A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

13 Times Princess Diana’s Body Language Told the Real Story

What's the one language in which lying is virtually impossible? Body language. And that's as true for a royal as it is for the rest of us.

Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.

1 / 14

The real Princess Diana

It’s been 23 years since the world lost its beloved Diana, Princess of Wales, in a fiery car crash so difficult to process that to this day it remains the center of at least 10 different conspiracy theories. At the time of her death, her unfulfilling marriage to Prince Charles was a little more than one year in the rearview, and although Diana had lost more than just her “HRH” styling in the divorce, photos taken in the final weeks of her life point to a bright future ahead, according to body language expert Patti Wood, author of Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language & Charisma. When last we spoke with Wood, she helped us to understand the evolution of the doomed marriage by examining the couple’s body language through the years. Today, she gives us unique insight into who Princess Diana really was and what she might have been thinking as she hurtled from commoner to People’s Princess and mother of a future king.

2 / 14

Ever the maternal soul

Diana Frances Spencer was born on July 1, 1961, at Park House, Sandringham, in Norfolk. The oldest surviving child of Frances Roche and John Spencer (her older brother died at just 10 hours of age), she was no stranger to domestic unhappiness. Frances left John for another man in 1967, leading to a protracted custody battle that was eventually won by John. In this photo, taken that same year, Diana stands behind her younger brother Charles (now the 9th Earl of Spencer), seated on a swing but turning around to look up at his sister. Although Diana wasn’t as shy as everyone assumed, she is smiling shyly here as she turns away from the camera, Wood points out. More importantly, Wood tells us this is an opportunity to see Diana’s maternal instincts on display even as a young girl. “See how she stretches up to stand on tiptoe? It appears she is doing so in order to keep her hands on her brother’s shoulders as if to keep him safe.”

3 / 14

Rivals for the love of the prince

In the summer of 1980, Prince Charles was actively looking for a wife who was not Camilla Shand, the woman he truly connected with, and eventually went on to marry, but whom the royal family did not see as future-queen material. (Among other issues the family had with Camilla, she was the great-granddaughter of the longtime mistress of Charles’ great-great-grandfather, King Edward VII.) Charles had already dated Diana’s sister, Sarah, but that relationship had ended three years earlier when Sarah told the media she was not in love with Charles. When Charles finally noticed young Diana, 13 years his junior, he swept her off her feet and, in the process, unleashed the paparazzi’s endless fascination with her.

This photo, of Diana walking with her secret rival Camilla at Ludlow Races, where Charles was competing, shows how conscious Diana already is of the intense media interest in her, according to Wood. “Although others in the photo don’t seem to be cold,” she notes, “Diana has her hands shoved deeply into her pockets, her shoulders hunched.” Her defensive demeanor is further highlighted by Camilla’s more aggressive stance, with her elbow up and pointed, weapon-like, at Diana. Learn more about why Prince Charles didn’t marry Camilla in the first place.

4 / 14

An early show of daring

In this photo, a newly engaged Diana and Charles are snapped arriving for a London charity recital in March 1981. Diana wears the famous Elizabeth Emanuel–designed gown that led to the press’ observation, at the time, that Diana carried a bit of “puppy fat.” This cleavage-bearing dress was a daring look for a future member of the royal family, but Wood believes Diana’s demeanor, including what appears to be a smirk, reveals she is 100 percent confident rocking it. “[It’s] interesting that Charles is giving a protective, comforting cuff adjustment low to his body,” Wood also points out. “This is an adjustment men make when they want to look good for a woman and protect their manhood.” Don’t miss another 15 of Princess Diana’s most iconic fashion moments.

5 / 14

Genuine delight on her honeymoon

Diana was just 20 years old on July 19, 1981, the day she married Prince Charles and became Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales. Over the years, as the marriage revealed its flaws, Wood says the press chose to emphasize photos from the wedding and honeymoon that seemed to show the disconnect between husband and wife. While the marriage did get off to a rocky start—including an incident during the honeymoon in which photos of Camilla fluttered out of Charles’ private journal—it was not all misery, as this photo clearly indicates. “We don’t usually remember this photo,” says Wood, “but here it is. They’re sharing a mutual gaze. She has her shoulders lifted flirtatiously, her head tilted, her smile one of genuine delight.” It seems as if there is at least one moment on the record during which Diana is looking hopefully toward the future of her marriage. Check out these rare photos of Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ wedding.

6 / 14
Diana Pregnant With First Baby
Tim Graham/Getty Images

Young, pregnant, and vulnerable

In May 1982, when this photo was taken at one of Prince Charles’ polo matches, Diana was in her third trimester of pregnancy with Prince William. What should have been a time of unmitigated joy was a time of sadness and dissatisfaction, though. Five months earlier, Diana had thrown herself down the stairs—an admitted cry for attention from her distracted and disinterested husband. (Soon after William’s birth, Diana reportedly overheard Charles telling Camilla over the phone that he would love her forever.) Here, in an unguarded moment, as she squints toward the field, her lips are tense and she cradles her face in a self-comforting gesture. It’s a moment where you can see how truly young and vulnerable she was. That said, did you know Princess Diana forever changed how royal women give birth?

