Diana’s time in Scotland was a mixture of joy and heartbreak
● She was loved by Scots, and no stranger to the country, but her feelings were clearly poisoned by the Balmoral ‘straitjacket’
On the weekend of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, the thousands of mourners who packed out Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh and Glasgow’s George Square to pay their tributes was testament to the respect and affection she inspired in many ordinary Scots.
But in the wake of her sudden death, and even during her short life, doubts emerged over whether the feeling was entirely mutual, despite the fact Diana and her family had Scotland in their blood.
Her mother, Frances Shand Kydd, divided her time between London and Ardencaple House on the Argyll island of Seil, eventually eschewing the former to spend her final years beside the Firth of Lorn, while Diana’s grandmother, Ruth Fermoy, hailed from the Aberdeen suburb of Bieldside.
Though such links ensured she came north frequently as a child, as she entered adult- hood – and the glare of public life – it seemed she never had the same natural affinity for Scotland as demonstrated her future mother-in-law or, indeed, her husband-inwaiting.
Considering the initial welcome she received once she was part of their family, few could have truly blamed her. Ahead of her first official engagement north of the Border, in February 1983 to open a new unit at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Yorkhill, the Scottish National Liberation Army claimed responsibility for a letter bomb sent in protest at her visit, a missive which burst into flames in Glasgow’s City Hall.
Diana, thankfully, was unharmed and undeterred, and fulfilled her engagements, even finding time to take tea and cake at the home of Bert and Helen Mcallen, an elderly couple from the city’s Easterhouse area, who had written to the young princess in hope if not expectation.
“She wasn’t what my idea of royalty was,” Mrs Mcallen confided afterwards. “I always thought that royalty was a bit snobbish, but she was like the woman next door.”
It was a personal sentiment that would soon be recognised as public opinion, and yet over the years the feeling persisted that Diana and Scotland were never quite compatible.
There is some truth in that view, although the Scotland Diana knew is not one most of its people would recognise. She would, over the years, visit the likes of hospitals and shipyards, factories and numerous charities – all obvious destinations for a high-profile royal. Yet for her, the nation was largely synonymous with Balmoral, the Deeside estate that is a home from home for the Royal Family – or at least, as Diana would find out, it is for those who are born into it.
In the early days of her relationship with Prince Charles, the young Diana relished the outdoor life provided by Balmoral’s 50,000 acres and spectacular scenery, and she grew particularly fond of stalking. Not even the embarrassment of falling in a bog while tracking one animal could dim her enthusiasm for the pursuit or the setting. According to friends who were in attendance, she simply got up, scooped the mud off her clothes, and laughed it off. Asked to reflect at the time on her impressions of the estate, she was fulsome in her praise. “It’s the most beautiful place in the world,” she cooed.
Photographs from another trip, which captured her gazing lovingly at her royal boyfriend as he fished on the banks of the Dee, let the world know that, despite her tender years, their relationship was a serious one. It was fitting therefore, that once they married before a watching world, the couple opted to spend part of their globetrotting honeymoon at Balmoral.
It ought to have been one of the happiest times in Diana’s life, and at the time, it seemed to be just that. Publicly, she told members of the press that she would “thoroughly recommend married life”. In private, however, it was a different story entirely. During the stay, Charles tended to prefer his own company, or that of a larger group, but their time as a couple – as newlyweds – was fleeting.
Numerous accounts of the period have claimed it was during the honeymoon that Diana learned of her hus-
Clockwise from top left: Prince Charles and his fiancée Lady Diana Spencer pose while staying at Craigowan Lodge on the Balmoral Estate in May 1981; Princess Diana with Prince Harry on the banks of the River Dee in August 1987; attending the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988; wearing a life-jacket while visiting nuclear submarine HMS Trafalgar during a visit to Faslane in August 1986; arriving at Aberdeen airport with princes William and Harry in August 1989; Prince Charles and Princess Diana at the Braemar Highland Games in September 1981; wearing a waterproof jacket in the rain during a visit to the Western Isles in July 1985; Lady Diana Spencer on the Isle of Uist in 1974