal Princess of Wales and caused her to become, for better and worse, a famous figure. Her status made her a celebrity and gave her the opportunities and media coverage to enable her to raise large amounts of money at charitable functions and raise public awareness about issues important to her. Prince Charles was trained as a young boy to hide his emotions; in fact, the British Monarchy is known and criticized for its aloofness and lack of emotion. Many speculate that Diana reached out to help others to overcome the loneliness and lack of love she felt from the royal family. When Charles divorced Diana to take up his relationship with his former girlfriend and mistress, Diana was released from the constraints and expectations of the royal family. It was at this time that she began to support more political causes. After Diana's death, Prince Charles, in an attempt to reestablish his popularity, increased his philanthropic activities in a more personal way. Modeling Diana's example, the monarchy of England is attempting to reconnect with its people.

Nelson Mandela: An important person who recognized Diana's humanitarian work is the former South African president, Nelson Mandela. On November 2, 2002, Mandela announced at a press conference in London that the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund would launch a joint initiative on AIDS in South Africa. He emphasized the important role Diana played in combating the stigma around AIDS/HIV.

Mother Teresa: A friend of Diana's, Diana's life paralleled Mother Teresa's in many ways. She dedicated her life to serving the poor and needy, causes supported by Diana. Her personal caring touched many lives. Her mission was one of love. A Catholic nun, she founded a convent in Calcutta and worked with the poor worldwide. She died within days of Diana. Many articles are written contrasting and comparing their lives. Both women attained fame, though of a different kind - Princess Diana was royalty and Mother Teresa was viewed as a saint. Both women were global icons, easily recognized across the world and admired for their contributions to society.


Related Nonprofit Organizations

The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund: The fund is creating a living memorial to the Princess, taking its inspiration from her global humanitarian work. It helps people change their lives for the better, by giving grants to charities in the United Kingdom and around the world. It champions causes and raises new money to support this work. The causes it supports are: International attention to the threat of explosive remnants of war and landmines, palliative care for people dying in Africa and the UK, and the needs of groups who are stigmatized or at the margins of society.

The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund (U.S.): This fund was created in 1999 after the death of Princess Diana. It provides grants to address critical youth issues. As a complement to its grant programs, the fund provides training and assistance to selected nonprofit organizations with the goal of increasing their ability to serve young people over the long term. The fund also works actively to promote greater public awareness and action on issues facing young people.


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  • CNN.com International. "Royals, Part 4: Shock and Sorrow," CNN.com/World (3 June 2002) . 
  • The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. Championing Causes: AIDS - A Global Emergency
  • The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund (U.S.). New Approaches to Philanthropy.
  • Fields, Suzanne. "Self-analysis in the Prism of Popular Icons: Princess Diana and Mother Teresa," Insight on the News 13 (6 October 1997): 37, 48.
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  • The Work Continues. Championing Causes: Landmines and Explosive Remnants of War. The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. 
  • The Work Continues. Championing Causes: Palliative Care. The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. 


This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at Grand Valley State University. It is offered by Learning To Give and Grand Valley State University.