Everything The Crown Got Right (and Wrong) About Princess Diana
Season 4 of the Netflix royal drama focuses on the late princess and her relationship with Prince Charles.
Season 4 of Netflix’s royal drama The Crown is perhaps the most anticipated chapter of the series yet. Spanning from the late ‘70s to about 1990, the show’s fourth installment introduces one of the most beloved figures in the modern British royal family: Princess Diana.
The season gives a meticulous look at Diana Spencer’s experience with the monarchy, from Prince Charles’s early courting to the later turmoil within her marriage. And while entertaining and detailed enough to convince me that every line of dialogue was uttered verbatim, The Crown is no documentary. While we, the non-royal set, may never know exactly what went on behind closed doors, reports give us a better look at what really transpired within the family.
Read on below to find out more about some of Princess Diana’s key moments in season 4 of The Crown.
Prince Charles’s Relationship With Princess Diana’s Sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale
When season 4 opens, Charles is courting a Spencer sister … but not the one you think. He first meets Diana at her home while waiting for his date, her eldest sister Sarah.
While the show portrays Charles and Diana’s introduction as coincidental, Sarah (now Lady Sarah McCorquodale) reportedly takes credit for the match. "I introduced them. I'm Cupid,” she told The Guardian soon after the royal engagement was announced in 1981. Reports indicate that Charles and Diana met (when the former was 29, and the latter just 16), at a grouse shooting event at the Spencer family home, Althorp. “We sort of met in a plowed field,” Diana later recalled.
Sarah, six years Diana’s senior, dated Charles briefly in 1977, but it wasn’t exactly a love connection. At a lunch, she reportedly told a friend she wouldn’t marry Charles “if he were the dustman or the King of England.” A reporter happened to be sitting nearby and Lady Sarah’s damning review of her beau made headlines.
Sarah went on to marry Neil McCorquodale (neither a dustman nor the King of England) in 1980.
The Crown depicts the Prince and Princess of Wales’s second meeting as occurring when Charles is in his car, leaving Princess Anne’s equestrian event. The timeline is compressed, as Charles first met Diana earlier in the episode (1977), and this second meeting takes place after Lord Mountbatten’s death (1979). Diana pays her respects and reminds Charles of their first introduction.
However, according to Diana herself, this defining interaction actually happened in July 1980 when both parties were visiting a mutual friend, Philip de Pass. As heard in the documentary Diana: In Her Own Words, Diana confided on tape that she’d been consoling Charles over his uncle’s death when he “leapt on me, practically.”
By February 1981 Charles and Diana were engaged. In their engagement interview, Charles recalled meeting his future wife at 16. "I remember thinking what a very jolly and amusing and attractive 16-year-old she was,” he said. "I mean, great fun, and bouncy and full of life and everything."
Princess Diana Choosing Her Own Engagement Ring
At the beginning of episode 3, Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth present Princess Diana with a selection of engagement rings to choose from, including pieces “passed down through the family” as well as those that are for sale. Diana picks one from the latter category: a 12-carat Ceylon sapphire surrounded by diamonds and set in white gold. Both the queen and Charles seem surprised by this choice. The Queen asks Diana why she likes that ring, and Charles interjects that it’s “the most expensive.”
Diana corrects Charles, telling him that it reminds her of her own mother’s ring and that the sapphire matches her eyes.
According to Vogue, the royal family was in fact disappointed by her choice, as it was not bespoke and thus the same Garrard design was available to the public (if you had $60,000 to spend on an engagement ring, that is).
Critics be damned, Diana loved the ring and continued to wear it even after she and Prince Charles separated. That very sapphire now famously sits on the ring finger of her daughter-in-law, Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton.
Princess Diana and Prince Charles’s Engagement Interview
In episode 3, a reporter tells the newly engaged Charles and Diana that they “look very much in love.” Diana responds quickly, confirming, “yes, absolutely” while Charles takes a beat, his face clouding over, and replies “whatever ‘in love’ means.”
Unfortunately, this is nearly word-for-word what happened at the end of the couple’s actual engagement interview, though Charles smiled the whole way through, seeming to imply that the term “in love” was up to “interpretation.”
Princess Diana’s Eating Disorder
Princess Diana’s struggle with bulimia is highlighted throughout season 4 as the pressures of her marriage to Prince Charles and life under the royal ruleset intensify. Her illness is referenced among the royal family as something of an open secret.
In Diana’s controversial 1995 interview with BBC’s Panorama, she confirmed that she suffered from bulimia for a “long time,” telling reporter Martin Bashir, “I had bulimia for a number of years. And that's like a secret disease.”
“You inflict it upon yourself because your self-esteem is at a low ebb, and you don't think you're worthy or valuable,” she continued. “You fill your stomach up four or five times a day — some do it more — and it gives you a feeling of comfort.”
