Princess Diana was once thought to be the most photographed woman in the world. She certainly lived under intense scrutiny, not only from the media but also from fans and family. Even after she had left this world under such tragic circumstances, there were those who became obsessed with poring over every detail of her life. Surely, then, it’s impossible anything could’ve been overlooked in images of the so-called “People’s Princess,” right? Well, no, apparently it’s not. Because people have started to notice a strange – and perhaps telling – detail that crops up repeatedly in formal photos of Diana with Prince Charles.
Picture the scene: Charles and Diana are getting ready for an official photo shoot. It’s likely been weeks if not months in the making. Every detail planned, every move choreographed, every hair assigned a specific angle at which to rest. Every single thing that we see in the shot has probably been perfectly placed to suit the exact image that the couple – or possibly the Crown – wants to portray.
Diana and Charles have no doubt been through hair and make-up and put on their purposefully picked outfits, but there’s more manipulation required. And as the royal couple finally take their positions, a strange dynamic between the pair seems to be at play. This quirk results in an odd detail that’s visible in almost every official picture of the couple. Though it’s often gone unnoticed – until now.
The intense media interest in Charles and Diana began from the moment they went public with their engagement in 1981. Prior to asking his belle to marry him, the prince and the kindergarten teacher had met just a handful of times. Suddenly, they now found their relationship thrust into the spotlight.
The first inklings the media had of the romance brewing between Charles and Diana came when she was spotted at the royal family’s Scottish estate: Balmoral. But it was after their engagement was announced to the world that interest in the couple really intensified. Diana seemed to handle her newfound attention with elegance. Yet there were apparently early signs of the pressure she was under.
According to an article by The New York Times in 1981, the then 19-year-old Diana had broken down inside her car following the paparazzi onslaught. The newspaper said that the young aristocrat had said of the photographers, “I know it’s just a job they have to do, but sometimes I do wish they wouldn’t.”
Sadly, the paparazzi were to become a constant in Diana’s life. In fact, she would later be dubbed the most photographed woman in the world. Naturally, the incessant attention she received was stressful for the Princess of Wales herself. Though it reportedly put an extra strain on her marriage to Charles, too.
Diana would later suggest that Charles had been jealous of her popularity. In a now-infamous interview with the BBC reporter Martin Bashir in 1995, the Princess of Wales explained, “The pressure on us both as a couple with the media was phenomenal. And [it was] misunderstood by a great many people.”
Diana recalled how, on a trip to Australia, she’d heard crowds complain when they ended up on the side Charles was walking on – rather than being close to her. The princess explained, “… All you could hear was, ‘Oh, she’s on the other side. They weren’t on the right side to wave at me or to touch me.”
Revealing Charles’ apparent reaction to such comments, Diana claimed, “If you’re a man like my husband – a proud man – you mind about that if you hear it every day for four weeks. And you feel low about it, instead of feeling happy and sharing it.” She added, “…I felt very uncomfortable with [it], and I felt it was unfair because I wanted to share.”
In that very same interview with Martin Bashir, Diana appeared to claim that Prince Charles was envious of the adulation that came her way. When asked if she’d been “flattered” by the media attention, Diana replied, “No, not particularly. Because with the media attention came a lot of jealousy; a great deal of complicated situations arose because of that.”
There was also little that Diana, Charles or any of the other royals could do to contain the media interest that came their way. And they certainly didn’t have too much control over what pictures were published in the press. Formal photographs – on the other hand – were another story. These were often carefully curated to portray the exact message the monarchy wanted to present.
Naturally, the royals have commissioned official portraits of themselves for centuries. Prior to the advent of photography, the main medium of these pictures was through painting. Though the images were not only a way of presenting the subject in question. No, they were also an opportunity to show off their land, homes and wealth.
According to DailyArt Magazine, the earliest known portrait of a British royal family member dates from 1505. And it features King Henry VII. But back then, staying true to real life was not so important. Official images of the monarchy, then, often reflected what the subject wanted us to see – rather than the artist’s honest interpretation.
It may be easy to manipulate a painted image with artistic license, but it’s often been said that the camera never lies. So, when photographed royal portraits were introduced during the reign of Queen Victoria, there was a chance that the subjects could be caught off guard. Though the British monarchy went to great lengths to prevent this from happening.
It may not be evident at first glance, but contemporary portraits of the royal family are actually highly choreographed. They can make the monarchy appear relatable in the modern age – while still affirming their longevity and authority. So in a way, we are still only seeing what the subjects themselves want us to.
Take Charles and Diana, who posed for their first official photos in 1981 after announcing their engagement. In the snaps – which were taken on the grounds of Buckingham Palace – Charles looks smart in a suit and tie, while Diana dons a cobalt blue outfit. Perhaps intentionally, the hue perfectly matches her sapphire engagement ring.
Yet Charles and Diana’s engagement announcement was not without its awkward moments. For reference, they took part in a televised interview shortly after the photocall. And it was then that Charles delivered a memorable line that would go on to haunt his marriage.
If you didn’t already know, this is how the cringe-inducing moment went down. During their engagement interview, A reporter told Charles and Diana, “You both look very much in love.” Diana responded, “Oh, yes. Absolutely.” But Charles added, “Whatever ‘in love’ means.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, the comment was met by an awkward silence.
The Princess of Wales would later recall the uncomfortable moment in a clip included in the 2017 documentary Diana: In Her Own Words. She said, “This ridiculous [reporter] said, ‘Are you in love?’ I thought, what a thick question. So I said, ‘Yes, of course, we are,’ and Charles turned round and said, ‘Whatever love means.’ And that threw me completely. I thought, ‘What a strange answer.’ It traumatized me.”
