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Diana Her True Story in Her Own Words
By Andrew Morton
Rebound by Sagebrush Copyright ©1998 Andrew Morton
All right reserved.
Chapter One: 'I Was Supposed to Be a Boy'
It was a memory indelibly engraved upon her soul. Diana Spencer sat quietly at the bottom of the cold stone stairs at her Norfolk home, clutching the wroughtiron banisters while all around her there was a determined bustle. She could hear her father loading suitcases into the boot of a car, then Frances, her mother, crunching across the gravel forecourt, the clunk of the car door being shut and the sound of a car engine revving and then slowly fading as her mother drove through the gates of Park House and out of her life. Diana was six years old. A quarter of a century later, it was a moment she could still picture in her mind's eye and she could still summon up the painful feelings of rejection, breach of trust and isolation that the break-up of her parents' marriage signified to her.
It may have happened differently but that was the picture Diana carried with her. There were many other snapshots of her childhood which crowded her memory. Her mother's tears, her father's lonely silences, the numerous nannies she resented, the endless shuttling between parents, the sound of her brother Charles sobbing himself to sleep, the feelings of guiltthat she hadn't been born a boy and the firmly fixed idea that somehow she was a 'nuisance' to have around. She craved cuddles and kisses; she was given a catalogue from Hamleys toyshop. It was a childhood where she wanted for nothing materially but everything emotionally. 'She comes from a privileged background but she had a childhood that was very hard,' said her astrologer Felix Lyle.
The Honourable Diana Spencer was born late on the afternoon of 1 July 1961, the third daughter of Viscount Althorp, then aged 37, and Viscountess Althorp, 12 years his junior. She weighed 7lb 12oz and while her father expressed his delight at a 'perfect physical specimen' there was no hiding the sense of anticlimax, if not downright disappointment, in the family that the new arrival was not the longed-for male heir who would carry on the Spencer name. Such was the anticipation of a boy that the couple hadn't considered any girls' names. A week later they settled on 'Diana Frances', after a Spencer ancestress and the baby's mother.
While Viscount Althorp, the late Earl Spencer, may have been proud of his new daughter - Diana was very much the apple of his eye - his remarks about her health could have been chosen more diplomatically. Just 18 months previously Diana's mother had given birth to John, a baby so badly deformed and sickly that he survived for only ten hours. It was a harrowing time for the couple and there was much pressure from older members of the family to see 'what was wrong with the mother'. They wanted to know why she kept producing girls. Lady Althorp, then still only 23, was sent to various Harley Street clinics in London for intimate tests. For Diana's mother, fiercely proud, combative - and tough-minded, it was a humiliating and unjust experience, all the more so in retrospect as nowadays it is known that the sex of the baby is determined by the man. As her son Charles, the present Earl Spencer, observed: 'It was a dreadful time for my parents and probably the root of their divorce because I don't think they ever got over it.'
While she was too young to understand, Diana certainly caught the pitch of the family's frustration, and, believing that she was 'a nuisance', she accepted a corresponding load of guilt - and failure for disappointing her parents and family, feelings she learned later to accept and recognize.
Three years after Diana's birth the longed-for son arrived. Unlike Diana, who was christened in Sandringham church and had well-to-do commoners for godparents, baby brother Charles was christened in style at Westminster Abbey with the Queen as principal godparent. The infant was heir to a rapidly diminishing but still substantial fortune accumulated in the fifteenth century when the Spencers were among the wealthiest sheep traders in Europe. With their fortune they collected an earldom from Charles I, built Althorp House in Northamptonshire, acquired a coat of arms and motto - 'God defend the right' - and amassed a fine collection of art, antiques, books and objets d'art.
For the next three centuries Spencers were at home in the palaces of Kensington, Buckingham and Westminster as they occupied various offices of State and Court. If a Spencer never quite reached the commanding heights, they certainly walked confidently along the corridors of power. Spencers became Knights of the Garter, Privy Councillors, ambassadors and a First Lord of the Admiralty while the third Earl Spencer was considered as a possible Prime Minister. They were linked by blood to Charles II, the Dukes of Marlborough, Devonshire and Abercorn and, through a quirk of history, to seven American presidents, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, and to the actor Humphrey Bogart and, it is said, the gangster Al Capone.
