Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s royal wedding remains one of the most iconic events in modern history. Watched by as many as 750 million people around the world in July 1981, royal fans were initially besotted with the future king and his stunning bride. However, it soon became clear that the couple’s relationship wasn’t as idyllic as it first seemed, and rumors began to spread regarding the status of their marriage. After welcoming two children together — Prince William and Prince Harry — the relationship broke down, and the couple eventually announced their separation in December 1992. Of the split, The New York Times said, « Buckingham Palace wrote the unhappy ending today to a storybook marriage gone badly wrong. »
The Prince and Princess of Wales’ divorce wasn’t finalized until August 1996, per History, and after the breakup, Prince Charles and Princess Diana continued to co-parent their two sons together. But in August 1997, tragedy struck when Princess Diana was killed in a car accident in Paris. Individuals all over the world mourned the loss of the People’s Princess, who is still beloved to this day.
Here, we take a look at Princess Diana’s relationship with Prince Charles, and find out why their royal love story seemed truly doomed from the very beginning.
Prince Charles wasn’t over Camilla Parker Bowles
Thanks to The Crown, viewers are well aware of the impact Camilla Parker Bowles (née Shand) had on Prince Charles when the couple first met. BBC News reported that the couple’s meet cute occurred « at a polo match in Windsor in 1970, » though People alleged that the future Duchess of Cornwall met the prince two years later at a party. Whichever version of events is true, the latter media outlet also revealed that Prince Charles fell quickly for « the lively blonde with a wicked sense of humor and a passion for riding. »
However, their fledgling relationship apparently fizzled when Prince Charles returned to duty in the Navy. Per People, « Although the smitten prince courted her for six months, he failed to propose before returning to sea in February 1973. » Instead of waiting for the prince to pop the question, the now-duchess moved on. By July 1973, Parker Bowles had married her old boyfriend, Andrew Parker Bowles, with whom she had two children, daughter Laura and son Tom.
It’s certainly worth considering that, if Prince Charles hadn’t returned to the Navy, things might have turned out very differently. As it was, by the time the prince met Princess Diana, Camilla had already been in his life for several years, but was married to somebody else.
Did Prince Charles get friendzoned?
Despite Camilla Parker Bowles’ marriage to Andrew Parker Bowles in 1973, and Prince Charles’ wedding to Princess Diana (previously Lady Diana Spencer) in 1981, the former couple didn’t end their friendship. Sure, both had romantically moved on with other people, but Charles and Camilla remained close — which apparently caused problems further down the line.
As most people know, staying friends with an ex can be tricky at best, and devastating at worst. But Camilla’s enduring friendship with Prince Charles was made easier by the fact that her then-husband moved in the same circles as the prince. E! News reports that « the men still played polo together and Charles frequently spent the weekend at their home … In turn, the Parker Bowleses hobnobbed frequently with the royal family, Camilla getting along famously with the queen over their love of riding and the outdoors. » Further integrating himself into the Parker Bowles family, Prince Charles became godfather to their son, Tom Parker Bowles, who was born on Dec. 18, 1974.
Rather than putting an end to their obvious connection when they broke up, Camilla Parker Bowles and Prince Charles regularly socialized with one another. As a result, it seems as though their spark never really died — which is exactly why most people don’t stay friends with their exes. We can only surmise this wasn’t a great omen for Charles’ marriage to Princess Diana.
Was Camilla Parker Bowles a wedding crasher?
While staying friends with an ex is one thing, attending their wedding is quite another. But that’s exactly what happened when Prince Charles got married. The Prince of Wales wed Princess Diana on July 29, 1981, in front of a worldwide audience, but Camilla Parker Bowles was lucky enough to get a seat inside of St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
In a 1991 interview with biographer Andrew Morton for his book, Diana: Her True Story — In Her Own Words, the People’s Princess revealed (via Good Housekeeping), « I knew she was in there, of course. I looked for her. » She continued, « So walking down the aisle, I spotted Camilla, pale gray, veiled pillbox hat saw it all, her son Tom standing on a chair. To this day you know — vivid memory. » In this vein, author Penny Junor suggested in her book, The Duchess: Camilla Parker Bowles and the Love Affair that Rocked the Crown: « [Princess Diana] became jealous — obsessing about Camilla Parker Bowles — suspicious, turning against people she appeared to like, convinced they were out to get her. »
However, Good Housekeeping notes that it was Camilla’s then-husband’s job to « oversee the ceremonial escort that accompanied the couple’s carriage ride through London » following the ceremony. As such, it seems as though Parker Bowles had more than one reason to attend Prince Charles’ wedding — even if not everyone involved was pleased by her invite.