“It's like having a pair of arms around you, but it's temporary. Then you're disgusted at the bloatedness of your stomach, and then you bring it all up again. And it's a repetitive pattern which is very destructive to yourself.”
Diana went on to describe her illness as “a symptom of what was going on in my marriage.” Adding, “I was crying out for help, but giving the wrong signals, and people were using my bulimia as a coat on a hanger: they decided that was the problem — Diana was unstable.”
Princess Diana’s Lunch Date with Camilla Parker-Bowles
As shown in episode 3, Camilla invited Diana to lunch via handwritten note ahead of the royal wedding. On screen, Camilla appears warm but her many anecdotes about Charles highlight just how little Diana actually knows about her fiancé. The exchange ends with a telling remark from Camilla in regard to splitting the bill: “I’m all for sharing.”
According to many different sources, this lunch did in fact take place. Charles: The Man Who Will Be King biographer Howard Hodgson explained that Camilla’s “intentions were good” and that “there were no tricky moments at all.” However, Diana reportedly had a different take. The princess told Diana: Her True Story biographer Andrew Morton that she perceived Camilla’s friendly line of questioning as a means to ascertaining windows in which she and Charles could be alone together.
Years later, Diana confronted Camilla about her ongoing affair with Charles. In recordings from Diana herself, the princess recounted telling her husband’s mistress “I know exactly what is going on.” Though at first Camilla claimed not to know what she was talking about, she soon relented and told Diana “You’ve got everything you ever wanted. All the men in the world fall in love with you. You’ve got two beautiful children. What more would you want?” The princess responded with “I want my husband.”
When later asked in the ‘95 Panorama interview if she thought Camilla played a role in the “breakdown” of her marriage to Charles, Diana famously told Bashir, “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”
Princess Diana’s “Uptown Girl” Performance
Episode 9 begins with Princess Diana surprising her husband during an evening at the Royal Opera House. Moments after Charles thinks she’s slipped away to the restroom, the princess appears on stage in a white gown, dancing with Wayne Sleep to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” As the performance goes on, the music fades into a rather menacing instrumental tune, the camera focusing on Prince Charles’s barely-veiled rage, framing the moment as though it’s the turning point in his villain origin story.
In the car ride home, Charles makes his absolute disgust clear, calling the dance (which was meant as a birthday gift) a “grotesque, mortifying display.”
According to Daily Mail editor-at-large Charlie Kay’s testimony in 2017 documentary Diana: The Woman Inside, the fallout was somewhat on par with what was shown on screen. “Charles wasn’t terribly impressed, because he thought she was showing off,” Kay said.
Years later, Sleep revealed details about his and Diana’s dance. “I said, ‘you have to bow to the royal box,’” he remembered telling her during their curtain call. “She said, ‘I’m not bowing to him, he’s my hubby.’”
Princess Diana’s Affair with James Hewitt
Like Charles, Diana was unfaithful during her marriage.
In episode 9, Diana’s relationship with Major James Hewitt is brought to the fore, with Princess Anne telling Queen Elizabeth that Diana has been romantically involved with many men throughout the years.
Diana and Charles meet with the queen to discuss their relationship and the princess apologizes for her infidelity. She then advises her staff to tell Hewitt she’s away if he calls. “I don’t want to hear from him,” she says. “He’s not welcome here anymore.”
Charles, seeking a divorce, begins dodging Diana’s phone calls. After a period of being repeatedly ignored by Charles, she ends up calling Hewitt and bringing him to the palace. Word of this indiscretion gets to Charles and he reports back to the queen, begging his mother to allow a formal separation.
Though rumors of Hewitt and Diana’s relationship swirled for years, the media fascination hit a breaking point in 1994 with the publication of Anna Pasternak’s Princess in Love. Hewitt himself served as a main source for the book, detailing their years-long affair, including anecdotes like the pen name Diana used (“Julia”) in letters they exchanged.
In the 1995 BBC interview, Bashir appeared to allude to Princess in Love when he asked about a recently published book that “concerned a Mr. James Hewitt.”
“He was a great friend of mine at a very difficult, yet another difficult time, and he was always there to support me, and I was absolutely devastated when this book appeared, because I trusted him, and because, again, I worried about the reaction on my children,” Diana replied.
“There was a lot of fantasy in that book,” she went on, “And it was very distressing for me that a friend of mine, who I had trusted, made money out of me. I really minded about that.”
"When it did arrive, the first thing I did was rush down to talk to my children," she continued. "And William produced a box of chocolates and said, 'Mummy, I think you've been hurt. These are to make you smile again.'"
When asked to confirm whether she was unfaithful, Diana said, "Yes, I adored him. Yes, I was in love with him. But I was very let down."
To this day, rumors that the red-haired Hewitt is Prince Harry's true father continue to circulate, despite Hewitt himself explaining that the royal was "already a toddler" when he and Diana met.