The People’s Princess: 30 Ways Princess Diana Broke From Royal Tradition

By Corinne KerstonLast Updated Apr 13, 2020 1:58:48 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: Georges De Keerle/Getty Images

In 1981, Diana Spencer married Prince Charles and became a member of a royal family that held traditions which had remained unchanged for years, and in some cases, centuries. She was quoted as saying "I do things differently, because I don’t go by a rule book, because I lead from the heart, not the head." While her rebellious ways landed her in trouble at times, Princess Diana forever changed the royal family. Let’s take a look at 30 ways Princess Diana broke with tradition. 

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She Picked Out Her Own Engagement Ring

Traditionally, engagement rings for the royal family are custom made. They’re designed specifically for the bride or they’re passed down within the royal family. But Princess Diana decided to do something a little different; she picked out her ring herself and she chose it from a catalog.

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Photo Courtesy: Joe Haupt/Flickr

The selected ring, a 12-carat sapphire surrounded by 14 diamonds, is stunning, but many thought it wasn’t unique enough for a princess. Nonetheless, Princess Diana ended up with the sapphire sparkler, which has since been passed on to her son William’s bride, Kate Middleton.

She Wrote Her Own Wedding Vows

Besides her engagement ring, Princess Diana also broke the rules when it came to her actual wedding. Traditionally, wedding vows include promises to love, cherish and to obey. However, Princess Diana had a slight issue with the language. She did not like the word "obey" and decided to omit it completely.

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Photo Courtesy: Anwar Hussein/WireImage via Getty Images

Her influence didn't end with her own wedding — not only did the People’s Princess do her own thing when it came to her vows, she actually changed the way new generations got married. Current couples like Prince William and Kate, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and even Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank have taken the word obey out of their vows, as well.

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She Broke Fashion Rules

Princess Diana wasn’t one to shy away from fashion, but as a royal, there were certain standards to which she was expected to adhere. But being the rebel that she was, she often didn’t play by the royal fashion rules. For her first official appearance with Prince Charles, Diana stepped out in a strapless gown, which wasn’t exactly in the royal dress code.

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Diana did this sort of thing on multiple occasions, like when she sported a choker as a tiara at an appearance in Melbourne, Australia. She was also one of the first royal ladies to wear dresses and skirts showing her knees. Traditionally, skirts were supposed to cover the lower portion of women’s legs.

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She Was a Hands-on Mom

Princess Diana preferred to do things her way, and parenting was no exception. She hugged her children, she breastfed them as infants, and while she did employ nannies she preferred to do most things herself. She took her sons out and spent as much time with them as possible. While they were future heirs to the throne, they were first and foremost, her children.

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Photo Courtesy: Julian Parker/UK Press via Getty Images

Some of the most iconic images of Princess Diana and her boys show her laughing or hugging them. She once said, "I want to bring them up with security. I hug my children to death and get into bed with them at night. I always feed them love and affection; it's so important."

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She Showed Her Kids Life Outside the Palace

While many royals prefer the confines of the palace, Princess Diana wanted to show her children that there was more to life outside those walls. She took them to homeless shelters and to visit hospitals. While they were royal by blood, she wanted them to be aware of the rest of the world.

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Photo Courtesy: Jayne Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images

Princess Diana greatly influenced the way her sons view the world. Prince William once told Katie Couric, "She very much wanted to get us to see the rawness of real life … and it was one of the biggest lessons I learned is, just how lucky and privileged so many of us are — particularly myself."

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She Was Open About Her Marriage Troubles

Diana certainly wasn't one to hide the truth. She was very open about her personal life and didn’t shy away from commenting on her marital troubles during public interviews, saying that she didn't want a divorce, but she was awaiting her husband's decision.

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Photo Courtesy: Joe Haupt/Flickr

She also spoke candidly about Prince Charles' affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles. She has been quoted as saying "A woman's instinct is a very good one; obviously I had knowledge of it from people who minded and cared about our marriage ... There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded." She wasn’t afraid to speak truthfully, making jabs at her husband.

