10 Fascinating Facts About Princess Diana

Len Trievnor/Getty Images
Len Trievnor/Getty Images

On August 31, 1997, the entire world mourned the passing of Princess Diana. Though she never found her happily-ever-after with Prince Charles (the couple divorced in 1996, just a year before her death), Diana remains an icon of strength and independence to women around the world. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the People's Princess.

1. She worked at a nursery school.

In 2015, Prince George began attending the Westacre Montessori School in Norfolk, England, continuing what has become a bit of a tradition with the current royal family. At Princess Diana's insistence, both William and Harry attended Montessori schools. Before she became a princess, Diana worked as a nursery assistant at the Young England Kindergarten school in Pimlico, yet another school that embraces the Montessori curriculum.

2. She wanted to be a ballerina.

When her height topped out at 5 feet 10 inches, however, she was declared too tall to make it to the professional heights she wanted to reach.

3. Her older sister, Sarah, dated Prince Charles before Diana did.

Sarah's relationship with Charles was rumored to have ended when she blabbed some details to the press and then proudly showed Charles the resulting newspaper clipping. Charles chastised her and turned his attentions to Diana shortly thereafter. Lady Sarah gave Charles and Diana her blessing; when they announced their engagement, Sarah noted that, "I introduced them. I'm Cupid."

4. Her wedding dress was a work of art.

Princess Diana's extravagant wedding dress remains one of the most famous—and copied—dresses in history. Designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, the ivory dress was made of silk taffeta and antique lace, covered in 10,000 pearls (each one of them hand-sewn) and featured a 25-foot train.

5. She was extremely protective of her sons.

Diana was famously protective of her sons and tried very hard to give them a somewhat “normal” upbringing, including taking them to school herself when she could. But what you may not know is that she also liked to occasionally indulge their more boyish whims, even if it meant using her royal status: She once invited Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington to be waiting in the family's private residence when a star-struck William came home from school. "I was probably a 12- or 13-year-old boy who had posters of them all on his wall, and I went bright red and didn’t know quite what to say, and sort of fumbled and I think pretty much fell down the stairs on the way out," William recalled.

6. She always sent a thank-you note.

Diana was known for sending thank-you notes for the smallest of deeds and doing it nearly immediately. Diana instilled this in her children, too; when a bundle of her correspondence was put up for auction in 2010, it included a thank-you note written by Prince William, reportedly to their chauffeur, Davies: “Thank you for the James Bond video it is brilliant. Thank you. See you soon. With love from William.”

7. She had some pretty interesting relatives.

Diana's stepmother, Raine, was the daughter of famous bodice-ripper writer Barbara Cartland. She was a second cousin once-removed to American actor Oliver Platt (they never met). She was also seventh cousins with Humphrey Bogart.

8. She loved ABBA.


Pool/Liaison/Getty Images

The princess loved the "Dancing Queen" band. To pay tribute to her late mother-in-law, Kate Middleton—a.k.a. Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge—requested some of the Swedish band's biggest hits at her wedding to Prince William.

9. She was a major fan of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Tim Curry once said in an interview that when he met her she thanked him for making the movie, telling him that it "quite completed" her education.

10. She is buried on an island at her family estate, Althorp.

In order to maintain privacy, Diana was buried on an island on her family estate, which does not permit visitors. There are 36 oak trees leading to the lake, one for each of her 36 years. In 2016, it was announced that the princess's burial place would get a multi-million dollar facelift. On July 1, 2017, princes William and Harry rededicated the site during a private service on what would have been Diana's 56th birthday.

Why Does Santa Claus Give Coal to Bad Kids?

iStock/bonchan
iStock/bonchan

The tradition of giving misbehaving children lumps of fossil fuel predates the Santa we know, and is also associated with St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Italy’s La Befana. Though there doesn't seem to be one specific legend or history about any of these figures that gives a concrete reason for doling out coal specifically, the common thread between all of them seems to be convenience.

Santa and La Befana both get into people’s homes via the fireplace chimney and leave gifts in stockings hung from the mantel. Sinterklaas’s controversial assistant, Black Pete, also comes down the chimney and places gifts in shoes left out near the fireplace. St. Nick used to come in the window, and then switched to the chimney when they became common in Europe. Like Sinterklaas, his presents are traditionally slipped into shoes sitting by the fire.

So, let’s step into the speculation zone: All of these characters are tied to the fireplace. When filling the stockings or the shoes, the holiday gift givers sometimes run into a kid who doesn’t deserve a present. So to send a message and encourage better behavior next year, they leave something less desirable than the usual toys, money, or candy—and the fireplace would seem to make an easy and obvious source of non-presents. All the individual would need to do is reach down into the fireplace and grab a lump of coal. (While many people think of fireplaces burning wood logs, coal-fired ones were very common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, which is when the American Santa mythos was being established.)

