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Her Last Love
By Kate Snell
Carlton Publishing GroupCopyright © 2013 Kate Snell
All rights reserved.
'I am unwanted'
'Let's make a den in the woods!' pronounced the children's nanny. Diana Spencer's eyes lit up at the prospect. Immediately the little girl trotted off to the large farmhouse-style kitchen with its Aga cooking range, to seek out the cook and head housekeeper. She asked the grey-haired and matronly Mrs Smith for some plates, mugs, pans, and other bits and pieces before scuttling back to the Park House woods with her assorted collection of cutlery and crockery stashed in a wicker basket.
Her younger brother Charles saw the den as the perfect place to play Cowboys and Indians, with the imagined Wild-West atmosphere augmented by regular barbecues and camp-fires. Diana, on the other hand, took a more practical view; she wanted to make the den into a house.
Her former nanny Mary Clarke recalls the way that Diana took to the task in hand with real enthusiasm, and busied herself making it into the most perfect little home that could be imagined.
As a snapshot of Diana's childhood, it is a simplistic one, but from it emerges the sense that even at a very early age Diana dreamed of creating a happy home, which would come complete with a husband who loved her and, of course, a large family. These were themes which would recur again and again in later life.
* * *
Park House is a rather forlorn-looking Norfolk grey stone mansion situated on the Queen's twenty-thousand-acre estate at Sandringham. Although the drab exterior makes the house appear somehow small and squat, inside it's a different picture altogether; the ceilings are high, the rooms are spacious, and when Diana lived there, the house had ten bedrooms.
The nineteenth century mansion had been acquired by her mother's family. George V had granted the lease on the property to Diana's maternal grandfather Maurice, the 4th Baron Fermoy, a friend of his son, the Duke of York. Diana's own mother, Frances Burke Roche, grew up there.
Her father's family seat is Althorp House in Northamptonshire. The imposing estate reflects centuries of accumulated wealth, dating back to the fifteenth century when the Spencers' business was sheep trading. For hundreds of years members of the family had held privileged positions at court. Diana's own father served as equerry to both King George VI and the present Queen.
Diana's parents married at Westminster Abbey in June 1954, and after a brief spell at the Althorp estate they moved to Park House taking over the lease from Frances' parents. It was here, in what subsequently became her parents' bedroom, that Diana was born on 1 July 1961.
Her arrival was greeted with cheers and sunshine.
It was a classic, lazy English summer day, beautifully sunny and warm, with the grounds smelling of freshly mown grass. To complete the picture, the Sandringham cricket team were playing nearby on the local pitch.
Just as Diana came into the world there was an enormous roar and a spontaneous outburst of applause from outside the window. It was actually for the local traffic policeman, who had just scored a century for his team, but it seemed to bode well for the future Princess.
Descriptions of Diana's childhood make it sound idyllic, full of fun and laughter. There were long walks in the woods with the dogs; she was surrounded by beautiful countryside in which she could roam to her heart's content, and she had lots of friends over to stay whenever she was home from school.
There was a pool at the back of the house where she loved to swim and particularly to dive; something she became extremely skilled at.
She also enjoyed drama, and the acting lessons clearly rubbed off on the young Diana, as she would often surprise everyone by coming out with great flourishing statements that drew attention to herself.
But if her childhood is portrayed as golden and wholesome in the old-fashioned way, this was not the picture Diana carried with her into adult life, at least not as she was to relay it to a number of close friends.
In Diana's own mind, as she was to tell her confidants, it was actually an unhappy childhood, leaving her feeling lonely and emotionally marooned.
In September 1967, Diana's elder sisters Sarah and Jane went to boarding school at West Heath in Kent. Shortly afterwards, Diana's parents decided on a trial separation, and Frances left home. Since the eldest girls were away at the time, the impact fell heaviest on Diana and Charles.
According to Diana's close friends her mother's departure was a pivotal moment in her life.
When Frances walked out on her marriage, she initially took the children away from Park House to be with her in a flat in Cadogan Place in Chelsea, London. However, on their return home for Christmas in 1967, Diana's father, Johnnie Spencer, announced that he had arranged for the children to be placed in Silfield School in nearby King's Lynn, thus ensuring that they would stay with him at Park House.
Diana told several of her friends about two particularly enduring memories of that time. She said she could clearly recall the sound of her mother's footsteps crunching across the gravel driveway, as she sat watching and listening on the steps of Park House.
Diana remembered then watching as her mother packed her long evening dresses into the back of the car, before driving out of the gates and away from the marriage.