Even so, Charles and Diana married less than six months after announcing their engagement. And while there are countless images depicting the lavish ceremony, the official portraits from the wedding day tell a story all of their own. In them, the newlyweds smile brightly in the opulence of Buckingham Palace’s throne room.
But despite the fairytale setting and the wedding to match, Charles and Diana would not get their happily ever after. Their marriage was strained pretty much from the onset. Nevertheless, the royal couple usually managed to put on happy faces for photocalls marking occasions like the births of Prince William in 1982 and Prince Harry two years later.
Yet it seems that Charles and Diana were still obliged to pose for official photos together even when their marriage was reportedly on the rocks. There were family photos, snaps from royal visits abroad and even stamps to commemorate the royal couple. But look closely at this wealth of images, and you’ll see a running theme in many of them.
The odd detail is easy to overlook, but it’s significant nonetheless. That’s because in almost every official photograph of the royal couple, the Prince of Wales looks as though he is a good degree taller than his wife. But in reality, the pair were exactly the same height. Yep, they both measured in at 5’8”, according to The Sun.
It’s no secret that Charles and Diana were similar in height. In fact, it was claimed that the Princess of Wales picked her wedding shoes carefully, so as not to tower over her groom on the big day. In the end, she wore almost no heel – ensuring she and Charles were equal in height as they stood together at the altar.
Not wanting to overshadow the groom on your wedding day is one thing. But that doesn’t explain why almost every official photograph of Charles and Diana depicts a height difference between the couple. To do so, each shot will have had to have been carefully orchestrated in order to create the illusion that the Prince of Wales was taller than his wife.
But why would the palace go to such lengths to suggest that Charles was taller than Diana when he in fact wasn’t? Well, the answer could all be down to the traditional – if not slightly outdated – idea that husbands should have a height advantage over their wives. This theory was put forward by Occidental College professor Lisa Wade in an article on The Society Pages website.
In the article, Lisa said, “This effort to make Charles appear taller is a social commitment to the idea that men are taller and women shorter. When our own bodies, and our chosen mates, don’t follow this rule, sometimes we’ll go to great lengths to preserve the illusion.”
Lisa then went on to explain how this desire for men to be taller than their wives affected the royal couple and the way they were portrayed. She said, “When Charles and Diana were posed together formally, however, they were typically arranged so as to suggest that he was significantly taller than her, or at least to disguise the fact that he was not.”
The news of the fake height discrepancy between Charles and Diana didn’t go down too well when it was picked up on social media. As you might imagine, some commentators decried the deception as “sexist.” One such user wrote, “One may/may not recall the lengths to which the couple – the crown? – went to disguise [Diana’s] height.”
Interestingly, though, it seemed that there was still some expectation for men to be taller than their female suitors until fairly recently. According to research published by Rice University and the University of North Texas in 2014, women did care about the height of their partners. And it was suggested that those females with taller beaus felt protected and even more feminine.
One part of the study focused on the online personal dating ads of 455 men and 470 women. And it found that 13.5 percent of males would only date women with a height lower than their own. On the other hand, though, 48.9 percent of women only wanted to be romantically involved with men taller than themselves.
The second part of the study involved 54 male and 131 female participants from a U.S. university. They took part in an online survey of open-ended questions. Interestingly, the results here determined that 37 percent of men wanted only to date women shorter than themselves, while 55 percent of women only considered taller men.
The study found that the primary reason women preferred a taller suitor was for femininity and protection. One participant explained, “As the girl, I like to feel delicate and secure at the same time. Something just feels weird in thinking about looking ‘down’ into my man’s eyes. There is also something to be said about being able to wear shoes with high heels and still being shorter.”
Sociology professor George Yancey from the University of North Texas was the lead author of the study. And commenting on the findings, he said, “The masculine ability to offer physical protection is clearly connected to the gender stereotype of men as protectors. And in a society that encourages men to be dominant and women to be submissive, having the image of tall men hovering over short women reinforces this value.”
So, the idea that men should be taller than their female partners might still persist to some extent. But the manipulated portrayal of Charles and Diana is still considered shocking. The royal couple’s official photos just go to show that, often, all is not what it seems. And the smiling pair we see before us were often not happy in their marriage at all.
Official photographs may have shown Charles and Diana putting on a united front. Yet cracks sometimes appeared behind the scenes. For instance, royal photographer Ken Lennox – who worked with the couple throughout their tumultuous relationship – recalled an incident in 1983 when they were on a tour of Australia and New Zealand.
According to his account, Ken had been snapping Charles and Diana sitting in their car in front of the Sydney Opera House. As he captured them, he noticed that the Princess of Wales had become visibly upset. The photographer would later describe what happened in a documentary called Inside The Crown: Secrets of the Royals, which aired on ITV in the U.K. in January 2020.
Ken explained, “I’m about 4 feet from the princess and I’m trying to get a bit of the opera house in the background and some of the crowd, and Diana burst into tears and wept for a couple of minutes.” Speaking with hindsight, he added, “It was the first sign [that] something was wrong, and then we began to see other things happening later on.”
Charles and Diana would eventually separate in 1992 and finally divorce four years later. Following the split, Diana’s popularity never faltered and she would later become known as the “People’s Princess.” But while the affection for the princess never waned, neither did the media interest. In 1997 she lost her life in the French capital of Paris in a car accident after trying to escape the paparazzi.