Princess Diana said there was a third person in the marriage
During their respective marriages, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles allegedly reignited their physical relationship in 1986, per People. In a 1995 interview with BBC’s Panorama, Princess Diana made a shocking revelation when she said, « There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded. » And that’s not all. The People’s Princess also opened up about her husband’s alleged affair in her interview with biographer Andrew Morton. Revealing that she’d confronted Camilla about it, she told Morton (via People), « I was terrified of her. I said, ‘I know what’s going on between you and Charles and I just want you to know that.' »
Princess Diana also alleged to Morton that Parker Bowles had told her, « You’ve got everything you ever wanted. You’ve got all the men in the world fall in love with you and you’ve got two beautiful children, what more do you want? » Understandably, the princess responded, « I want my husband. » With the presence of a third person in their marriage, it sounds as though Prince Charles and Princess Diana never really stood a chance.
‘Gladys and Fred’ caused some trouble
In the tapes she recorded for biographer Andrew Morton, Princess Diana detailed how she discovered early on that Prince Charles still had feelings for Camilla Parker Bowles. While the two exes were close, this soon became a foreboding force throughout their marriage.
« The first thing that hit me was my [future] husband sending Camilla … flowers when she had meningitis: ‘To Gladys from Fred,' » Princess Diana said (via The Daily Beast), which were their nicknames for each other. « I once heard him on the telephone in his bath on his hand-held set, saying: ‘Whatever happens, I will always love you.’ I told him afterwards that I had listened at the door, and we had a filthy row. »
The evidence continued to stack up, with Princess Diana explaining: « Somebody in his office told me that my husband had had a bracelet made for her, which she wears to this day. It’s a gold chain bracelet with a blue enamel disc. It’s got ‘G and F’ entwined in it, ‘Gladys’ and ‘Fred.' » She went to her then-husband’s office and found the package containing the bracelet, and revealed, « I opened it, and there was [the] bracelet, and I said: ‘I know where this is going.’ I was devastated. This was about two weeks before we got married. »
Even before marrying, then, Princess Diana sensed that there might be a problem.
Prince Charles’ vulnerability may have played a part
Prince Charles first met Princess Diana in November 1977, when he attended a grouse hunt at her family’s ancestral home in Althorp. At the time, the Prince of Wales was courting his future bride’s older sister, Lady Sarah (née Spencer, now McCorquodale), and the future princess was just 16 years old. It wasn’t until 1980 that the two reconnected. According to Town & Country, they were both invited to stay at mutual friend Philip de Pass’s house, and that’s when Prince Charles made his move.
Princess Diana recalled their reunion in private tapes recorded by speech coach Peter Settelen at Kensington Palace in 1992 and 1993. Per The Times, she noted that Prince Charles was vulnerable at the time, as he was mourning the loss of Lord Mountbatten, who was tragically killed by an Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorist in 1979. « I said, ‘You must be so lonely.’ I said, ‘It’s pathetic watching you walking up the aisle with Lord Mountbatten’s coffin in front, ghastly. You need someone beside you,' » Princess Diana explained in the recording. « Agggh. Wrong word! Whereupon he leapt upon me and started kissing me and everything. »
Judging by Princess Diana’s words, Prince Charles was going through a tough time in his life and seemingly threw himself into a relationship as a result … which might not have been the best basis for a long-term romance.
Lucky number 13?
In tapes recorded by speech coach Peter Settelen in the early ’90s at Kensington Palace, Princess Diana went into detail about the slightly strange courtship she had with Prince Charles. As reported by ABC News, the tapes were aired as part of a documentary called Diana: In Her Own Words, and the princess said of dating the future king, « We met 13 times and we got married. »
And that’s not all, as Princess Diana was reportedly unimpressed with the way the prince tried to woo her. Per The Times, she also said on tape, « He wasn’t consistent with his courting abilities. » The People’s Princess elaborated, « He’d ring me every day for a week, then wouldn’t speak to me for three weeks. Very odd. I thought, ‘Fine. Well, he knows where I am if he wants me.' » However, Prince Charles’ apparent hot-and-cold attitude appeared to keep Princess Diana interested, as she explained, « The thrill when he used to ring up was so immense and intense. It would drive the other three girls in my flat crazy. »
The fact that Princess Diana only saw her fiancé on little more than a dozen separate occasions before tying the knot suggests that the couple didn’t have much time to get to know one another before making a life-long commitment.