The Spencer qualities of quiet public service, the values of noblesse oblige were well expressed in their service to the Sovereign. Generations of Spencer men and women have fulfilled the functions of Lord Chamberlain, equerry, lady-in-waiting and other positions at Court. Diana's paternal grandmother, Countess Spencer was a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, while her maternal grandmother, Ruth, Lady Fermoy was one of her Women of the Bedchamber for nearly 30 years. Diana's father served as equerry to both King George VI and the present Queen.
However, it was the family of Diana's mother, the Fermoys, with their roots in Ireland and connections in the United States, who were responsible for the acquisition of Park House, her childhood home in Norfolk. As a mark of friendship with his second son, the Duke of York (later George VI), King George V granted Diana's grandfather, Maurice, the 4th Baron Fermoy, the lease of Park House, a spacious property originally built to accommodate the overflow of guests and staff from nearby Sandringham House.
The Fermoys certainly made a mark on the area. Maurice Fermoy became the Conservative Member of Parliament for King's Lynn while his Scottish wife, who gave up a promising career as a concert pianist to marry, founded the King's Lynn Festival for Arts and Music which, since its inception in 1951, has attracted world renowned musicians such as Sir John Barbirolli and Yehudi Menuhin.
For the young Diana Spencer, this long noble heritage was not so much impressive as terrifying. She never relished visits to the ancestral home of Althorp. There were too many creepy corners and badly lit corridors peopled with portraits of long-dead ancestors whose eyes followed her unnervingly. As her brother recalled: 'It was like an old man's club with masses of clocks ticking away. For an impressionable child it was a nightmarish place. We never looked forward to going there.'
This sense of foreboding was hardly helped by the bad-tempered relationship which existed between her gruff grandfather Jack, the 7th Earl, and his son Johnnie Althorp. For many years they were barely on grunting, let alone speaking terms. Abrupt to the point of rudeness yet fiercely protective of Althorp, Diana's grandfather earned the nickname of 'the curator earl' because he knew the history of every picture and piece of furniture in his stately home. He was so proud of his domain that he often followed visitors around with a duster and once, in the library, snatched a cigar from out of Winston Churchill's mouth. Beneath this irascible veneer was a man of cultivation and taste, whose priorities contrasted sharply with his son's laissez-faire approach to life and amiable enjoyment of the traditional outdoor pursuits of an English country gentleman.
While Diana was in awe of her grandfather, she adored her grandmother, Countess Spencer. 'She was sweet, wonderful and very special. Divine really,' said the Princess. The Countess was known locally for her frequent visits to the sick and the infirm and was never at a loss for a generous word or gesture. While Diana inherited her mother's sparky, strong-willed nature she was also blessed with her paternal grandmother's qualities of thoughtfulness and compassion.
In contrast to the eerie splendours of Althorp, Diana's rambling ten-bedroomed home, Park House, was positively cosy, notwithstanding the staff cottages, extensive garages, outdoor swimming pool, tennis court and cricket pitch in the grounds, as well as the six full-time staff who included a cook, a butler and a governess.
Screened from the road by trees and shrubs, the house is substantial but its dirty, sand-brick exterior makes it appear rather bleak and lonely. In spite of its forbidding appearance, the Spencer children loved the rambling pile. When they moved to Althorp in 1975 on the death of their grandfather, the 7th Earl, Charles said goodbye to every room. The house was later turned into a Cheshire Home holiday hotel for the disabled; during visits to Sandringham Diana would occasionally visit it.
Park House was a home of atmosphere and great character. On the ground floor was the stone-flagged kitchen, the dark-green laundry room, domain of Diana's foul-tempered ginger cat called Marmalade, and the schoolroom where their governess, Miss Gertrude Allen - known as 'Ally' - taught the girls the rudiments of reading and writing. Next door was what the children called 'The Beatle Room,' a room devoted entirely to psychedelic posters, pictures and other memorabilia of Sixties pop stars. It was a rare concession to the postwar era. Elsewhere the house was a snapshot of upper-class English life, decorated with formal family portraits and regimental pictures, as well as the plaques, photographs and certificates which were testimony of a lifetime spent in good works.
