Prince Charles had first come to view Lady Diana in a "romantic" light in the summer of 1980, and that type of thing didn't remain secret for long.
The popular press went overboard. The shy young aristocrat, who worked in a very exclusive kindergarten, was the subject of thousands upon thousands of newspaper and magazine articles. No detail of her life, no matter how tiny, was left unexamined.
And when the popular press was desperate, well, they could always print stuff like this: Daily Mirror, November 15, 1980:
JUST THE TICKET
Lady Di is booked for parking... and the Mirror told you so
It was her boyfriend's 32nd birthday... The day some said would end with the announcement of a royal engagement. But as the gifts poured in for birthday boy Prince Charles, what did Lady Diana Spencer receive? A parking ticket.
Of course, she could have saved herself the £6 fine if she had checked her own birthday stars in yesterday's Mirror. Under the sign of Cancer, astrologer June Penn wrote: "There's danger of a parking ticket or a small fine, so be careful. Some of you will be asked to an anniversary or other celebration." Well, she got the parking ticket. The party was to follow later.
The unwelcome sticker was clipped to the windscreen of 19-year-old Lady Di's blue Renault 5. A traffic warden had spotted it parked on a yellow line just around the corner from her £100,000 Chelsea flat. Of Lady Diana herself there was no sign.
One of the three girls with whom she shares her first-floor mansion flat said: "Diana went out early this morning - before 7 o'clock." Had Lady Diana been invited to a birthday party at Sandringham? The flatmate said: "I don't know where she went or how she intends to spend the day."
A famous sunny day picture of Lady Diana.
The country waited in breathless anticipation. Was an engagement about to be announced? And what was Lady Di like? Daily Mirror, November 19, 1980:
The little school where Lady Diana Spencer spends her working day is not much to look at. It is just a modest church hall and there's a slightly out-of-tune piano to the right of the stage, a hint of dust about and lots of happy noise when the three to five-year-olds crash in through the swing doors.
Assistant teacher "Miss Diana" - as the children call her - loves every living, brawling "Please-may-I-go-to-the-lavatory," and "Jessica's-just-hit-me" moment.
The privileged kindergarten - £150 per term - includes such sprigs as Harold MacMillan's great-grandson, Agriculture Minister Peter Walker's little boy, plus a clutch of merchant bankers' off-spring.
The school, patriotically and simply named Young England, sits opposite Pimlico School, where the working-class children thunder out, pausing occasionally to thumb their noses or make rude noises at the nannies and the slumbering Bentleys lined up outside the tiny place opposite.
Miss Diana - the girl almost everyone thinks will perch on the Throne next to King Charles III - takes it all very easily. She is a good, affectionate teacher, and one liked and respected by even the occasional anarchic little Tory cabinet minister in training. "Come along, Elizabeth," she will admonish gently, "You're hanging behind." Or "Please, James, don't do THAT! It's not very nice, is it?"
Having delivered such mild rebukes, she will come out with her natural trademark - a brilliant blush.
Lady Diana Spencer may well blush in front of parents and children alike, but during the last few weeks she has demonstrated a remarkably cool and mature approach to the no-holds-barred degree of personal publicity to which she has been subjected...
Now Prince Charles has come out with a potentially significant statement. While week-ending at Sandringham, where Lady Diana was a house-guest, he told a small congregation of the world's press: "I know you were all expecting some news on Friday (his 32nd birthday) and I know you were disappointed. I can promise you that you will all be told soon enough"...
On paper, of course, she would appear to be the ideal girl. Both sides of her family are highly aristocratic - including four direct links to King Charles II and one to King James II. Her father, the 8th Earl Spencer (the family name is Althorp and is pronounced Althrup in that perverse way the upper-class English have of saying things differently) is directly related to the Churchill family...
Meeting her one would assume that she was just another quiet, rather unsophisticated, upper-class girl one often meets at smartish London parties. Very pretty eyes, not a great conversationalist, a trifle nervous, seemingly cool - and (best indication of her character, perhaps) a great laugher. She can look intensely serious one moment - then if someone cracks even a mild joke her face lights up like a beacon of laughter and joy.
Additionally pleasing is her voice. It is not one of those braying, high-pitched, nasal, horsey, pinched howls so typical of that Sloane Ranger set who inhabit London, complete with scarves knotted precisely on their chins and out-of-fashion Gucci shoes clanking away with enthusiasm. She is quietly spoken, not particularly posh even. It is a pleasant, even classless accent. It is certainly not in the Princess Anne league.
She is something of a domestic fusspot. One of the things she apparently cannot stand is washing up that has not been done. Indeed, she is even known to rush off into the kitchen and do the washing up while a party is going on...
