Prince Charles first laid eyes on 16-year-old Lady Diana Spencer in 1978 when he was invited to Althorp, her family’s estate, by one of his paramours, her older sister Lady Sarah Spencer. At his 30th birthday party, held at Buckingham Palace, Diana watched Charles dance with her sister, Camilla and others.
Andrew Parker Bowles was a friend of the Queen Mother and her circle, so he and Camilla were never far from the center of Charles’ universe. Charles and Camilla remained confidantes and, according to The Diana Chronicles, their affair was rekindled in 1979 when Charles was grief-stricken over the death of Uncle Dickie, who was killed along with his teenage grandson and another boy when an assassin’s bomb blew up his fishing boat.
Though they were going mad over Charles’ poorly kept secret, neither the queen nor Philip said much about their son’s many indiscretions. Philip did at one point write his son a letter chiding him for having “paraded” one of his girlfriends around. They just hoped Charles would settle on someone appropriate to marry, and the virginal Diana happened to fit the bill.
Despite their myriad differences and a 12-year age gap, Charles and Diana embarked on a romance in July 1980, around when she turned 19. The tabloids were all over the couple, and Diana in particular, and, though denied by the Palace, a positively scandalous headline in the Daily Mirror—“Royal Love Train,” with the report that they had spent two nights together aboard the Royal Train—set off endless chatter about when, or if, Charles was ever going to make an honest woman of her.
In January 1981, Philip sent his son another one of his famous letters, urging him to go one way or the other—propose or break up. Charles only read it one way.
In their televised engagement interview, aired on Feb. 24, 1981, Charles said he was “delighted and happy.” Asked rhetorically if he was “in love” with Diana, he said, “whatever ‘in love’ means.”