Later, when Charles mentions to Sarah that he saw her kid sister, Sarah rolls her eyes. “She was obsessed with the idea of meeting you.”
While Charles and Diana’s first meeting did take place at the Spencer family home Althorp in 1977, while Charles was dating Sarah, the circumstances were slightly different. There was no talk of A Midsommer’s Night Dream, for starters. The two met, instead, “in a plowed field” outside the stately home. (Charles—who was 29 compared to Diana’s 16—had been invited to the home for a shooting party.)
Four years later, when Charles and Diana gave their engagement interview, they were asked about their first meeting at Althorp. And the interview—which makes for awkward viewing, especially after seeing the fourth season of The Crown—makes it clear that Charles and Diana walked away with wildly different impressions.
“I remember thinking what a very jolly and amusing and attractive 16-year-old she was,” recalled Charles, somewhat flatly. “I mean, great fun, and bouncy and full of life and everything.”
Diana, meanwhile, gushed that she thought the prince was “pretty amazing.”
The meeting seemed to have made more of an impression on Diana. Years later, Diana would recall additional details about her first encounter with Charles—like how the prince turned to her, not Sarah, for a tour of the Althorp photo gallery, according to Tina Brown’s biography The Diana Chronicles. (Sarah reportedly reacted by telling Diana to get lost. Brown also notes that Diana was so thrilled by the meeting that she excitedly told her piano teacher, “I’ve met him. . I’ve met him at last!”)
As such, when Diana found herself with Charles again, following a polo match near Cowdray Park, she intuited that the prince might benefit from tenderness.
“You looked so sad when you walked up the aisle at Mountbatten’s funeral,” Diana told Charles, according to Brown’s biography—a statement Peter Morgan lifts for The Crown. “It was the most tragic thing I’ve ever seen. My heart bled for you when I watched. I thought, you’re so lonely—you should be with somebody to look after you.”
Per Brown, “The youngest Spencer girl may have had an academic transcript the size of an index card, but her emotional radar was at full power. . .She had rightly sensed that the way to puncture the royal reserve of the heir to the throne was to appeal to his deep reservoirs of sympathy for himself.”
According to Sally Bedell Smith, who wrote the Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life, “Charles was touched at Diana’s observation that he was lonely and needed some care.”
Just seven months later—after some nudging by the Queen Mother, who recognized in Diana the kind of “sweetness and modesty and willingness to fit in [that] made her an ideal personality for the role of Princess of Wales”—Charles proposed to Diana.
Diana’s brother Charles recalled to Brown that he never saw his sister more thrilled than in the hours following the proposal. “She looked as happy as I have ever seen her look,” Charles said. “It was genuine because nobody with insincere motives could look that happy. It wasn’t the look of someone who hit the jackpot but of somebody who looked spiritually fulfilled as well.”