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She Chose Her Sons’ Names

In the past, the task of naming royal youngsters fell to the father. Furthermore, the names were usually picked from a pool of monikers with family or historical significance. According to this tradition, it would have been customary for Prince Charles to choose the names for the couples’ two sons.

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Photo Courtesy: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

Diana, on the other hand, decided to choose to name her sons herself. Her husband, Prince Charles, had wanted to name them Arthur and Albert, two names that are prominent within the royal family. Obviously, Diana’s preferences made the final cut.

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She Put Her Family Before Her Royal Duties

Princess Diana was a princess married to the direct heir to the throne, and thus was shouldered with many duties expected of someone in her position. And while she did sometimes leave her children with a nanny, she did her best to rearrange her schedule in order to spend as much time with the boys as possible.

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Photo Courtesy: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

It had been said that she kept track of every detail and event for her sons. A Newsweek article from 1997 stated, "In her official calendar, the princess had all the everyday details of her son's utterly un-everyday lives marked in green ink."

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She Sent Her Kids to a Public School

Royal children have traditionally been tutored at home, their parents employing the best scholars as tutors. Royal heirs didn't often intermingle with children that were not royal by blood. In fact, Prince Charles broke the mold by attending a private college years earlier.

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Photo Courtesy: John Shelley Collection/Avalon/Getty Images

Princess Diana took it a step further - Prince William was the first royal heir to go to a public school, a preschool called Jane Mynor's Nursery School. Diana insisted he develop his budding skills amongst commoners. Prince Harry also attended Jane Mynor’s school when he was ready to start his education.

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She Spoke Out About Mental Health

Not only did the princess speak openly about her marriage and the issues she faced with her husband, she also spoke openly about mental health. She specifically opened up to the public and the press about her personal struggle with bulimia.

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Photo Courtesy: Николай Парфёнов/Wikimedia Commons

Her battle with the eating disorder stemmed from the stress she faced regarding her marriage and trying to keep it together for the public. She openly spoke about bulimia by saying, "You inflict it upon yourself because your self-esteem is at a low ebb, and you don't think you're worthy or valuable ... It's a repetitive pattern which is very destructive to yourself."

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She Enjoyed a Public Life After Her Divorce

While others who have left the royal family have stepped out of the public eye, Princess Diana did not. For the upbeat princess, life in the spotlight went on after her divorce from Prince Charles. She continued to remain in the news because reporters and the public adored her.

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Photo Courtesy: Billy Black/Flickr

She also enjoyed relationships with new men, including Dodi Al Fayed, whom she died alongside in the infamous car crash. She continued to make headlines until the day she died. In fact, she continues to make headlines to this day.

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She Went Out in Disguise

Princess Diana was a mischievous royal. According to her friend, actress Cleo Rocos, the princess wanted to go out one night with Rocos, Freddie Mercury of Queen and comedian Kenny Everett. Of course, it was highly discouraged as palace officials were sure she would be recognized.

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Photo Courtesy: Russ Quinlan/Flickr

What did she do? She went out anyway, but in disguise. She dressed up in an army jacket, baseball cap and sunglasses, and no one suspected a thing. Princess Diana enjoyed breaking the rules and causing a little mischief, in stark contrast from many of the royals before her.

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She Got Down to Kid-level

Diana was relatable to everyone, especially children. She reveled in mingling with the public, and the littlest members of society were no exception. While traditionally, the royal family was supposed to be visually separated and differential from the public, Diana ignored the rule.

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Photo Courtesy: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

When she met children in public, she always stopped to bend down and chat with them. She got down to their height, looking them in the eye. She showed even the smallest people that they were very important to her.

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She Publicly Supported Charities

Princess Diana was nicknamed the People's Princess, and for good reason. She was probably best known for her loving nature and compassion. The princess was one of the first royals who publicly supported charities with her presence and her heart, not just with her money and status.

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Photo Courtesy: Joe Haupt/Flickr

While most royals support various charities, Diana wasn't afraid to get out there and make her support public. She walked across minefields to bring awareness to land mines, and shook hands with HIV positive patients, shaking up ideas about the role of the royal family.

