How did Prince Charles first meet Lady Diana Spencer? Truth behind The Crown courtship

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The fourth season of The Crown is dominated by the relationship between Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer.

As the fictionalised Netflix drama's fourth run opens, Charles (Josh O'Connor) is still pining for his now-married lover Camilla Parker Bowles (Emerald Fennell).

Despite this he is seen to be dating a popular romantic choice of his family's, Lady Sarah Spencer (Isobel Eadie), and visiting her at her family home.

In the first episode, while he visits Sarah, he meets her younger sister dressed in fancy dress for a school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream: Diana.

Charles is charmed by her and following the heartbreaking loss of his mentor and great-uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten ( Charles Dance ), he bumps into her at a horse-jumping event and she expresses her condolences and concern for him.

Prince Charles (Josh O'Connor_) meets a theatrical-looking Lady Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin) for the first time
(Image: Des Willie/Netflix)

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Later, after pondering on what his uncle wanted for him, he decides to contact ex Sarah for Diana's contact details.

The first episode ends with Charles arriving at Diana's family home and she waits for him to arrive and they begin their romance.

However, did the couple meet in this manner in real life?

Diana (Corrin) offers Charles (O'Connor) her condolences after the loss of Lord Mountbatten in The Crown
(Image: Des Willie/Netflix)

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In truth, Charles did first meet Diana when visiting the Spencer family home of Althorp in 1977.

She was 16-years-old when they first met and had rather different first impressions of each other.

Charles told The Telegraph in 1981: "I remember thinking what a very jolly and amusing and attractive 16-year-old she was.

"I mean, great fun, and bouncy and full of life and everything."

Prince Charles sitting next to Lady Sarah Spencer at a polo match
(Image: Tim Graham Photo Library)

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Meanwhile, Diana later revealed her initial impression of the Prince in Andrew Morton's book Diana: Her True Story, saying, "God what a sad man."

Despite this meaningful first meeting, their romance would not begin until two years later after Charles' romance with Sarah ended and he had moved on to other potential loves.

After the death of Lord Mountbatten in 1979 when he was assassinated by the IRA, Charles had proposed to his great-uncle's granddaughter Amanda Knatchbull, who went on to turn him down.

In 1980, Charles visited the home of Philip De Pass in Sussex, where he met Diana once again.

The real Lady Diana Spencer in September 1980
(Image: Getty Images)

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Speaking in Andrew Morton's book, Diana described: "He’d just broken up with his girlfriend and his friend Mountbatten had just been killed. I said it would be nice to see him.

"We were talking about Mountbatten and his girlfriend and I said, ‘You must be so lonely.’ I said, ‘It’s pathetic watching you walking up the aisle with Mountbatten’s coffin in front, ghastly, you need someone beside you.’

"Whereupon he leapt upon me and started kissing me and I thought, urgh, this is not what people do. And he was all over me for the rest of the evening, following me around like a puppy."

Charles and Diana strike up a romance after the death of Lord Mountbatten in The Crown
(Image: Des Willie/Netflix)

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Much of their courtship is reported to have taken place over the phone, with the pair only meeting in person 13 times before he proposed to her, according to Diana's personal tapes heard in the documentary film Diana: In Her Own Words.

They had met up for a weekend in Sandringham and, as depicted in the series, Diana would go on to visit the Royal Family at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

The Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer pictured in 1981
(Image: PA)

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According to The Daily Record, former royal butler Grant Harrold said of the 'test' of this visit: "If she invites you to Balmoral, then you are being invited to spend time with the Royal Family in a personal setting.

"You are going to be dining with the Queen – lunch, dinner, perhaps a picnic or even a barbecue."

Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer at Balmoral in May 1981
(Image: Popperfoto/Getty Images)

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He described such a visit as a test for whoever is visiting the family there.

However, it seems that Diana did indeed pass with flying colours.

"You are going to want to dress the part, speak the part and behave the part," explained Harrold.

"For Princess Diana, that was easy. She came from a similar background but that’s not true of all the guests who are invited to Balmoral."

In the series, Diana (Emma Corrin) passes 'The Balmoral Test', here with Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies)
(Image: Sophie Mutevelian/Netflix)

So, with family seal of approval and media pressure for him to settle down, the stage was set for Charles to propose to Diana.

Diana was head over heels for Charles, saying in tapes: "I was brought up in sense that when you got engaged to someone you loved them."

However, it would later seem to be that this may not be the case from Charles, who many remember infamously answering a question on whether they were in love upon their engagement with: "Whatever 'in love' means."

(Image: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

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In ITV's new documentary The Diana Interview: Revenge Of A Princess, Diana's friend and astrologer Penny Thornton claimed: "One of the most shocking things that Diana told me was that the night before the wedding Charles told her that he didn't love her…

"I think Charles didn't want to go into the wedding on a false premise. He wanted to square it with her and it was devastating for Diana.

"She didn't want to go through with the wedding at that point, she thought about not attending the wedding."

Yet, they did indeed marry in 1981, but it clearly was not the fairytale the public – and perhaps also Diana – had been sold.

The Crown season 4 is available now on Netflix.

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