On this day in 1997, an estimated 2.5 billion people around the globe tune in to television broadcasts of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, who died at the age of 36 in a car crash in Paris the week before. During her 15-year marriage to Prince Charles, the son of Queen Elizabeth II and the heir to the British throne, Diana became one of the most famous, most photographed people on the planet. Her life story was fodder for numerous books, television programs and movies and her image appeared on countless magazine covers, including those of People and Vanity Fair. After her death, she remained an iconic figure and a continual source of fascination to the media and entertainment world.
Diana Spencer was born on July 1, 1961, in Norfolk, England. On July 29, 1981, at the age of 20, “Shy Di”–as the voracious British media dubbed her–married Prince Charles at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, in a ceremony that was watched by hundreds of millions of TV viewers around the world. On June 21, 1982, Diana gave birth to Prince William. A second son, Prince Harry, was born September 15, 1984. Charles and Diana separated in 1992, amidst allegations of infidelities on both sides, and the couple was officially divorced on August 28, 1996. After her divorce, Diana continued the humanitarian work she’d begun as a member of the royal family, campaigning to raise awareness of the deadly AIDS epidemic and to ban the use of landmines, or explosive devices planted on or in the ground that often cause death or injury to civilians.
In the early morning hours of August 31, 1997, the driver of Diana’s car lost control of the vehicle while trying to elude paparazzi and crashed in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris. Diana’s companion, Dodi al-Fayed, was also killed in the crash, as was the driver, Henri Paul, who was later determined to be speeding and under the influence of alcohol.
England experienced an unprecedented outpouring of public grief over Diana’s death. On September 6, 1997, hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of London to watch the former princess’s coffin being transported to Westminster Abbey, where politicians, celebrities and royalty gathered for her funeral. Elton John performed a re-worked version of his song “Candle in the Wind,” which he and Bernie Taupin had originally written about Marilyn Monroe. Diana’s brother, Lord Spencer, spoke at the funeral and blamed the media for his sister’s death, calling her the “most hunted person of the modern age.” Diana was buried at Althorp, her family’s estate in Northamptonshire, England.