Hairdo that was Diana’s crowning glory
PERHaPS more than any other part of her appearance, Diana’s hair defined her. in early photographs, she always kept her head down, as though that silky, strawberry blonde curtain might act as a visor against the sudden media glare.
it gave her an air of vulnerability and uncertainty that earned her the moniker ‘Shy Di’. Sweet and girlish, it set her apart from all the confident, worldly-wise women Prince Charles had previously dated, such as Sabrina Guinness and Lady Jane Wellesley (who, when asked if an engagement was on the cards, famously snapped: ‘Do you honestly believe i want to be Queen?’).
Diana’s hair projected the exact image the Royal Family were after: that of a young brideto-be who was not only untarnished, but also charmingly unselfconscious.
at the same time, however, the cut was rather modern and, crucially, short — which, for a future Princess, was unconventional.
With hindsight, perhaps that ought to have been a warning that beneath her gentle exterior beat the heart of a rebel, someone who knew her own mind — even if she did not yet have the confidence to show it.
it also made her easy to relate to. it was the kind of haircut thousands of young girls had, from myself — about to start starting for my O-levels — to The nolans, Sheena Easton, Kiki Dee and the many fans who bopped around to them on Top Of The Pops.
One of the first hairdressers responsible for her early look was stylist Richard Dalton, who encountered Diana at Fenwick of Bond Street’s in-store salon. it was here that well-bred young ladies had their hair cut, including Diana’s older sisters Sarah and Jane.
‘i met her when she was 17,’ he tells me from Southern California, where he now lives. ‘i used to cut her sisters’ hair, so when Diana came in too i asked Kevin [Shanley] to do it.’
So it was actually Shanley who gave her that first iconic flicked and feathered cut, and who later styled her hair for the wedding.
The ‘Diana’ was popular at the time and scores of women copied it. Magazines even printed diagrams and encouraged readers to ‘clip our sketch to show your hairdresser’.
Shanley and Dalton later fell out — supposedly over how she should wear her hair for the State Opening of Parliament — after which Dalton says he became Diana’s principal stylist. ‘i was
with her every day for 12 years.’ He adds: ‘I don’t do gossip, but I do know she was really in love with Charles. I always felt she had to be protected, not exposed.
‘Let me tell you, the inner circle of power, it’s not attractive. Diana wasn’t prepared to put up with that. She always used to say to me: “I’ll show this family.”
‘She wanted and deserved a proper family life. I used to buy her white chocolate and Opal Fruits to cheer her up. She loved them. “I’m not sharing!” she would say.’
Until 1991, when he moved to America permanently, Dalton used to cut the boys’ hair too.
‘William would get terribly excited because they’d put a chair on top of the coffee table at Kensington Palace so I could cut his hair and they would get to watch extra telly.
‘Harry was just like his mother — always the one for fun,’ he says, recalling how he used to climb all over the luggage racks on the train to Sandringham, in Norfolk.
‘ “Get him down!” the nanny used to shout at me, and I’d say: “I can’t!” ’
In those days, Diana was reluctantly learning to live with the intense public scrutiny of her every move. When she wanted a shorter, lighter haircut for a trip to Africa, Dalton made the change in increments, a quarter of an inch at a time over several weeks, so no one would notice.
A VOGUE MAKEOVER
AFter Dalton came Sam McKnight, an altogether different sort of snipper for an altogether different Diana.
He first met the Princess and styled her hair in 1990, at a studio in east London.
At the time, McKnight was working in New York, but had flown to London to join Vogue’s top team, stylist Anna Harvey, make-up artist Mary Greenwell and photographer Patrick Demarchelier, on a shoot of various It-girls, including Victoria Lockwood, first wife of Diana’s brother Charles, and Lady Sarah Armstrong- Jones, Princess Margaret’s daughter.
‘We were told we had one more to do,’ he says, but they had no idea who it was. ‘then Diana just came bounding up the stairs.
‘My first impression of her was as this burst of energy, these long limbs — and the most beautiful smile.
‘Her hair was quite long at the time and after we had chatted for a while she asked: “What would you do if I gave you free rein?” I immediately said: “Cut it off.” ’ And so they did, there and then. He put a plastic bag
over her shoulders and chopped it all off. The result was a bold, fresh look for a woman who was, as McKnight says, ‘obviously ready for a change’.
In more ways than one. This was almost ten years after her marriage. Two years later, Andrew Morton’s book was to expose her unhappy marriage to Prince Charles and, by December 1992, they had separated. Diana was beginning the long process of detaching herself from her life as a royal.
‘Hair is an important part of a woman’s psychological make-up,’ says McKnight and, like all women facing great change, Diana’s hair was a big part of creating a new image to match her new identity. McKnight soon became an integral part of this process, becoming her main stylist until her death.
Throughout this period, he experimented with the cut while Daniel Galvin looked after her colour.
It’s a measure of her new-found confidence that at this point, astonishingly, she dispensed with a full-time hairdresser and styled her own hair, sending for the professionals only when she had an engagement that required her to look super-groomed.
It was the minimalist Nineties, and Diana’s succession of short, sharp crops and slickedback styles suited the aesthetic of the times. ‘I was working with supermodels Linda [Evangelista] and Eva [Herzigova],’ says McKnight. ‘And Diana was built in that mould, too — Amazonian, beautiful, but also powerful, with a fit, lithe body.
‘I used to say to her: “You look great coming out of the gym; natural, glowing” but she’d say: “Sam, people don’t want to see me in trainers, they want to see Princess Diana.”
‘She had an acute sense of what was expected of her in that respect.’
McKnight last saw her a few weeks before her death.
‘She had lovely, thick, luxuriant hair, and she was very good at looking after it herself,’ he says. ‘ She had just come back from the landmines trip, where she’d had no hair stylist or make-up at all, and I thought she looked great; so confident, quite radiant.’
And that is the tragedy of Diana. Not only the fact that she died so young, but that she was in her absolute prime, a woman who had turned all the negativity of her unhappy marriage into something positive.
In the final pictures taken of her, as she exits the Ritz hotel in Paris, we see a confident, smiling woman in a chic linen suit, her sleek blonde hair, lightened by the Saint Tropez sun, held back with sunglasses. Fabulous until the very last.
JULY 1981: AGE 20
Picture research: Claire Cisotti
JUNE 1997: AGE 35