Later she told friends such as astrologer Debbie Frank how she would go back and sit on those same steps for years afterwards hoping her mother would return.
'I think that was an abiding memory for her, sitting on the steps watching her mother pack her clothes ... It was an image that was extremely profound and poignant for Diana,' says Frank.
Of the four Spencer children, Diana appears to have been most affected. In part that was due to her impressionable age – she was only six, while her sisters Sarah and Jane were twelve and ten respectively, and brother Charles, at three, was too young to know what was happening. And of them all, Diana was by far the most sensitive and least self-assured. Earl Spencer acknowledged to Mary Clarke that Diana had been 'confused' ever since her parents' marriage had ended, and had fluctuated between being bright and happy one moment, and quiet and moody the next. It was a painful experience for her. Speaking to her friend Simone Simmons, she compared the feeling to 'a big black hole; very empty with nothing to fill it up'.
It was this single event and the feeling that she had been abandoned, which perhaps more than anything else helped to shape Diana into the person she became – the person on the inside as opposed to the person we all saw in public.
Her mother's departure later grew to represent a kind of betrayal of her childish innocent love. It seems to have sown the seeds for her subsequent incapacity to trust people, and created insecurity so great that no love could ever be enough to satisfy her self-doubts.
Another of her close confidants, Roberto Devorik, doubts whether Diana ever really recovered emotionally from her parents' divorce. He is sure that this chapter was what 'marked her in life'. In his view, later problems which were never really so serious assumed an unnaturally large importance to her just 'because of that disrupted part of her life'.
Diana's family had disintegrated, and in part she blamed herself for the breakdown in her parents' relationship. She had heard somewhere along the line that before she was born her parents expressly hoped for a son and heir because there were already two daughters. Indeed, eighteen months before Diana was born her parents had lost a baby boy; he was just eleven hours old when he died, and had already been given the name John. In contrast no girls' names had been thought of when Diana was born; her parents had been so sure of having a boy. And when Diana was christened on 30 August 1961 she had no royal godparents, unlike her two sisters, Sarah, whose godmother was Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and Jane, whose godfather was the Duke of Kent.
In later life, the notion of being 'the girl who was supposed to be a boy' assumed enormous significance in Diana's mind, and she was convinced she was a disappointment to both her parents.
'From the word go, there were these feelings that she hadn't quite made the grade,' remembers Debbie Frank.
Diana gave similar renditions of her childhood traumas to many of her adult friends. Her perceived deprivations were not just idle comments, but heartfelt and oft repeated pleading.
Lady Elsa Bowker, another close friend for many years, describes the regular occasions when Diana would go to see her for coffee. 'It was hard work, because I always had to reassure her; to tell her she was loved, and she looked at me with doubt in her eyes. I said, "You have the world at your feet." She said, "You call this the world at my feet? As a child I was unwanted because they wanted a boy. Oh, Elsa, I am unwanted, I am unwanted." Always that word, "I am unwanted". It was a terrible word to hear!'
According to Diana, her childhood years were filled with all the material gifts she could have wanted, but none of the love and attention she so craved.
When Diana's parents divorced, Johnnie Spencer won custody of the children, and weekends during school term were spent shuttling by train between Norfolk and Liverpool Street station in London to visit their mother. Diana always remembered her mother's tears during those brief visits.
The school holidays seemed equally grim. At these times, during countless train journeys between parents, Diana seemed reserved and pensive; her thoughts were often on the parent she had left behind. On leaving her father Diana would say, 'Poor Daddy, we've left him all by himself,' and similarly on leaving her mother she would say, 'Oh poor Mummy, she's on her own!'
This was in some way an indication of the emotions coursing through the young Diana. But it was also one of the first signs of her ability to manipulate, through learning to play one parent off against the other.
In 1972, when Diana was only eleven years old, she effectively lost contact with her mother after Frances and her second husband, Peter Shand Kydd, announced they were moving to a hill farm on the remote Isle of Seil off the west coast of Scotland.
Diana was emotionally adrift. Denied her own happy and unfragmented family in childhood, she escaped into a world of make-believe, a fairytale world in which everyone was good, everyone helped each other and everything ended happily.
Young Diana could be observed creating a surrogate family as a means of receiving love and giving her affection back in return. She kept a menagerie of soft toys which took up so much room in her bed there was precious little space left for her.
Her former nanny Mary Clarke could see how Diana took pains to position each of the stuffed animals in absolutely the correct place every time she went to bed, with absolutely no favouritism given to any one of them. 'They all had to take turns to be nearest her at night.' Diana even referred to these soft toys as 'my family'.
