Princess Diana captivated and intrigued the world like few other royals have. Her grace and her Cinderella-like rise had a fairy-tale charm to it: she was the ordinary girl who became a princess. And even amid the turmoil of her unraveling marriage to Prince Charles, which ended in divorce after 15 years, she managed to enthrall us with her style and philanthropy.
Sadly it was our fascination with her that brought about her tragic death at the age of 36, in a fatal car crash while being chased by paparazzi through a Paris tunnel. On August 31, 1997, just after news of the accident began flooding the airwaves, TIME had just 16 hours to get the news into the next issue. A round-the-clock editorial team put together a 20-page section devoted to the fallen Princess.
TIME’s cover story painted the tragic scene for readers still coming to grips with the horrifying carnage.
“With her go the hopes of a world that had turned her life into part of its own projected biography, a fragile hope for a happy-ever-after even in the face of adversity. To many, her struggles blended into the hobbling steps of this 20th century as it limped toward some vague promise of millennium.”
Essays from across the world reflected on the people’s princess and how her star would continue to shine, even amid tragedy.
“It takes nothing but fate to be born a princess; how much harder it is to become one.”
The next week, a commemorative issue celebrated her life and legacy in many more words. A letter from TIME’s editor explained Diana had been seen between the magazine’s red borders eight times (nine times, now), more than any other royal, including Queen Elizabeth. Before 1997 came to a close, she would grace the cover three times in a single year.
We saw a bit of Diana in Kate Middleton’s rise to stardom, both women who ascended to the royalty. And Diana’s memory was invoked throughout the Royal Wedding proceedings, her blue sapphire engagement ring shining brightly on her son’s bride’s finger. “It’s my way of making sure my mother didn’t miss out,” Prince William said.
In honor of her 50th birthday in 2011, TIME focused in on 50 rare images of the Princess of Wales, delivering a touching snapshot of Diana as she grew from child to budding princess to mother and philanthropist.
And even 15 years after her death, Princess Di continues to be recognized for her societal contributions. She was named one of our 100 fashion icons of all-TIME.
“[W]hile she popularized many of the over-the-top trends of the day — including bright floral prints, polka dots and voluminous sleeves — she did so with restraint. Diana wore the clothes, but they never wore Diana.”
Her fashion was timeless and classic, much like her story. Diana’s legacy is surely the stuff future fairy tales will be made of.