A royal break-up -- Prince Charles and Princess Diana's romance came to an end eight years ago

By Nancy Sidewater
December 15, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

A royal break-up

And so, they did not live happily ever after. On Dec. 9, 1992, British prime minister John Major took the floor in the House of Commons to announce that after 11 years of marriage, Prince Charles and Princess Diana were to separate. He assured Parliament that Their Royal Highnesses did not intend to divorce and the split would not alter their positions as future king and queen. But for the Commonwealth, the news capped off years of swirling rumors.

Word of a rift between the world’s most famous couple began barely six years after the 33-year-old prince wed Lady Diana Spencer, then 20, in a 1981 storybook wedding, and romantics the world over fell in love with ”the People’s Princess.” In the summer of 1987, tabloids reported that Charles had taken leave of his family, including his two young sons, princes William and Harry, for over a month at Balmoral Castle. In the years that followed, icy public appearances fueled widespread speculation about extramarital affairs. Before they parted, Diana had secretly cooperated with biographer Andrew Morton for Diana: Her True Story, which was released in June of 1992.

”Nobody knew the extent of her pain until the Morton book came out,” says Sally Bedell Smith, author of Diana in Search of Herself. ”[It] elicited enormous sympathy for her, but she lost whatever support she still had in the palace.” Laced with insider accounts of depression, bulimia, and suicide attempts, Morton’s book also exposed Diana’s jealousy toward Charles’ old flame, Camilla Parker Bowles.

In the wake of such sensational revelations, the press published transcripts of a raunchy phone call between the prince and Camilla as well as the infamous ”Squidgy” tapes containing admissions of love for Diana from longtime friend James Gilbey (just one of the men with whom she had been linked). It soon became all but impossible for Charles and Diana to continue to deny reports that their celebrated union was coming to an end — and they finally agreed to separate just before their sons returned home from school for the Christmas holidays.

On Aug. 28, 1996, the couple divorced, officially ending their 15-year marriage. Diana was granted an estimated $26 million settlement, and Charles was free to pursue his romance with Camilla (without fear of losing his place in the line of succession to the throne).

What had begun as a fairy-tale romance took a nightmarish turn on Aug. 31, 1997, when Diana was killed in a car accident in Paris along with her lover, Dodi al Fayed. No one could have predicted such a tragic conclusion to one of the 20th century’s grandest love stories.

Time Capsule: December 9, 1992
At the movies, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, starring Macaulay Culkin, is the top film for a third straight week. In music, Whitney Houston’s ”I Will Always Love You” continues its record-breaking run atop the Billboard chart. In bookstores, Rush Limbaugh’s The Way Things Ought to Be is a New York Times best-seller. And in the news, U.S. Marines land in Mogadishu, Somalia, to restore peace after two years of interclan fighting. The mission would end in failure less than two years later, with 18 Americans dead.