At one time, young Diana had a pet guinea pig called Peanuts who went everywhere with her. In later years Roberto Devorik was looking at one of Diana's photographs of herself as a child, in which she was clutching Peanuts close to her face. Devorik said to her that he didn't think she liked animals. Tellingly she replied, 'At that stage of my life I saw these animals as if they were my children, my family. I needed that belonging, I needed to be surrounded with things that could give me love, and that I could give love back to.'
The fantasy world that Diana was creating was augmented by romantic literature. She could often be found curled up with not one, but several Barbara Cartland novels strewn across the settee. Mary Clarke remembers how Diana would devour such books 'at a tremendous rate of knots'. Hers was an imagined world full of love and romance, but perhaps more importantly, a world in which the lovers would live 'happily ever after'.
Mary Clarke recalls being a little anxious the first time she met the nine-year-old Diana, as the future of her job rested on their first impressions of each other, but she remembers how struck she was by their conversation on that day.
Diana was now at boarding school and the holidays were about to start. Clarke's first duty had been to drive over to Riddlesworth Hall, about an hour's journey from Sandringham, pick Diana up and take her back home.
Diana was waiting as Mary drew up in the car. Beside her on the ground were her trunk and all the paraphernalia that the end of term usually brought. They loaded it all into the boot of the car, and together they went back into the school to pick up Peanuts, the guinea pig, before setting off for Park House. Riddlesworth Hall allowed their pupils to bring their pets with them if they wished, and Diana looked after her guinea pig with such devotion she even won the prize for best-cared-for-pet.
During the car ride back to Sandringham the two of them talked incessantly. Mary started with some general, safe subjects, so she could get to know her new charge better. She asked what subject Diana enjoyed most at school. Diana said biology was her favourite. But very soon Diana 'somehow in her rather adept way' began to change the conversation round from rabbits and reproduction to love and marriage. 'It was all to make her point, within even that first hour, of her views of love and marriage,' Mary says now, 'which I thought was extremely strange for a child so young.'
As the car journey progressed, Diana confided in the new nanny about her plans for when she grew up and got married herself.
'She said she would never ever marry unless she was in love and she was certain that the person loved her, because without love there might be divorce.'
Diana ended the conversation with the forceful declaration, 'I never want to be divorced.'CHAPTER 2
'I wanted to turn back!'
'It's really ironic that you are now marrying the one person in the land from whom there can never be divorce.' So wrote Mary Clarke in a letter to Diana shortly after her engagement to Prince Charles was officially announced on 24 February 1981.
'If you are absolutely sure that this is the man you love, then I wish you every happiness, and offer my congratulations.'
For a time during her engagement to Charles, Diana no doubt drew some comfort from the thoughts expressed in Mary's letter, and felt secure in the knowledge that her marriage to the future king surely could not end with the two of them parting. It was unthinkable.
Diana had long been convinced that she would end up marrying somebody terribly important. According to Diana her father would tell her when she was little that she was destined for great things. Also, had she not read in her romantic novels that somewhere out there was a man who would literally sweep her off her feet? These strong, twin images of destiny and romance were embedded somewhere in her psyche.
So when Prince Charles proposed to her on the evening of 6 February 1981 in the nursery of Windsor Castle, it seemed as though her search for the handsome prince she had dreamed about as a child was complete.
Diana was very much in love with Charles, and in her mind the marriage was her fairytale dream about to come true – the answer to her quest for a husband and a happy family. As a young woman who was after all still only nineteen years of age, and who had led a relatively sheltered life, she was very susceptible to such idealized childhood images of romance.
It was all the more crushing then to discover that Charles was already in love with someone else. Diana later told her friends that when she found out about Camilla she was devastated, stunned beyond belief.
Of course, anyone who read a newspaper knew that Camilla and Charles had been an 'item' at one time, and that Charles had had a number of other girlfriends over the years. Diana was as aware as anyone else that she wasn't the first girl in her Prince's life.
Charles had first got to know Camilla Shand, as she was then, in 1972, when he was in the Navy. It was not the first time romance had blossomed between their families. Camilla's great-grandmother was Alice Keppel, mistress of King Edward VII. Charles was not ready to settle down, and in July 1973 Camilla married Andrew Parker Bowles instead. Charles had lost the opportunity to make her his wife, but she became his confidante, and their relationship would resume in the late seventies.
Excerpted from Diana by Kate Snell. Copyright © 2013 Kate Snell. Excerpted by permission of Carlton Publishing Group.
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