She was, indeed, the People's Princess. She belonged to them, and was beloved by them. For some reason that cannot be pinned down, this pretty young woman of the aristocracy, who married into royalty, connected with the common folk in a way that was unique and extraordinary. The people cared for and cared about Diana, and when she was killed in a tragic car accident in Paris, the outpouring of grief - not just in England, but globally-was overwhelming. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Diana Spencer's birth, LIFE has assembled a celebratory chronicle of her too short but constantly vibrant time in the public eye. In family photos, we re-visit Diana's youth and then, quickly enough, there is her courtship by Prince Charles. The Wedding of the Century really was that, an opulent extravaganza at St. Paul's that seemed a fairy tale, even unto the Glass Coach. LIFE was on the job at the time and in our pages appeared defining pictures from the day, as well as behind the scenes shots taken by the royals themselves.
Those photographs resurface here, as do others from the magazine, which paid constant attention to Diana as she gracefully assumed the role of princess - perhaps the most famous princess of all time. LIFE followed her - and follows her here - as she set about doing her good works. Diana's family life with her handsome young boys in Kensington Palace is recounted, as are the travails when her marriage crumbles. On September 6, 1997, 2.5 billion people around the world watched Lady Di's funeral, televised from Westminster Abbey. LIFE revisits that sad day, and then chronicles Diana's legacy, catching up with her charismatic sons today - the older of whom, William, has just taken a bride. Kate Middleton now wears Diana's ring, and will one day be queen - the very thing that was predicted for Diana, not so very long ago.