Princess Diana may have been royalty and of aristocratic stock, but she was also a normal mom. When it came down to parenting versus royal protocol, the former always won by a landslide. And in April 2020 an old video of Diana on Mother’s Day started circulating around the internet – reminding everyone of what she was really like.
It’s no secret that Diana found it difficult being a member of the royal family. Her marriage to Prince Charles appeared on the surface to be like a fairytale, but in reality, it was anything but. Charles was still hung up over his old girlfriend Camilla Parker Bowles, and Diana knew it. Reportedly, neither of them particularly wanted to wed, but they had little choice.
Diana was seen as the perfect woman to marry the heir to the throne. She was an earl’s daughter with links to the royal family, and as far as anyone knew she hadn’t been in any other serious relationships. According to her uncle, she was also still a virgin. And although the idea of picking a wife based on virginity seems bizarre today, the royals had been doing it for centuries.
But right from the beginning there were red flags. When the engagement was announced in February 1981, the press asked questions of the new couple. One journalist questioned whether the two were really in love. Diana quickly said, “Of course,” but Charles answered, “Whatever love means,” with a nervous laugh.
And there were a few hints before the wedding that Diana wouldn’t completely toe the line as a princess. She picked her engagement ring out of a publicly available catalog, and that shocked a lot of people. But they were even more surprised when Diana said that she would leave the word “obey” out of her wedding vows.
By the time the date of the wedding rolled around, the bride apparently cried the night before at the thought of having to marry someone he didn’t love. This is according to Sally Bedell Smith’s book Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life. Nevertheless, both he and Diana put on brave faces and went ahead with a wedding watched by an estimated 750 million people.
Unsurprisingly, things went downhill very fast. Diana became pregnant with William early on into the marriage, and she began experiencing mental health issues. Twelve weeks into her pregnancy, the media reported that the princess had fallen down some stairs, though the unborn child was unharmed. In reality, Diana later said that she had jumped on purpose.
Diana then gave birth to Prince William in June 1982. Becoming a mother seemed to transform the princess into the royal rulebreaker the world still remembers her as. When the latter was still a young baby, she decided to take him with her on a tour of Australia, even though the media criticized her for it.
Not only that, Diana apparently broke a big royal taboo with William. ABC News’ royal correspondent Victoria Arbiter told the publication in 2013, “Diana is largely reported to be the very first mother within the royal family to breastfeed. Of course, that’s hard for us to know for certain, but Queen Victoria was adamant that she found breastfeeding disgusting.”
After William came Harry, who was born in September 1984. Diana knew in advance what the gender of the new baby would be but didn’t tell Charles, a sign of how badly their relationship was deteriorating. Diana devoted herself utterly to the two children, and she decided that they would live as normally as possible.
At the time, royal tradition dictated that children should be taught by a governess at the palace rather than go to school with other kids. But Diana wasn’t having that; she sent William to a public school, making him the first heir to the throne to do this. Furthermore, the princess took her kids to school herself as often as she could.
As we mentioned, Diana was determined that her boys should have normal childhoods. And she made sure they understood what life was like outside the palace walls. This included taking them to help at homeless shelters, even.
In 2013 royal bodyguard Ken Wharfe remembered one of the homeless shelter trips that the princess went on with her eldest. He told ABC News, “This was done completely out of sight of any camera or media. This was Diana’s way of actually saying to William, ‘Listen, it isn’t all what you think it is living at Kensington Palace.’ That was a quite a brave thing on Diana’s part.”
And the media was impressed by Diana’s mothering skills. In 1997 Katrine Ames wrote in Newsweek magazine, “Of all the images that have burned into the public memory, few are more incandescent than one from Toronto. As Harry and William approach, their mother rushes to meet them, her body canted forward, her arms flung wide, with a smile that would light the darkest heart.”
Katrine continued, “Inevitably, [Diana] left her children with nannies – just as she herself and so many other well-to-do British children have been left – but she tried to arrange her schedule to match the boys’. In her official calendar, the princess had all the everyday details of her son’s utterly uneveryday lives marked in green ink.”
As time went on, Diana started breaking royal protocol for herself as well. In 1994 Prince Charles confessed on TV to his affair with Camilla, so Diana decided to break out a revenge dress the same day the documentary was airing. She appeared at a benefit do wearing a very sexy black outfit, one that absolutely did not follow the dress code royals were supposed to adhere to.
Royals aren’t even really supposed to wear black in public outside of memorial or funeral events. But Diana’s minidress worked like a charm. British tabloid newspaper The Sun had “The Thrilla He Left to Woo Camilla” as their headline the next day. From then on, the princess was a huge fashion icon.
Yet still, Diana’s children were her main focus. In 2019 her former butler Paul Burrell told the Daily Mirror, “[On Saturday nights] the three of them would nip to McDonald’s for a Big Mac and fries before coming back to watch Blind Date. All three of them would squat on this massive, stuffed hippopotamus Diana had in her sitting room.”
In fact, Diana seemed to love going to McDonald’s with the boys. In 2017 royal chef Darren McGrady told Marie Claire magazine, “I remember the Princess came into the kitchen one day and said, ‘Cancel lunch for the boys. I’m taking them out, we’re going to McDonald’s.’ And I said, ‘Oh my god your royal highness, I can do that, I can do burgers.’ And she said, ‘No, it’s the toy they want.’”
And sometimes Diana would take the boys to theme parks – but she would tell them they had to wait in line for rides like everyone else. Dressed down and not giving much indication she was a member of the royal family, to non-Brits Diana must have looked like a normal mother having a day out with her kids.
