Princess Diana received a letter from the Queen just weeks after she was interviewed by Martin Bashir, in which she said there were “three of us” in her marriage – referring to Charles’s affair with Camilla. Just weeks after Princess Diana gave her tell-all interview about the breakdown of her marriage to Prince Charles, a royal messenger arrived at her front door.
He was carrying a letter in the Queen’s handwriting, bearing the crest of the House of Windsor. The one-to-one with Martin Bashir, broadcast in November 1995, saw Diana sensationally reveal there were “three of us” in her marriage to Charles, in reference to his long-term love Camilla. Watched by 22.8million viewers, she also described the prince’s camp as the “enemy” and said the monarchy was in desperate need of modernisation – causing huge embarrassment for the Royal Family.
And the tone of Her Majesty’s letter left Diana in no doubt about her profound annoyance with the interview, which suddenly plunged the monarchy into crisis as the public sided with her. The Queen wrote: “I have consulted with the Archbishop of Canterbury and with the prime minister and, of course, with Charles, and we have decided that the best course for you is divorce.”
Even though the couple had already been apart for three years, they hadn’t technically divorced. Diana had already insisted she didn’t want a divorce, and told Bashir of her “deep, profound sadness” about their separation and that she only needed “clarity on a situation that has been of enormous discussion”. But the Queen’s letter put to bed any doubt, telling Diana how things should be.
When it arrived, Diana was reportedly furious that she was being forced to agree to a divorce she didn’t want, reportedly telling her butler Paul Burrell: “That’s rich! They get to decide whether I divorce!” But just days later, Buckingham Palace communicated the ‘decision’ to the world, saying in a statement that “after considering the present situation the Queen… gave them their view, supported by the Duke of Edinburgh, that an early divorce is desirable.”
The Queen’s letter finally put an end to the “fairytale” marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales which had enchanted millions around the world, beginning with a lavish wedding in St Paul’s Cathedral on July 29, 1981. Diana and Charles finally divorced eight months later, with a ‘decree nisi’ on August 28 1996.
Diana was reportedly awarded a £17million lump sum and £350,000 a year to run her private office, and was allowed to keep her apartments at Kensington Palace, while Diana and Charles agreed to share custody of their sons. But despite Diana’s insistence, she was was stripped of her title of Her Royal Highness, and instead became known as Diana, Princess of Wales.
While the Queen was said to be happy for her to keep the title, bearing in mind that she was the mother of a future king, Charles was reportedly adamant that she lose it. Losing the HRH meant it was no longer necessary for friends or staff to bow or curtsy in Diana’s presence. More humiliating, though, was that she herself would now have to curtsy to her husband, her two sons, and a whole host of minor royals.
With Diana’s fame – and the public affection in which she was held – reaching levels never before seen in history, her future position may have been a worry to Charles, the next in line to the throne. Diana was reportedly so upset by losing the HRH that Prince William, then 14, told her: “Don’t worry Mummy, I will give it back to you one day when I am King.”
The conversation left Diana in tears, according to her former butler Paul Burrell. But almost exactly a year after their divorce, Diana died in a car crash with her companion Dodi Fayed in Paris, on August 31, 1997 – making William’s promise to give her back her HRH title even more heartbreaking.
The tragic irony is that, if Diana had not been stripped of the HRH title on the day she divorced, she might still be alive today.Losing her HRH status also meant losing the Royal protection that went with it, which may have prevented the Princess from being in a speeding car being pursued by paparazzi on that fateful night.