7 / 14

Unabashed happiness as a mother

In becoming a mother, Diana found true happiness, Wood points out, and it was when she was with her children that she seemed to express that happiness most unabashedly. “So many of her photos show her frozen in posture and gaze, so it’s lovely to see the movement and playfulness [in this image],” says Wood. Here, she is playing with William in February 1983, when he was about eight months old.

8 / 14

The telltale toothy smile

Both Charles and Diana admitted to affairs during their marriage, and allegations that Diana was having an affair with her bodyguard, Barry Mannakee, surfaced early on. After Mannakee was relieved of his royal duties in 1986, Diana reportedly believed it was in response to allegations the two were having an affair. Mannakee was married and had two children. Eight months after his firing, he died in a motorcycle accident that Diana spoke about later on as potentially being the result of a conspiracy by the royal family.

Whatever is true about Mannakee’s tragic end and his relationship with Princess Diana, it is clear she adored him and that he made her happy, Wood says. “No shy smile here,” she notes. “Look at the full row of upper teeth she shows in her smile. Look at how much energy she gives to turn and twist her head back to continue gazing at him while seeming to hold one of her hands with the other as if in an attempt to keep herself from reaching back towards him.” Princess Diana may or may not have believed Mannakee was murdered because of his relationship with her, but in later years, she became preoccupied with the possibility that her own life might be in danger.

9 / 14

Sharing a juicy tidbit, perhaps?

Another man with whom Diana may have had a relationship, albeit after her marriage ended, was Oliver Hoare, a longtime close friend of Charles. He’s pictured here in 1986, among a group of people (he’s the handsome dark-haired man directly facing the camera) that includes Princess Diana and her sister-in-law Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. Wood can’t confirm there was ever anything between Diana and Oliver Hoare or that there’s any evidence of any early “smoldering” between the two in this photo. However, Wood does notice how playful Diana appears, turned, as she is, in Hoare’s direction and seemingly giggling with Sarah. It’s as if Diana, her hand raised and her fingers curled, is sharing a juicy tidbit with Sarah. Here are 9 secrets about Diana no one knew until after her death.

10 / 14

A dismal moment during the annus horribilis

“1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure,” said Queen Elizabeth II in a speech she gave on November 24 of that year, which has now gone down in history as the Queen’s “annus horribilis.” Among other things that went wrong in the royal family in 1992, Andrew Morton’s Diana: Her True Story was published, and Diana acknowledged she gave her friends and family license to speak to Morton for the purpose of his writing the tell-all. (Although it was revealed in 1997 that Diana actually was the main source for the book, which was then updated to Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words).

But it wasn’t just a bad year for the Queen. It was devastating for Diana as well, and it shows here, according to Wood. As she notes, Diana’s eyes are so sorrowful in this image, taken on a trip to Egypt, that “if we didn’t know any better, we might think she was attending a funeral.” Don’t miss Wood’s insightful analysis of the Queen’s body language in these 15 iconic photos.

11 / 14

“Horrible” is a relative term

In another of the Queen’s less pleasurable moments during her annus horribilis, there was that time on December 9, 1992, when Prime Minister John Major announced that Charles and Diana’s marriage had come to an end. But it seems this moment was not one of Diana’s worst. In fact, as Vanity Fair wrote at the time, she seemed “visibly reborn” as a result of the announcement, with a “new bounce in her step, a cheekier smile on her face, a new gleam in those flirtatious blue eyes. At long last, the sham was over.”

And here it is, all of it, the cheeky smile, the gleaming eyes, on display in this photo of Diana with her two sons, William and Harry, at a water park in early 1993. “We see the movement and spontaneity Diana shows with her children,” Wood notes. ” Caught here, in an unguarded moment, we see her zest that in so many other photos is hidden. Look at how to open her mouth is, jaw fully open and cheeks upraised and full, deep smile lines.” This is the truth about Diana’s relationship with the Queen.

12 / 14

A touching display

It doesn’t appear Diana knew she was being photographed here, which makes it even more touching to see the loving way with which she strokes Prince Harry’s face while they’re on the sidelines of the British Grand Prix. Tenderly, Diana uses her hand to cradle and protect her little boy, Wood states. “But the way she is looking around, as if to identify any potential threat, she also looks like a lioness protecting her young.” Find out which prince Diana thought would make the better king.

13 / 14

The revenge dress

Pulling off what arguably may be her most resonant post-marriage look, Princess Diana struts her stuff in this little black dress, now known as the revenge dress. “Just look at her confidence,” Woods remarks about the way Diana is holding her head high and her shoulders back—in contrast to how she often held herself during her marriage, head tipped downward, shoulders sloping. “You’ll notice how every part of her is lifted, her smile, her arm reaching out, her hand and arm holding her purse, her step,” Woods adds. “You can see she knows she looks fantastic.”

14 / 14

Truly coming into her own

In the last year of her life, thanks in large part to her divorce being finalized, Diana was really coming into her own, despite lingering worries regarding her own physical safety. In this photograph, in which she speaks with volunteers at a charity raising awareness and funds to battle homelessness, what Woods finds most worthy of note is Diana’s mirroring the body language of those with whom she’s speaking. “She’s sitting comfortably, knees not knit together, her feet not primly pointed,” Wood says. “And you can see how she’s leaning forward, displaying genuine interest in the conversation.” None of that might have been possible while she was still the wife of the heir apparent. Did you know about these secret changes to Princess Diana’s will—that were made against her wishes?

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.