Grace Kelly and Diana Spencer were two relatively ordinary women who became royalty. On paper, their stories look like something out of a fairytale, but their realities seemed to have been much more sinister. In fact, Grace Kelly gave Princess Diana a somber warning about royal life during her first royal outing with Prince Charles in 1981.
Before becoming the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly was a famous actress during the golden era of Hollywood. She met her future husband Prince Rainier of Monaco while filming the 1955 movie, To Catch a Thief, in the French Riviera.
On April 18, 1956, Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier in a ceremony dubbed “the wedding of the century.” (Does that sound familiar to anyone?) After becoming the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly retired from acting.
No one knows for sure the truth about Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier’s marriage, but there are clues that there was some strain on the relationship. Many people believe that Prince Rainier forced Kelly into early retirement, as she didn’t seem to have any plans to stop acting when she was engaged. Similarly, Prince Rainier allegedly had three mistresses within a month of marrying Kelly, which left her feeling humiliated and unhappy.
Twenty-five years after Grace Kelly became royalty, another outsider was infiltrating the inner circle of another monarchy. In March of 1981, Grace Kelly met a then 19-year-old Diana Spencer at a musical recital at Goldsmiths’ Hall in London, England. This was Diana and Charles’ first official royal outing since announcing their engagement.
The evening was proving to be a disaster for Diana. For the event, she wore a black Emanuel dress that caught the public’s attention because the British royal family typically reserved black clothing for funerals.
The press also commented on the neckline of her dress, wondering if it was too revealing for an event that Grace Kelly was also at. Diana later recalled initially thinking that “black was the smartest colour you could possibly have at the age of 19.” She then remarked that this gala was “a horrendous occasion. I didn’t know whether to go out of the door first. I didn’t know whether your handbag should be in your left hand not your right. I was terrified really – at the time everything was all over the place.”
According to Andrew Morton, Diana’s official biographer, Diana had always admired Grace Kelly. That evening, when she had the chance to meet Princess Grace, Diana noted “how wonderful and serene she was, but there was troubled water under her, I saw that.”
During the course of the evening, Princess Grace seemed to notice that Diana was upset. After all, the other guests were still openly discussing Diana’s black dress. As such, Princess Grace whisked Diana off to the powder room.
Once they were alone together, Diana poured her heart out to Grace Kelly, telling her how she was struggling with the publicity, her sense of isolation, and her fears for the future. After hearing what Diana had to say, Grace Kelly jokingly responded, “Don’t worry. It will get a lot worse.”
Unfortunately, as Princess Diana would come to learn, royal life and duties did get a lot worse. It didn’t help that Prince Charles was having an affair with Camilla the entire time Diana and Charles were married.
Eighteen months after they met, Princess Grace died in a terrible car accident after suffering a stroke while driving. She was only 52 years old when she passed away. Princess Diana attended Grace Kelly’s funeral, as she felt a debt of gratitude to the woman who had been so kind to her during her first traumatic public engagement. Princess Diana also felt a unique sense of empathy for Grace Kelly, as she had also come into a royal family from the outside.
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Princess Diana wrote directly to Queen Elizabeth for permission to attend Grace Kelly’s funeral in Monaco. The Queen allowed Princess Diana to attend, and the funeral became Diana’s first solo foreign trip representing the English royal family. No one could imagine that Princess Diana would also die in a car crash only 15 years after Grace Kelly’s death.