Prince Charles wanted a daughter
In transcripts of Princess Diana’s conversations with biographer Andrew Morton, published in his book Diana: Her True Story — In Her Own Words, she got candid about when her marriage with Prince Charles started to go wrong. « Charles and I were very, very close to each other the six weeks before Harry was born, the closest we’ve ever, ever been and ever will be, » the princess revealed (per Good Housekeeping). « Then, suddenly, as Harry was born, it just went bang, our marriage. The whole thing went down the drain. »
As for why the birth of their second child had such a detrimental effect on their marriage, Princess Diana said, « He wanted two children and he wanted a girl. » She also alleged that Prince Charles reacted to Harry’s birth in a terrible way, saying, « Oh God, it’s a boy … and he’s even got red hair. » Prince Harry, of course, was born on Sept. 15, 1984, and the world would watch as he grew up, got married, and started a family of his own with Duchess Meghan Markle.
Following Prince Charles’ supposed brutal comments after the birth of their second son, Princess Diana admitted that their marriage was never the same. However, the elder prince didn’t announce his separation from the princess until 1992.
Prince Charles allegedly stoked Princess Diana’s insecurities
Transcripts of tapes Princess Diana recorded for biographer Andrew Morton contained so many revelations that royal fans didn’t previously know about. In one such recording, shared by The Daily Beast, the princess claimed that Prince Charles wasn’t always pleasant about her appearance. The Princess of Wales alleged, « My husband put his hand on my waistline and said, ‘Oh, a bit chubby here, aren’t we?’ and that triggered off something in me. And the Camilla thing. I was desperate, desperate. »
According to Princess Diana, her then-husband’s alleged comments contributed to her insecurities and struggle with bulimia: « I remember the first time I made myself sick. I was so thrilled because I thought this was the release of tension … The first time I was measured for my wedding dress, I was 29 inches around the waist. The day I got married, I was 23½ inches. I had shrunk into nothing from February to July . »
Princess Diana also revealed that, as her condition worsened by that October, she’d attempted to take her own life during a serious bout of depression: « I got terribly, terribly thin. People started commenting: ‘Your bones are showing.' » However, she thankfully sought medical help as she « was in such a bad way. »
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
Prince Charles wanted to know what love is
One of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s most memorable moments happened when a reporter asked the couple if they were « in love » during their engagement interview. While the princess quickly said, « Of course, » her soon-to-be husband strangely replied (via The Mirror), « Whatever ‘in love’ means. » He even went on to say, « You put your own interpretation, » before he was cut off by the reporter.
At the time, Princess Diana looked horrified by her then-fiancé’s weird comment about their romance. But in tapes recorded by her speech coach, Peter Settelen, in the early ’90s, she reflected on the awkward joint interview. Per The Times, after commenting on the reporter’s « thick question, » Princess Diana revealed, « [Charles’ answer] threw me completely. I thought: what a strange answer … God. It traumatized me. »
It seems that even when they announced their engagement, this doomed couple wasn’t quite on the same page.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s very separate interests
Perhaps one of the biggest signs that Prince Charles’ marriage to Princess Diana wasn’t fated to last was the fact that they had very different hobbies and interests from one another. According to royal biographer Penny Junor’s 2005 book, The Firm: The Troubled Life of the House of Windsor (via Express), when they first started dating, the future princess allegedly seemed to enjoy many of the things Prince Charles loved, such as hunting and spending time outdoors. « Imagine his surprise, therefore, » Junor wrote, « when after their engagement she seemed suddenly to hate everything he had thought she loved. » She claimed, « [Prince Charles] was quite at loss to understand the change in Diana, and thought it must be his fault in some way; that the prospect of marrying him was all too ghastly. »
However, the prince allegedly « spoke to no one about his anxieties, and when concerned friends tried to talk to him, he refused to listen. » After such a public engagement announcement, Junor explained, « Pulling out would have been unimaginable: the humiliation, the hurt, the headlines, the castigation. »
Unfortunately, it looks as though even Prince Charles and Princess Diana realized they might have been mismatched from the start, and didn’t have a firm foundation upon which to build their marriage.