The story behind The Crown: Charles and Diana separate after 11 years of marriage

Eleven years after their fairytale wedding, Prince Charles and Princess Diana - unable to hide the tensions within their marriage - announced that they were to separate.

By Rhys Lewis Published: 9 November 2022 - 11.08am
Anwar Hussein/Getty Princess Diana and Prince Charles in Canada in 1991

The breakdown of the marriage of Prince Charles (Dominic West) and Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) occupies much of the first half of The Crown season 5, with the pair separating in episode 4 as the rift between them becomes irreparable.

On December 9, 1992, Prime Minister John Major informed the House of Commons that Prince Charles and Princess Diana, heir to the British throne, and his wife, were to separate.

Reading from a statement prepared by Buckingham Palace, Mr Major told the House that “their Royal Highnesses are not seeking a divorce” and appealed for "a degree of privacy and understanding" for the couple from the tabloid press.

There were, however, murmurs of surprise from MPs when the Prime Minister made the assertion that "there is no reason why the Princess of Wales should not be crowned Queen in due course”.

A strained relationship

Diana and Charles share an awkward kiss in India in 1992 Anwar Hussein/Getty

The couple married amid huge public enthusiasm in July 1981. In spite of the birth of their first son William in 1982, and although the couple were reported to be closest while Diana was pregnant with their second child Harry in 1984, it did not take long for the marriage to break down shortly afterwards.

Their evident discomfort with each other led them to be nicknamed ‘The Glums’ in parts of the media, and at their final public engagement together before the announcement their demeanour was said to be “strained”.

Earlier in 1992, Diana had made a public show of her unhappiness by visiting the Taj Mahal without the Prince and posing on a marble bench for a photo that became world famous (below).

Press revelations in the months prior to the separation – and the release of Andrew Morton’s biography Diana: Her True Story - made it impossible for them to remain together.

After the book was published in June 1992, transcripts of intimate phone conversations between Diana and James Gilbey, and then Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, were leaked by tabloids in August and November respectively.

The Prince courted public understanding in an interview with Jonathan Dimbleby in 1994. Diana was to do the same the following year in her infamous Panorama interview with Martin Bashir.

Charles later admitted to rekindling an affair with an ex-girlfriend, Camilla Parker Bowles (now the Duchess of Cornwall) in 1986. Soon after, Diana began seeing other men, notably Major James Hewitt and James Gilbey.

Tabloid revelations lead to early divorce

Princess Diana sits alone at the Taj Mahal in 1992 Anwar Hussein/Getty

The Prince and Princess said they would continue to carry out some limited public engagements together, though Prince Charles would live at Highgrove and Clarence House while the Princess and her sons remained at Kensington Palace.

In fact, this proved too difficult to maintain after further public revelations concerning the relationship.

The Queen, disturbed at the damage created by the tabloid revelations, wrote to the Prince and Princess in December 1995, asking them to make ‘an early divorce’. The couple were legally divorced in August 1996.