Birthday Gal: Lady Diana–Born July 1, 1961!

(Gianni Ferrari/Getty Images)
(Gianni Ferrari/Getty Images)

All little girls want to grow up to be princesses–and then they often grow up to make fun of princesses. Nobody really makes fun of Diana, Princess of Wales, though–and not just because she didn’t have a fairy tale life. She died very young (at the age of 36 in 1997), but Princess Diana was an inspirational figure during the time that she was married to Charles, Prince of Wales. Officially, Prince Charles was the eldest son and heir apparent of Queen Elizabeth II, which set up Diana to be a Queen someday.  [homepage image: Hulton Archives/Getty Images]

As Diana Spencer, she was born as the daughter of a Viscount and Viscountess. That’s part of royalty, as well. Diana still made a big leap up the royal ladder when Prince Charles began to look for a bride at the start of the ’80s. He had known Diana for a while, and their courtship was a worldwide event. There were over 600,000 English citizens lining the streets for the wedding, and a global television audience of 750 million. Princess Diana became even more of an international favorite as she became pregnant and gave birth to Prince William and Prince Harry. Diana was very open about her pregnancies, and made it very clear that she was going to be very involved as a mother–instead of handing her children off to be raised by the royal staff.

Princess Diana never locked herself away in her castle. She toured the world and often used her fame to bring attention to troubled spots all over the world. Diana was often seen in hospitals, schools, and with needy families. Diana didn’t base her charitable appearances based on what would make her look good. Instead, she became one of the first Royals to put her privileged name to causes that included leprosy, AIDS, homelessness, and drug addiction.

There was a scandal when Princess Diana divorced Prince Charles, but she made it clear that she wasn’t retiring from activism. She had become newly committed to a select group of charities, and was becoming a powerful voice speaking against the use of landmines in military action–which were often left behind to endanger children. Her sudden death in an automobile accident was a cause for worldwide mourning. She certainly remains beloved in England, despite the royal divorce. There was a poll conducted in 2002 by the British Broadcast Corporation, with Princess Diana ranking third on a poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. She was the highest ranked monarch on the list.