At the age of 21, royal nanny Mary Clarke joined the Spencer household soon after Earl Spencer's divorce in order to care for 9 year old Diana, 6 year old Charles and their sisters Jane, 13, and Sarah, 15. On arrival, she was told by the household staff that Diana was a bit of a handful, having already dispatched a couple of predecessors with her pranks, locking one nanny in the bathroom and throwing an au pair's underwear onto a roof. Mary recalls her first meeting with Earl Spencer at Park House: "He said that Diana had been confused since her parents' marriage had ended. She fluctuated between being bright and happy, and being quite and moody."
Mary settled in at Park House. Her bedroom was next to Diana's on the second floor. "Next to my bedroom was Diana's, a good-sized room full of stuffed animals, games, and books. Animal pictures adorned the walls, and family photographs stood in frames on her bedside table and on a shelf, including pictures of Diana with her beloved guinea pig," she said.
Among her other responsibilities, Mary insured that the children look after their rooms. "Diana needed no supervision. She was always so clean, neat, and tidy, a practical person who proved to be a great help to me about the home. Jane, like Diana, was neat and tidy, but their sister Sarah's room always looked as if a bomb had hit only minutes after she went into it. I helped Charles with his room, but he had been taught to put things away as he finished with them, so little work was involved," she said.
Even though little Diana needed no supervision inside, Mary's hardest task was to insure that the naughty girl follow house rules. "Diana loved to be outside regardless of the time of year or the weather, and I often had to search for her as darkness fell to suggest that some time should be spent indoors. Like so many children, however much time I gave her, she would always want 'just a few more minutes'," she said.
Diana's favorite hobbies that grew with her were swimming, reading, dancing and looking after pets at the house grounds. "Diana joined me and Charles to read bedtime stories, but her powers of concentration did not equal those of her brother. She was much happier doing things rather than sitting still for any length of time. Her favorite bedtime story was the Never-Never Land of Peter Pan," said Mary. She also love to dance, Diana said: "My love of my life is dancing, things like tap, modern, ballet and jazz. Also I love singing, even though my voice sounds awful and watching me dance is like watching an elephant, so no-one does!".
In 1976, Earl Spencer introduced Raine, Countess of Dartmouth, to his children prior to their marriage. The atmosphere that surrounded the dinning room at Park House was less than peaceful. Mary recalls their first family lunch with her: "Raine tried manfully to make conversation, but the children, though polite, gave terse, monosyllabic replies. Then Sarah belched loudly. She justified it by saying it was a mark of appreciation in Arab countries. Her father was not amused and she was dispatched from the table. Diana followed, claiming she felt unwell."
Even after her departure from the household, Mary and Diana remain very close. Diana used to contact Mary for advice and guidance after her engagement to the Prince of Wales in 1981 and throughout her troubled married life. "When she wrote to me to tell me she was marrying Prince Charles, I wrote back, advising her that she would never again be a private person; that she was taking on a whole new way of life. But I also said at least you're marrying the one person from whom you'll never be divorced.
In the early years, Diana used to share her ideas of family life and marriage with her nanny. "She said I will never marry unless I'm really in love, because if you're not in love, you're going to get divorced and I never intend to be divorced. But, of course, Charles ruined her completely. If he'd tried to boost her confidence instead of demeaning her, if he had encouraged her instead of resenting her popularity, then as she matured; they would have made a wonderful partnership," Mary said.
Calling him "a weak and spoilt man who always gets his own way", Mary said that "Charles refused to work at his marriage because his mistress, the then Camilla Parker Bowles, offered a convenient fallback. Whether Charles suspended his affair with Camilla for a while or not is immaterial. His emotional attachment to her persisted, and that was as threatening to Diana as any physical relationship."
Little Girl Lost: The Troubled Childhood Of Princess Diana By The Woman Who Raised Her. By Mary Clarke. Publication Year: 1996
Younger Brother Charles And Eldest Sister Sarah, Whom Diana Idolized And Planned Funny Tricks Against The Household Staff
A letter From Diana To Her Nanny Describing How She Felt About Finishing School: "I Hated It Except For The Skiing", Written In 21 December 1978