Apparently, Diana’s staff still remember the theme park outings. In ITV’s 2014 documentary Harry at 30, ex-bodyguard Ken Wharf recollected, “The one thing about Thorpe Park I remember and I could kill him for it was the manager gave William and Harry these two water pistols. They said, ‘Let’s fill them with water and get the policemen’ and I said, ‘No, you are not doing that.’”
Paul Burrell, meanwhile, thinks that there was another reason Diana always took the kids out to fun places. In 2019 he told the Daily Mirror that “she knew how difficult it was for the boys when she and Charles separated. She felt she had to over-compensate, so that’s why they would go to places like Thorpe Park, Alton Towers and Necker Island.”
Paul went on, “It was upsetting for them to watch the fall-out of their parents’ marriage. And whenever Diana got upset, they would push notes under her door saying, ‘It will be okay.’ Diana smothered them in love and they always slept in her room during that time and not the nursery.”
As the whole world knows, Diana sadly passed away in 1997. While in the French capital of Paris, her car crashed into a tunnel and she was unfortunately killed. After having such a good childhood with their mother, William and Harry suddenly had to grow up without her. But in the years since, rare videos showing her being a mom have popped up on the internet.
In April 2020 a Twitter account called @OregonProgress posted a video clip of Diana running a race against other moms at a special event. The clip was captioned, “Princess Diana breaking royal protocol for William, to participate in a Mothers’ Day school race, 1989.” However, it actually took place in 1991, according to PopSugar.
It’s traditional for schools in Britain to hold a day of just sports, and usually there’s a race or two for the parents to compete in as well. The one in the clip is at Wetherby School, which both William and Harry attended. And although Diana didn’t win the race, she looked happy just to be taking part.
In fact, Diana competed in a lot of races while William and Harry were at Wetherby School. A photograph from 1989 shows the princess and a lot of other white-clad, barefooted women racing frantically against each other. Diana is right at the front, and she looks pretty determined to win.
When the clip of Diana’s 1991 run made it to Reddit, one person asked what protocol Diana broke by running in a race. Another user answered, “Generally, royals are excluded from sports not because they have to ‘act royal’ but because there’s no truly good outcome for them.”
The person went on, “If a king wins a sporting event people see it and think the athletes threw the match so the king could look good, or that the king is taking the spotlight away from the sport and athletes to glorify himself. If he loses, it looks bad because, well, he lost.” The user concluded, “While this isn’t a concern now, it is why royals don’t participate in competitions.”
Some royals do participate in sports, but not the monarch. You can’t imagine Queen Elizabeth playing football or picking up a hockey stick, and for good reason. Generally, the royals stick to sports that are tradition in the royal family – such as polo. Prince Philip and Prince Charles are both known to be obsessed with it. And when the family members compete, it’s usually just against each other.
On the Reddit thread, some people shared memories of Diana. One person said, “My ex – who’s rather posh – went to a classmate’s birthday party when he was seven, and she and William were there. He got to ride with her on a quad bike though a field, and [Diana] gave him a hug and kiss after. He was too young to know she was famous, he just thought she was a really nice lady.”
Another person talked about the work Diana did for HIV patients at a time when people were scared of the condition. They wrote, “She was wonderful. The whole world was devastated when she died, for good reason… People were afraid to touch AIDS patients and HIV-infected people in the ‘80s, and she showed that it was okay.”
But of course, it was Harry and William who were most affected by her death. In 2017 the two princes featured in the HBO documentary Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy. They used it as a platform to discuss what a good mother the princess had been to them, and to share memories of her life.
William and Harry shared some quite intimate details in the show, including what their final phone call with their mother had been like. Obviously, none of them had known at the time that it would be their last interaction. And the fact that William and Harry had been so casual on the phone was something which haunted them.
William told the documentary, “If I’d known now obviously what was going to happen, I wouldn’t have been so blasé about it and everything else, but that phone call sticks in my mind quite heavily.” And Harry said, “Looking back on it now it’s incredibly hard, I have to sort of deal with that for the rest my life.”
But William and Harry also remembered the good things, and how fun their life with Diana had been. At one point, the latter reminisced, “… I genuinely think that she got satisfaction out of dressing myself and William up in the most bizarre outfits – normally matching. Looking back at the photos, it just makes me laugh. I think, ‘How could you do that to us?’”
Regarding his childhood, Harry also said, “My mother cherished those moments of privacy and being able to be that mother, rather than the Princess of Wales. She made the decision that no matter what, despite all the difficulties of growing up in that lime light and on that stage, she was going to ensure that both of us had as normal a life as possible.”
And Diana had clearly managed to bring a semblance of normality to the princes’ lives. Harry went on, “And if that means taking us for a burger every now and then or sneaking us into the cinema, or driving through the country lanes with the roof down in her old school BMW to listen to Enya I think it was… part of her being a mom.”
Of course, both William and Harry have now grown up, married and become parents themselves. The former said in the documentary, “When it came to [my wedding to Kate Middleton] I did really feel that she was there. There are times when you look to someone or something for strength and I very much felt she was there for me.”
And the princes think Diana would have treated her grandchildren in the same fun way that she treated them. William said fondly, “She’d be a nightmare grandma… She’d love the children to bits, but she’d be an absolute nightmare.” He added that he always made sure to discuss Diana with his kids, because it was “important they know who she was and [that] she existed.”