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She Stopped and Chatted with the Public

When out in public, it had been customary for royals to go through the crowd without stopping to interact, preferring to keep a distinction between themselves and the common public. However, this started changing when Queen Elizabeth II started doing walkabouts, or casual strolls, in the 1970s.

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Photo courtesy: Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images

Princess Diana took things from mingling to in-depth conversation. Diana met with people, shook their hands and chatted with both adults and children. She strived to show the public how much they meant to her. When they talked, she listened.

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She Didn’t Shy Away From Public Displays of Affection

The royal family has always been proper — no touching, kissing or hand holding. In fact, even recently, news outlets picked up on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle holding hands, exclaiming how out of the ordinary such intimate public contact was.

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Photo Courtesy: Jayne Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images

Diana never shied away from affection, even in public, especially with her children. Prince Harry has said of his mom, "She would just engulf you and squeeze you as tight as possible. And being as short as I was then, there was no escape, you were there and you were there for as long as she wanted to hold you."

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She Flew With Her Kids

What might seem like a simple thing - flying - for the royal family is different from what you or I are used to. Traditionally, direct heirs to the throne did not fly in the same airplane. This was a precaution — in case something tragic should happen, two heirs would not be lost at once. A little morbid but the reasoning behind it is understandable.

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Photo Courtesy: Queensland State Archives/Flickr

Diana threw this rule out the plane window when she insisted that William and Harry fly with her and her husband. She wanted the boys to have a normal childhood, and experiencing flights with their parents fell into her definition of normal. Today, Prince William also flies with his children on the same airplane.

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She Gave Birth in a Hospital

One tradition that Diana broke stretched all the way back to the 1800s. Royal births were traditionally carried out at home. Moms were put to sleep,with babies birthed using forceps. This allowed for an easy, drama-free birth on the mother's part, with little injury to the child.

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However, a home birth while she was dreaming was not in Diana's plans. She changed up everything when she decided to give birth in a hospital. She wanted to be awake and give birth naturally. And perhaps most remarkably, she gave birth standing up! Her would-be daughters-in-law have followed in her footsteps, also giving birth in private wings of a hospital.

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She Broke the Barrier Between Royals and Staff

In the past, there was always a distinction between the royal family and their staff, a line between boss and employee. This tradition was meant to emphasize the divide between the royal family and their employees. But this changed with Diana.

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Photo Courtesy: Joe Haupt/Flickr

When they were younger, Princess Diana emboldened her sons to wander about the kitchens and talk with the staff. She encouraged them to help with the cooking, too. She also let her boys play with the children of her staff members.

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She Took Her Kids With Her

Royal children didn't often accompany their parents on their work and leisure trips, especially out of the country or when the children were very young. But Princess Diana, being the mother she was, couldn’t bear to be apart from her boys for long.

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Photo Courtesy: Joe Haupt/Flickr

So, in true Diana fashion, she took her children with her when she traveled. She insisted that they stay in the same lodgings as her, and she enjoyed showing them other cities and countries. This helped Princes William and Harry gain an understanding and appreciation for other cultures and traditions.

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She Gave Out Hugs

We already mentioned the way Diana took the time to interact warmly with the public, but she did more than just chat. In the past, it was forbidden to touch someone in the royal family. This tradition was meant to underline the divide between the royals and the public.

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Photo Courtesy: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Diana didn’t play by the old school rules established before her time — not only did Princess Diana shake hands, she willingly gave out hugs. She treated everyone as her equal, whether they were royal or common, healthy or sick.

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She Influenced the Way the Queen Did Things

Surprisingly, the rebellious princess had an affect on the Queen, as well. It seems that once Diana came to the palace, the royal family had eased up on some of their rules regarding royal attire, travel conventions and interactions with the public.

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Photo Courtesy: John Shelley Collection/Avalon/Getty Images

While Diana and Prince Charles didn't have a lasting marriage, her influence remains to this day. According to some reports, even Queen Elizabeth II has relaxed some royal protocols. And, of course, the Queen's grandsons and their families have followed in their mother's footsteps as well.

