Perhaps more than any other part of her appearance, Diana’s hair defined her. In early photographs, she always kept her head down, as though that silky, strawberry blonde curtain might act as a visor against the sudden media glare.
It gave her an air of vulnerability and uncertainty that earned her the moniker ‘Shy Di’. Sweet and girlish, it set her apart from all the confident, worldly-wise women Prince Charles had previously dated, such as Sabrina Guinness and Lady Jane Wellesley (who, when asked if an engagement was on the cards, famously snapped: ‘Do you honestly believe I want to be Queen?’).
Diana’s hair projected the exact image the Royal Family were after: that of a young bride-to-be who was not only untarnished, but also charmingly unselfconscious.
At the same time, however, the cut was rather modern and, crucially, short — which, for a future Princess, was unconventional.
With hindsight, perhaps that ought to have been a warning that beneath her gentle exterior beat the heart of a rebel, someone who knew her own mind — even if she did not yet have the confidence to show it.
It also made her easy to relate to. It was the kind of haircut thousands of young girls had, from myself — about to start starting for my O-levels — to The Nolans, Sheena Easton, Kiki Dee and the many fans who bopped around to them on Top Of The Pops.
One of the first hairdressers responsible for her early look was stylist Richard Dalton, who encountered Diana at Fenwick of Bond Street’s in-store salon. It was here that well-bred young ladies had their hair cut, including Diana’s older sisters Sarah and Jane.
‘I met her when she was 17,’ he tells me from Southern California, where he now lives. ‘I used to cut her sisters’ hair, so when Diana came in too I asked Kevin [Shanley] to do it.’
So it was actually Shanley who gave her that first iconic flicked and feathered cut, and who later styled her hair for the wedding.
The ‘Diana’ was popular at the time and scores of women copied it. Magazines even printed diagrams and encouraged readers to ‘clip our sketch to show your hairdresser’.
Shanley and Dalton later fell out — supposedly over how she should wear her hair for the State Opening of Parliament — after which Dalton says he became Diana’s principal stylist. ‘I was with her every day for 12 years.’ He adds: ‘I don’t do gossip, but I do know she was really in love with Charles. I always felt she had to be protected, not exposed.
‘Let me tell you, the inner circle of power, it’s not attractive. Diana wasn’t prepared to put up with that. She always used to say to me: “I’ll show this family.”
‘She wanted and deserved a proper family life. I used to buy her white chocolate and Opal Fruits to cheer her up. She loved them. “I’m not sharing!” she would say.’
Until 1991, when he moved to America permanently, Dalton used to cut the boys’ hair too.
Richard Dalton became Diana’s principal stylist after a row with Kevin Shanley and worked with Diana for 12 years, also cutting William and Harry’s hair.
After Richard Dalton came Sam McKnight, an altogether different sort of snipper for an altogether different Diana. He first styled her hair in 1990, above right. The Princess is pictured left, at a gala dinner in New York during 1989
‘William would get terribly excited because they’d put a chair on top of the coffee table at Kensington Palace so I could cut his hair and they would get to watch extra telly.
‘Harry was just like his mother — always the one for fun,’ he says, recalling how he used to climb all over the luggage racks on the train to Sandringham, in Norfolk.
‘ “Get him down!” the nanny used to shout at me, and I’d say: “I can’t!” ’
In those days, Diana was reluctantly learning to live with the intense public scrutiny of her every move. When she wanted a shorter, lighter haircut for a trip to Africa, Dalton made the change in increments, a quarter of an inch at a time over several weeks, so no one would notice.
A VOGUE MAKEOVER
After Dalton came Sam McKnight, an altogether different sort of snipper for an altogether different Diana.
He first met the Princess and styled her hair in 1990, at a studio in East London.
At the time, McKnight was working in New York, but had flown to London to join Vogue’s top team, stylist Anna Harvey, make-up artist Mary Greenwell and photographer Patrick Demarchelier, on a shoot of various It-girls, including Victoria Lockwood, first wife of Diana’s brother Charles, and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, Princess Margaret’s daughter.
Bold, fresh look: Throughout the period of her divorce, McKnight experimented with the cut while Daniel Galvin looked after her colour. She is seen with wet hair, left, during a concert at Hyde Park in 1991
With her new freedom, Diana dispensed with a full-time hairdresser and styled her own hair, sending for the professionals only when she had an engagement that required her to look super-groomed. She is seen in Nepal during 1993, left, and at the Royal College of Nursing in London in 1994
‘We were told we had one more to do,’ he says, but they had no idea who it was. ‘Then Diana just came bounding up the stairs.
‘My first impression of her was as this burst of energy, these long limbs — and the most beautiful smile.
