DIANA AND CHARLES

EV­ERY­ONE SWORE TO KEEP THE WHIRL­WIND RO­MANCE A SE­CRET

New Zealand Woman’s Weekly - - THIS WEEK IN... - Judy Kean

A look back at how they met

It was a Sunday evening in 1980 when Lady Diana Spencer burst into the flat she shared with three friends after a week­end away and an­nounced that she’d met a chap.

“Oh my God, I met this guy at the week­end but I have to call him Your High­ness,” Diana, then 19, told her flat­mates Vir­ginia Pit­man, Carolyn Pride and Annie Bolton.

And so be­gan the ro­mance that would trans­form the pretty teenager into one of the most fa­mous women in the world. On the 20th an­niver­sary of Princess Diana’s death, some of those who were close to her when she first met Prince Charles have opened up about the early days of the ro­mance, re­veal­ing that she told them ev­ery­thing that was go­ing on, but swore them to se­crecy.

Charles and Diana had first met when she was 16 and Charles, then 29, was court­ing her el­der sis­ter Lady Sarah Spencer. When Charles stayed at the Spencer fam­ily home Althorp for a pheas­ant shoot, Diana was given the job of showing him the grand pic­ture gallery.

When she returned to board­ing school days later, her head teacher Penny Walker re­calls her pro­claim­ing, “I met him!” The ex­cited teen had pic­tures of the Prince of Wales pinned up in her cu­bi­cle and seemed “com­pletely be­sot­ted”, re­calls Penny.

But it wasn’t un­til the meeting three years later, at the home of one of the Queen’s ladies-in­wait­ing, that ro­mance sparked. Diana told her friends that she and Charles had sat next to each other on a hay bale, talk­ing about the tragic death of his beloved un­cle Lord Mount­bat­ten, who had been killed by an IRA bomb the pre­vi­ous year. By the end of the evening, Diana was sit­ting on Charles’ knee.

“Diana was very keen on the prince,” re­calls Vir­ginia (now 57). “She thought he was mar­vel­lous. He was ob­vi­ously older and wiser, and she was young and en­thu­si­as­tic, very vi­va­cious and chatty. From what I could see and what she told me, she went in there a lit­tle bit like a tor­nado.”

As the new re­la­tion­ship with Charles gath­ered steam, Diana was ini­tially able to carry on with life as nor­mal. As well as work­ing at a kin­der­garten three days a week, she spent two days as a nanny and cleaned her sis­ter Sarah’s flat in her spare time.

The flat in Cole­herne Court, where Diana was liv­ing with her friends (who paid her $35 a week in rent), had been bought for her by her mother, Frances. When she was outed as the prince’s lat­est love in­ter­est, it was be­sieged by the me­dia, who camped out­side wait­ing for a glimpse of the teenager who’d cap­tured the prince’s heart.

The sit­u­a­tion was stress­ful when­ever Diana ven­tured out­side, but in­side the young women could let their hair down and share the ex­cite­ment over her fa­mous beau.

“When I think of her to­day, I think of her laugh – it was a naughty laugh, a boom­ing, won­der­ful laugh,” says Vir­ginia.

In Fe­bru­ary 1981, seven months after the en­counter on the hay bale, Charles pro­posed to Diana at Wind­sor Cas­tle. She raced back to Cole­herne Court and an­nounced, “Guess what?” Her flat­mates shared her joy – there were hugs all round and a bot­tle of Cham­pagne was opened. “We were all very ex­cited. It was quite oth­er­worldly,” re­mem­bers Vir­ginia.

They had to keep quiet un­til the of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment was made three weeks later. The night be­fore, Diana packed up her be­long­ings and was driven by a po­lice bodyguard to her new tem­po­rary home, Clarence House. No­body from the royal fam­ily was there to greet her, in­clud­ing the Queen Mother, who lived there. In­stead, she found a friendly note on her bed from Charles’ friend Camilla Parker Bowles invit­ing her to lunch. After a brief stay at Clarence House, Diana moved across the road to Buck­ing­ham Palace, where she was given her own suite of rooms.

“She liked to in­vite us around there some­times,” says Vir­ginia. “We were there when her wed­ding veil ar­rived. We were tak­ing it in turns try­ing it on and imag­in­ing what was com­ing. It was sur­real, wan­der­ing around her bed­room in the palace wear­ing the veil.”

Charles seemed to un­der­stand the ma­jor role Diana’s pals played in her life.“He sent us a huge bou­quet to thank us for our sup­port,” says Vir­ginia.

At the time, the whole sit­u­a­tion felt like a fairy­tale and Diana’s friends were thrilled for her. They weren’t to know that their vi­va­cious friend with the boom­ing laugh would not get the “hap­pily ever after” out­come they were all hop­ing for.

In the ini­tial stages of her ro­mance with Charles, the young aristro­crat was able to keep work­ing at a kin­der­garten. Flat­mates Carolyn (left) and Vir­ginia kept her con­fi­dence.

Her wee Austin Metro was swapped for a royal es­cort once her re­la­tion­ship with Charles es­ca­lated.

Friends claim that Diana was be­sot­ted with the “older and wiser” prince.

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