It had finally happened, or so it was reported in some newspapers, just before Christmas 1980: a romantic proposal of marriage from Prince Charles to Lady Diana in the vegetable patch near the farmhouse of his two close friends, Lt. Col. Andrew and Camilla Parker-Bowles. And in early 1981, it was reported, Lady Di had disappeared from the scene to consider the proposal.
From the Daily Mirror, February 17, 1981:
Lady Diana Spencer's vanishing act was explained yesterday.
She had gone away to decide: Shall I marry Prince Charles?
Friends believe that the couple have been asked for a make-or-break decision.
A source close to the Royal Family said: "Lady Diana had to get away from all the pressure and think."
That pressure has been fiercely on Lady Di since Christmas. All sides, including her own family, have urged her to make a statement.
She is believed to have told the Royal Family that she needs time on her own, relaxing in the sun, to finally make up her mind...
And from inside the Daily Mirror, February 17, 1981:
Prince Charles proposed to Lady Diana Spencer just before Christmas - in the vegetable patch outside the farmhouse of his close and trusted friends, Lt. Col. Andrew and Camilla Parker-Bowles.
On the day in question Charles had been out hunting with Andrew and Camilla Parker-Bowles near their home at Allington, near Chippenham, Wilts.
Now it was early evening on a clear, beautiful winter day. Prince Charles and Lady Diana were holding hands. Charles, Lady Diana has told friends, seemed "strangely stifled."
Then he asked her: "If I were to ask you, do you think it would be possible?"
Lady Diana has since told friends: "I immediately felt the immense absurdity of the situation and couldn't help giggling. I still think the situation is absurd, but I just don't giggle anymore"...
From the Sun, February 25, 1981:
MY SHY DI
Charles presents his bride-to-be
The look of love is there for the world to see... as Prince Charles presents the girl he will marry. Lady Diana Spencer, 19, and the 32-year-old heir to the throne stepped out together in the grounds of Buckingham Palace yesterday - just hours after their engagement was announced.
Shy Di smiled and blushed as she displayed her dazzling engagement ring - an oval sapphire surrounded by 14 diamonds in 18 carat white gold. And there was no disguising her love for the Prince as she looked up at him and said: "I think I coped all right."
The account of the marriage proposal is different here - we move from Camilla Parker-Bowles' vegetable patch just before Christmas 1980, to Charles' private quarters at Buckingham Palace in early 1981:
Delighted Prince Charles revealed last night how he popped the question to Lady Diana over a romantic dinner.
He asked her to be his bride three weeks ago as they ate in his private quarters in Buckingham Palace.
The anxious heir deliberately timed the proposal to fall just before Lady Diana was due to fly to Australia for a holiday.
He explained: "I wanted to give her a chance to think about it - to think if it was all going to be too awful."
But Lady Diana settled the matter there and then.
And she chipped in yesterday: "I never had any doubts about it."
The paper further reported that the Royal romance had begun in July 1980, and that Diana would live at Clarence House, home of the Queen Mother, until the wedding.
Lady Diana Spencer, the English rose who has captured Prince Charles' heart, was born to be a queen.
From babyhood she has known the ways of royalty - the protocol, the courtesies and the taboos, as well as the over-riding responsibility of public duty and discretion.
The nation has fallen in love, too, with the beautiful strawberry blonde whose blushes are so endearing.
Shy Di, as she is known to close friends, has the pedigree of one of England's great families - and something about her of the Queen Mother's aura.
She is witty, well bred, friendly and unsophisticated, and she adores children. Above all, she is well liked by the Queen.
To the Royal Family she was really the girl next door.
She was christened at Sandringham and was brought up in rambling Park House on the royal estate.
As a child Lady Diana, with her two elder sisters, joined the royal children at the same birthday parties and shared the same friends .
And the Spencer children were invited on regular visits to Windsor Castle and Balmoral.
But Diana's playmates were the younger princes, Andrew and Edward. With a 13-year age difference, Charles treated her as a sort of kid sister...
The romance did not start until last autumn, shortly after her 19th birthday.
The couple spent a weekend together at Balmoral. She watched Charles fish for salmon.
Diana was barely back in her London flat when the telephone rang. It was Charles. Flowers followed and the message was believed to be signed "with love".
I always remember 1981 as being the summer of the three R's - Royals, Rubik's and...
For Lady Diana Spencer it was something more. She walked into St Paul's Cathedral as the daughter of an earl. She walked out as the next Queen.
How certain things seemed back then. And what a day of joyful optimism the twenty-ninth of July, 1981, was.