‘Her hair was quite long at the time and after we had chatted for a while she asked: “What would you do if I gave you free rein?” I immediately said: “Cut it off.” ’ And so they did, there and then. He put a plastic bag over her shoulders and chopped it all off. The result was a bold, fresh look for a woman who was, as McKnight says, ‘obviously ready for a change’.
In more ways than one. This was almost ten years after her marriage. Two years later, Andrew Morton’s book was to expose her unhappy marriage to Prince Charles and, by December 1992, they had separated. Diana was beginning the long process of detaching herself from her life as a royal.
‘Hair is an important part of a woman’s psychological make-up,’ says McKnight and, like all women facing great change, Diana’s hair was a big part of creating a new image to match her new identity. McKnight soon became an integral part of this process, becoming her main stylist until her death.
Throughout this period, he experimented with the cut while Daniel Galvin looked after her colour.
Diana’s succession of short, sharp crops and slicked-back styles suited the aesthetic of the times. Left she is seen during a 1995 visit to New York while she attends a charity ball in Sydney in 1996, right
McKnight last saw Diana a few weeks before her death and described her lovely, thick, luxuriant hair that she was very good at looking. The princess arrives at the Royal Albert Hall for a performance of Swan Lake in June 1997
It’s a measure of her new-found confidence that at this point, astonishingly, she dispensed with a full-time hairdresser and styled her own hair, sending for the professionals only when she had an engagement that required her to look super-groomed.
It was the minimalist Nineties, and Diana’s succession of short, sharp crops and slicked-back styles suited the aesthetic of the times. ‘I was working with supermodels Linda [Evangelista] and Eva [Herzigova],’ says McKnight. ‘And Diana was built in that mould, too — Amazonian, beautiful, but also powerful, with a fit, lithe body.
‘I used to say to her: “You look great coming out of the gym; natural, glowing” but she’d say: “Sam, people don’t want to see me in trainers, they want to see Princess Diana.”
‘She had an acute sense of what was expected of her in that respect.’
McKnight last saw her a few weeks before her death.
‘She had lovely, thick, luxuriant hair, and she was very good at looking after it herself,’ he says. ‘She had just come back from the landmines trip, where she’d had no hair stylist or make-up at all, and I thought she looked great; so confident, quite radiant.’
And that is the tragedy of Diana. Not only the fact that she died so young, but that she was in her absolute prime, a woman who had turned all the negativity of her unhappy marriage into something positive.
In the final pictures taken of her, as she exits the Ritz hotel in Paris, we see a confident, smiling woman in a chic linen suit, her sleek blonde hair, lightened by the Saint Tropez sun, held back with sunglasses. Fabulous until the very last.
Haven’t we seen that somewhere before?
When it came to starting trends, Diana could have taught today’s Instagram wannabes a thing or two.
Her hair in particular inspired a nation of females, who soon also wore theirs short with a side parting and a big, flicked fringe. It was the perfect style for the busy career woman because it required little maintenance and looked great with sharp suits and shoulder-pads, which were very much de rigueur.
And it flattered most face shapes, hair types and personalties, from the blonde ambition of uber-publisher Tina Brown, to the glamour of newsreader Selina Scott and the everywoman image of television presenter Anne Diamond.
Here’s why she rarely wore her hair up…
Diana may have been a Princess, but her cropped hair was not typically princessy.
In this respect, as in many others, she was the opposite of a traditionalist.
While even modern-day royals tend to favour long, classical locks, Diana always wore hers short.
In fact, the shorter her hair, the happier she seemed to be. The only time it ever came close to grazing her shoulders was when she was in the grip of her demons.
Diana rarely wore her hair up because it just wasn’t ever really long enough. She also had a somewhat unruly hairline with flyaway strands that would require vast amounts of hairspray, which wasn’t her thing
The thinner she became, the bigger her hair seemed to get, until it threatened to overwhelm her features.
No, Diana with short hair was a happy Diana, all dynamic and sporty and in control.
She rarely wore it up because it just wasn’t ever really long enough. That, and the fact she had a low, somewhat unruly hairline.
Her hair was thick and yet at the same time quite flyaway, so wearing her hair up required vast amounts of hairspray and frequent touch-ups, neither of which were her thing.
Besides, overall she simply felt that the style was rather unflattering.
High-maintenance styles: Diana found fancy up-dos and hair pieces a bore and the length of her hair was often an indicator of how happy she was, with the shorter the better
Diana thought it emphasised her nose which, although by no means a bad nose — in fact, it had a pleasing Greco-Roman quality to it — she used to say was a bit ‘knobbly’.
Nowadays, of course, what with ceramic straighteners, Frizz Ease and myriad lotions and potions available to stylists, it would have been a breeze keeping those tresses under control.
And this might have saved her from the occasional, somewhat disastrous attempts to compensate — for example with the Sloane hairbands and, even worse, the chokers worn as tiaras, which only ended up making her look like she was at a fancy-dress party.