Almost every adult in the Western world can remember what they were doing on August 31, 1997. Lest we forget, that was the day news broke that Princess Diana had died in a Paris car crash at the age of 36. And while she was already one of the most iconic women of her era, her death propelled her into the pantheon of pop culture occupied by other taken-too-young stars such as James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. In 2017, then, it will be 20 years since her death, and some of her fans are starting to wonder – what would she look like today if she had lived? Luckily, there’s an answer to that question.
And Diana, Princess of Wales – born under the title “Honourable” – was pretty much destined to live a life in the spotlight. Her parents were a Lord and Lady, and Diana Spencer herself inherited the title of “Lady” in 1975. Those credentials, combined with her beauty and elegance, made her the ideal bride for a royal prince. And so it proved: in 1980 Prince Charles – next in line to the British throne – had taken an interest in her. What’s more, by 1981, when she was just 20 years old, they married.
At the time, the marriage was dubbed a “fairytale”; sadly, though, history would prove that assessment wrong. Indeed, it later transpired that the relationship was troubled almost from the very beginning. For example, a single callous comment from Charles about her figure, combined with the pressure of being a royal wife, led to Diana developing an eating disorder. And that was just the start.
In fact, although her image as the perfect princess remained intact, behind the scenes Diana was suffering terribly. She cut herself with razor blades to maintain a feeling of control and, at one point, even threw herself down the stairs while pregnant with her first child William. These dark details, however, were kept secret from the public at the time.
Fortunately, though, Diana’s desperate unhappiness was alleviated somewhat by her children, William and Harry. She was determined to be a more attentive mother to her sons than was normal in the royal family and organized her royal duties around their schedules instead of the other way around. She even took them to school herself as often as she could, instead of having a nanny do it.
In fact, Diana’s defiance of royal tradition made the public love her more. She was seen as apparently fighting against a stuffy and out-of-touch institution. And her beauty, her eloquence, her support of charitable causes and her array of famous friends didn’t hurt her popularity, either. In the eyes of many ordinary people, then, Diana was by far the best of the royals.
Indeed, though Diana had been born into an extremely wealthy family, commanded a huge fortune and had given birth to the heir to the throne, some of the public still considered her to be highly relatable and sympathetic. And doubtless many looked forward to seeing what she would be and look like in later life. Tragically, though, that life would eventually be cut short.
Meanwhile, as the 1980s turned into the 1990s, it became obvious to both Diana’s legions of fans and traditional monarchists alike that the royal marriage was on its last legs. As Diana once famously said, “There were three people in this marriage,” and the third was Charles’ former girlfriend Camilla Parker Bowles. Diana even had a nasty nickname for her love rival: “the rottweiler.”
And while divorce was not something the British royal family took lightly, in this case it absolutely had to be done. After all, both Diana and Charles had had affairs – he with Camilla, her with her horse-riding instructor – and both were very obviously incredibly miserable. In December 1992, then, British Prime Minister John Major announced the separation of the couple to the House of Commons.
Still, the time between the couple’s separation and their divorce was a strange one, filled with scandal. Charles claimed in a televised 1994 interview, for example, that he had had his affair with Camilla only after his relationship with Diana had “irretrievably broken down.” Diana, meanwhile, accused him of also having an affair with their children’s nanny – the magnificently named Tiggy Legge-Bourke.
And, rather unbelievably, it got yet more scandalous from there. Diana accused Legge-Bourke and Prince Charles of having conceived a child which they later aborted. That was a claim that, perhaps understandably, caused derision and demands for an apology. By December 1995, moreover, even the Queen had gotten involved – she sent letters to Charles and Diana asking that they finally divorce.
In August 1996, then, the divorce finally went through. Yet while Diana received vast amounts of money for her settlement, she lost something else precious to her: the right to be called “Her Royal Highness.” Reportedly, little William noticed his mother’s distress at the loss of her title and told her, “Don’t worry, Mummy, I will give it back to you one day when I am king.”
And while no one could have blamed Diana from retiring from public life after all that, she actually ended up doing the opposite. Indeed, she arguably became even more high profile than ever through her charity and humanitarian work. One of her most famous causes was a campaign against the use of landmines in war.
She also continued to be a devoted mother to her sons, frequently taking them on “normal” holidays with friends their own age as well as preparing them for their future lives as celebrities. But, perhaps most importantly, she also taught them the values of charity and humility, often taking them to help at homeless shelters when the cameras were elsewhere.
These days, Princes William and Harry are very open about the values their mother instilled in them. “She played a huge part in my life and Harry’s growing up, in how we saw things and how we experienced things,” William told ABC News in 2012. “She very much wanted to get us to see the rawness of real life. And I can’t thank her enough for that.”
And by 1995 Diana’s life, so full of hidden hardship for so long, finally seemed to be starting to improve. No matter what had happened between her and her ex-husband, her children adored her – which was the most important thing. Plus, a new love was entering her life. This was heart surgeon Hasnat Khan, whom she nicknamed “The One.”
Unfortunately, despite her very real and deep love for him, Diana’s relationship with Khan wasn’t to last long. Keeping the relationship private put a tremendous strain on both of them. So too did the fact that his family didn’t want him to marry someone of a different race. By June of 1997, in fact, it was over – and Diana was, unbeknown to everyone, heading towards complete tragedy.
On the rebound from Khan, Diana fell into the arms of Dodi Fayed, son of Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed. This was to be the final romantic entanglement of her short life. And while vacationing in Paris with Fayed on the last day of August 1997, the pair got into a car to escape the paparazzi. However, the driver was drunk, and no-one in the car was wearing a seatbelt. The result, tragically, was a crash that proved fatal.
Of course, it wasn’t only William and Harry who mourned Princess Diana, but the entire world, too. And they didn’t just mourn her passing but the waste of potential. She had only been 36 and she could have done so much more. She would also never see her sons grow up, and her fans would never see her grow old. That first thing, sadly, could never be fixed – but the second one could… sort of.
In 2011 a Michigan-based company that specializes in age-progression graphics released an image of how Princess Diana might have looked at the age of 50. Jovey Mae Hayes was the artist. “I have presented her as I believe she would look today without having undergone any kind of cosmetic surgery,” she told the Daily Express newspaper in 2011. It’s a poignant reminder, then, of what might have been.