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She Allowed Her Boys to Experience “Normal” Things

Yes, they went to public - albeit still prestigious - schools and they mingled with their staff. But Diana went above and beyond to make sure her boys led normal lives. Well, as normal as possible for heirs to the throne of England.

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Photo Courtesy: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

She took them to McDonald's to get burgers. They rode public transportation. They rode their bikes and went rafting. They dressed in jeans and baseball caps. At amusement parks, they stood in line like everyone else. While Diana was alive, she tried her hardest to give her boys the most "normal" childhood possible.

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She Held a Paid Position Before Becoming a Princess

Before becoming a princess, Diana Spencer was born into a family of British nobility, her father being an Earl. However, her status didn't stop her from leading a regular life before her marriage to Prince Charles, and encouraging her sons to carry on this legacy.

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Photo Courtesy: Newcastle Libraries/Flickr

Before she met Prince Charles, Diana had several jobs. She worked as a nursery school teacher and as a nanny. In fact, the positions she held made her the first royal to hold a paid job before entering into the royal family.

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She Didn’t Often Use Nannies

As previously mentioned, Diana preferred to not use nannies. It’s important to point out how much of a contrast this was to previous royal mothers. Historically, child rearing was often left to the nanny, or a team of nannies, while the mother tended primarily to her royal duties.

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Photo Courtesy: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

While Diana didn't abandon her position and duties, she always made being a mom her first priority. Even though she had a team of nannies to assist with raising William and Harry, Diana was a very hands-on mother, and worked in tandem with her hired help to raise her children.

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She Didn’t Usually Wear Hats or Gloves

Even now, you rarely see the Queen without a hat or gloves on. In fact, she almost always has on gloves, especially when she is shaking hands. And while this could be a style choice, it also looks more formal, which the Queen has always been fond of.

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Photo Courtesy: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

Diana, on the other hand, was much less formal. She often decided to forgo the gloves, something notable since she was so fond of holding and shaking hands. Diana liked to make physical contact with the people she met. She also didn’t wear hats often, once saying it was hard to cuddle children with a hat on.

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She Wore Black

Princess Diana was known for her bold and fun fashion choices, but not everyone realizes just how rebellious her clothing was. Traditionally, royals wear colorful but understated clothing, with solid black and darker hues reserved for more serious, somber occasions.

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Photo Courtesy: Joe Haupt/Flickr

However, Diana never shied away from a little black dress. She was spotted wearing black strapless dresses at many balls, parties and social events. She was one of the first royals to sport darker colors just because she wanted to.

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She Accidentally Broke a Christmas Tradition

While most of her rule breaking was intentional, there was an instance where she accidentally broke a royal rule. In fact, her accidental break with tradition happened on her first Christmas as a member of the royal family.

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Photo Courtesy: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It's tradition for the royal family to exchange gag gifts. But for her first Christmas, Diana, who didn't know about the rule, gave a very lovely gift, a beautiful cashmere sweater to Princess Anne. Fortunately, she caught on quickly and abided that particular rule thereafter.

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She Played with her Makeup

Along with not wearing anything too flashy or colorful, royal women of the past were required to keep their makeup looking natural. Wearing only a small amount of mascara, eyeliner, blush and foundation was the norm. But, of course, Diana wasn’t keen on traditions.

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Photo Courtesy: David Levenson/Getty Images

Princess Diana liked to play with makeup. She often wore bright blue eyeliner rather than a more natural-looking brown. And it wasn't just on casual outings where she experimented with her look — she wore the blue eyeliner for formal occasions, too.

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She Wore Bold Nail Polish

Like makeup, royal tradition held that nails were also to be kept natural. In fact, it was the preference of Queen Elizabeth II that royal women stick to nude colors for their nails, like beige and pale pinks. Diana wasn’t afraid to break with this tradition in a big way.

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Photo Courtesy: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

As with eyeliner, Diana liked to do her nails her way. She was known to explore with polish colors, many times opting for a bold red. In fact, she often wore bold nail polish to royal events. Princess Diana wanted to look nice, and it didn't matter to her if it broke royal protocol.

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