That said, with the exception of Santa, none of these characters limits himself to coal when it comes to bad kids. They’ve also been said to leave bundles of twigs, bags of salt, garlic, and onions, which suggests that they’re less reluctant than Santa to haul their bad kid gifts around all night in addition to the good presents.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

12 Thought-Provoking Gifts for History Buffs

The Unemployed Philosophers Guild / LEGO / Amazon
The Unemployed Philosophers Guild / LEGO / Amazon

If you're looking for a gift for the person who can't get enough history in their life, we think you'll find something on this list. From an atlas of the United States's National Parks to a book that will allow one to record their own family genealogy, these presents will both enlighten and entertain even the history buffs who already own every Theodore Roosevelt biography and Titanic exposé.

1. Atlas of the National Parks; $59

National Parks atlas
National Geographic / Amazon

This stunning atlas from National Geographic invites armchair explorers into all 61 national parks, from Gates of the Arctic to Dry Tortugas, American Samoa to Acadia. Each entry features a brand-new map and information about the park’s character, covering archaeology, geology, human history, wildlife, and more. All of which are illustrated with amazing photographs. You can order it now, and according to Amazon, the book will be in stock December 24.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Homesick Library Candle; $30

Library candle
UncommonGoods

Remind your favorite history buff of that book project they've been working on for many years with a library scent that doesn’t evoke mildewed paper and anxiety. Homesick’s hand-poured soy wax candle features spicy notes of orange, nutmeg, sandalwood, and amber.

Buy It: UncommonGoods

3. Spectacular Women Ornaments; $22 Each

Spectacular women ornaments
UncommonGoods

Your giftee will need to make some space on the Christmas tree for these ornaments depicting amazing women in history. Artist Gulnara Kydyrmyshova and her team of textile artisans in Kyrgyzstan make each ornament by hand from local wool. You can choose Florence Nightingale, Jane Austen, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, or all four.

Buy It: UncommonGoods

4. Homemade Gin Kit; $50

Gin making kit
UncommonGoods

Just in time for holiday parties, this DIY gin-making kit includes two elegant bottles, stoppers, a selection of dried herbs and spices, and mixing tools. The giftee supplies the vodka, which acts like a blank slate, to be flavored with juniper berries, coriander seeds, rosemary, rose hips, and more.

Buy It: UncommonGoods

5. Genealogy Organizer Book; $9

Genealogy organizer book
Amazon

Here’s a genealogy gift for the holidays that doesn’t require handing over genetic data to private corporations! This handy book includes organizational charts for tracing one’s family tree back five generations. Plus, there are fill-in family group pages and sheets to record personal memories.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Great Lakes 3D Wood Nautical Chart; $178

Great Lakes 3D nautical chart
Amazon

Up to eight layers of wood are used to demonstrate the depths of each of the five Great Lakes in this unusual topographical map, which also depicts the major rivers and towns of the region. If these lakes don’t float your boat, 3D maps of Cape Cod, the Hawaiian Islands, Puget Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, and other waterways are available.

Buy It: Amazon

7. Black Lives 1900: W.E.B. Du Bois at the Paris Exposition; $35

W.E.B. Du Bois art book
Amazon

With colorful, hand-drawn infographics, civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois illustrated the progress and challenges of African Americans in the South at the beginning of the 20th century. This beautiful volume pairs his maps and charts, which were displayed at the 1900 Paris Exposition, with contemporary photographs of black people and communities.

Buy It: Amazon

8. Three Mini Notebooks; $15

Three map notebooks
Amazon

An explorer should always have a pen and paper at the ready. Make your giftee’s travels memorable with this set of three pocket-sized notebooks, each bound with a vintage map design on the cover and blank, lined, or graph pages.

Buy It: Amazon

9. Penny-Farthing Watch; $40

Penny-farthing watch
Amazon

It’s been said that bicycles kickstarted the women’s equality movement by giving ladies the means to explore their world. Celebrate that history by giving your fave cycling enthusiast this cute watch, which depicts a penny-farthing, the Victorian precursor to modern bikes. The leather band and analog face complete the watch’s old-timey look.

Buy It: Amazon

10. Shakespearean Insults Mug; $14

Shakespearean insults mug
New York Public Library Shop

This 14-ounce ceramic mug includes 30 Elizabethan insults that you can feel free to use any morning pre-coffee—but you may need to reassure you gift recipient that you’re not actually calling them a “canker-blossom” or a “lump of foul deformity” when they open the box.

Buy It: New York Public Library Shop

11. LEGO White House; $222

LEGO White House
LEGO / Amazon

This LEGO set is based on the White House design by James Hoban, which was selected by George Washington back on July 16, 1792. And now, with over 500 pieces, you can recreate your own version of this iconic building. And when you're done, the set also includes a booklet highlighting interesting facts about the White House.

Buy It: Amazon

12. A History of New York in 27 Buildings; $20

NYC buildings book
Amazon

Stories behind such famous NYC icons as the Flatiron Building or the Empire State Building are well known. Those skyline staples appear in this book, but author Sam Roberts also dives deeper into other notable buildings that changed the course of the city’s history—like the Tweed Courthouse, the Marble Palace, and the Coney Island Boardwalk. (For a similar approach to urban history, see the new book The Seine: The River That Made Paris).

Buy It: Amazon

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