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British Royals

Back to school with Diana, Princess of Wales

Diana, Princess of Wales, was born Diana Frances Spencer on 1 July 1961, in Park House on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, the fourth of five children of John Spencer, later the 8th Earl Spencer, and his first wife, Frances.

She was initially home-schooled by her mother’s governess, Gertrude Allen, known in the family as ‘Ally’. She began her formal education in 1968 at Silfield Private School in Gayton, Norfolk. The school closed its doors in December 2004 after operating for 50 years. At the time Diana was a pupil, it was a small school with a familiar atmosphere, attended by around 40 children.

In 1969, while she was at Silfield, Diana’s parents divorced. She continued to live at Park House until the death of her grandfather, the seventh earl, in 1975. She then moved to the Spencer family seat at Althorp House in Northamptonshire.

In 1970, when she was nine years old, she followed in the footsteps of her older sisters, Sarah and Jane, and moved to Riddlesworth Hall Preparatory School, an all-girls boarding school in south Norfolk.

Housed in a grade-II listed Georgian manor house surrounded by 12 hectares of parkland, the school was established in 1946 as a girls’ school but now caters to both boys and girls aged 2 to 13.

Pupils were encouraged to bring pets, and Diana famously brought her beloved guinea pig, Peanuts, with her.

Diana returned to Riddlesworth on an official visit in April 1989.

In 1973, she once again joined her sisters at West Heath Girls’ School in Sevenoaks, Kent.

West Heath was the natural progression from Riddlesworth: a small, friendly school where an emphasis was placed more on good behaviour than academic achievement.

In the 1990s, the school suffered financial difficulties due to a fall in the number of pupils and was placed into receivership in 1997. The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund considered buying the school but decided against it, and Mohamed Al Fayed stepped in to buy West Heath in May 1998 as new premises for the Beth Marie Centre, a charitable trust catering for children for whom mainstream schooling has become insufficient, for varying reasons.

While at West Heath, Diana made some lasting friendships and showed a particular talent for music, dancing and domestic science. In fact, dancing and piano playing were to remain lifelong passions for her, who took lessons in ballet, tap and ballroom dance while at West Heath. She also gained an award recognising her community spirit and willingness to help her schoolfellows. However, she did not excel academically, failing her O-levels twice.

She left West Heath in 1977 and went to finishing school at the Institut Alpin Videmanette in Rougemont, Switzerland, which she left after the Easter term of 1978.

It was an all-girl school where lessons included skiing, cooking, dressmaking and French. Princess Irene of Greece and Denmark, the younger sister of Queen Sofia of Spain, had also been a pupil. The school closed in 1991.

In 1979, Diana moved to a flat in Coleherne Court, London, bought for her by her mother as an 18th birthday present. By then, she had known the Prince of Wales for around two years, having first met him in November 1977, when he was dating her older sister Sarah.

For a while, Diana worked as a nanny and later as a nursery teacher’s assistant at the Young England School in Pimlico.

She moved out of her flat on 25 February 1981, the day after her engagement to the Prince of Wales was officially announced.

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