From her pretty cream bedroom in the first-floor nursery, Diana enjoyed a pleasant prospect of grazing cattle, a patchwork of open fields and parkland interspersed with copses of pine, silver birch and yew. Rabbits, foxes and other woodland creatures were regularly seen on the lawns while the frequent sea frets which softly curled around her sash windows were evidence that the Norfolk coast was only six miles away.
It was a heavenly place for growing children. They fed trout in the lake at Sandringham House, slid down the banisters, took Jill, their springer spaniel for long rambles, played hide-and-seek in the garden, listened to the wind whistling through the trees and hunted for pigeons' eggs. In summer they swam in the heated outdoor swimming pool, looked for frogs and newts, picnicked on the beach near their private hut at Brancaster and played in their very own tree house. And, as in Enid Blyton's Famous Five children's books, there were always 'lashings of ginger beer' and the smell of something appetizing baking in the kitchen.
Like her elder sisters, Diana was on horseback aged three and soon developed a passion for animals, the smaller the better. She had pet hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs, her cat Marmalade, which Charles and Jane loathed, and, as her mother recalls, 'anything in a small cage'. When one of her menagerie died, Diana dutifully performed a burial ceremony. While goldfish were flushed down the lavatory, she normally placed her other dead pets in a cardboard shoe box, dug a hole beneath the spreading cedar tree on the lawn and laid them to rest. Finally, she placed a makeshift cross above their grave.
Graveyards held a sombre fascination. Charles and Diana frequently visited their brother John's lichen-covered grave in the Sandringham churchyard and mused about what he would have been like and whether they would have been born if he had lived. Charles felt that his parents would have completed their family with Diana while the Princess herself felt that she would not have been born. It was a matter for endless unresolved conjecture. In Diana's young mind her brother's gravestone, with its simple 'In Loving Memory' epitaph, was a permanent reminder that, as she later recalled: 'I was the girl who was supposed to be a boy.'
Just as her childhood amusements could have originated from the pages of a 1930s children's book, so Diana's upbringing reflected the values of a bygone age. She had a nanny, Kent-born Judith Parnell who took the infant Diana for walks around the grounds in a well-used, highly-sprung perambulator. Indeed, Diana's first memory was 'the smell of the warm plastic' of her pram hood. The growing girl did not see as much of her mother as she would have wished, and less of her father. Her sisters Sarah and Jane, her seniors by six and four years respectively, were already spending mornings in the downstairs classroom when she was born and by the time Diana was ready to join them they were packing their bags for boarding school.
Mealtimes were spent with nanny. Simple fare was the order of the day. Cereals at breakfast, mince and vegetables for lunch and fish every Friday. Her parents were a benign though distant presence and it wasn't until Charles was seven that he actually sat down to a meal with his father in the downstairs dining room. There was a formality and restraint to their childhood, a reflection of the way Diana's parents had been raised. As Charles recalled: 'It was a privileged upbringing out of a different age, a distant way of living from your parents. I don't know anyone who brings up children like that any more. It certainly lacked a mother figure.'
Privileged yes, snobbish no. At a very early age the Spencer children had impressed upon them the value of good manners, honesty and accepting people for what they were, not for their position in life. Charles said: 'We never understood the whole title business. I didn't even know I had any kind of title until I went to prep school when I started to get these letters saying: "The Honourable Charles". Then I started to wonder what it was all about. We had no idea that we were privileged. As children we accepted our circumstances as normal.'
Their royal nextdoor neighbours simply fitted in to a social landscape of friends and acquaintances who included the children of the Queen's land agent, Charles and Alexandra Loyd, the local vicar's daughter Penelope Ashton, and William and Annabel Fox, whose mother Carol was Diana's godmother. Social relations with the royal family were sporadic, especially as they only spend a small part of the year on their 20,000-acre Sandringham estate. A royal visit to Park House was such a rare event that when Princess Anne said she would call round after church service one Sunday there was consternation in the Spencer household. Diana's father didn't drink and staff frantically searched through the cupboards looking for a bottle of something suitable to offer their royal guest. Finally they found a cheap bottle of sherry, which had been won in a church bazaar, lying forgotten in a drawer.
Occasionally Princess Margaret's son, Viscount Linley, and the Princes Andrew and Edward might come to play for the afternoon but there certainly weren't the comings and goings many have assumed.
Excerpted from Diana by Andrew Morton Copyright ©1998 by Andrew Morton. Excerpted by permission.
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