14 ways Princess Diana broke royal protocol

It's been over 20 years since Princess Diana's tragic car accident in Paris. Millions mourned around the globe. The beloved "people's princess" — who was only 36 at the time of her death — would have turned 57 on July 1 of this year. Despite her brief life, she left an enduring impact on the royal family and the world. Her greatest legacies, of course, are her sons. (And Prince William has already putting family before propriety.)

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14 ways Princess Diana broke royal protocol
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14 ways Princess Diana broke royal protocol

1. She picked her own engagement ring — from a catalog.

Although royal engagement rings are usually custom made, the 19-year-old bride selected hers from the Garrard jewelry collection catalog. Now Duchess Kate Middleton wears the ring, made of 14 solitaire diamonds around a12-carat sapphire set in white gold.

2. She wrote her own vows.

Unlike generations before her, she chose to abandon the royal wedding tradition of saying she would "obey" Prince Charles. Three decades later, William and Kate followed her lead!

3. She was a hands-on mom.

The 20-year-old mom took a completely modern, intimate view of child-rearing from the very beginning. She chose her sons' first names herself and breastfed them as infants. (Charles wanted Arthur for their firstborn, Albert for the second.) And she didn't follow how Queen Elizabeth II handled Prince Charles' early years: When Charles was two, his mother flew to Malta to spend Christmas with his father, leaving him with his grandparents. "Diana and Charles bucked the royal trend of separation by taking nine-month-old William, as well as his nanny, with them on the six-week tour to Australia and New Zealand," royal expert Christopher Warwick said. "William and Harry were very, very fortunate with Diana as a mother because her ideas were so different to the previous generation."

4. She didn't work much.

When she married Prince Charles, Diana gave up working as a nursery school teacher in favor of her royal obligations. But while she maintained her official duties, Diana worked to put parenting before her other commitments. "Inevitably, she left her children with nannies — just as she herself and so many other well-to-do British children have been left — but she tried to arrange her schedule to match the boys'," Katrine Ames wrote in Newsweek in 1997. "In her official calendar, the princess had all the everyday details of her son's utterly uneveryday lives marked in green ink."

5. She sent her boys to school.

At his mother's insistence, William became the first heir to the throne to attend public school — at Jane Mynor's nursery school near Kensington Palace. "The decision to have William, 3, develop his finger-painting skills among commoners showed the influence of Diana, Princess of Wales, who had worked in a nursery school herself when she was just a Lady," George Hackett wrote in Newsweek in 1985.

6. She exposed her kids to a non-royal way of life.

It wasn't just school where she rebelled against the constraints of royal childhood. Diana took the boys to get hamburgers at McDonald's, rode the tube and the bus, and let them wear jeans and baseball caps; they white-water rafted and rode bicycles. At Disney, they stood in line like everyone else.

She also took them to hospitals and homeless shelters. "She very much wanted to get us to see the rawness of real life," William told ABC News' Katie Couric in 2012. "And I can't thank her enough for that, 'cause reality bites in a big way, and it was one of the biggest lessons I learned is, just how lucky and privileged so many of us are — particularly myself."

7. She understood the power of fashion.

No longer "Shy Di"! In 1994, while a documentary about Prince Charles' infidelity was airing, the leggy Princess Diana donned a clingy rushed minidress for a Serpentine Gallery benefit. The next day, she stole the newspaper headlines with her confident look (one which certainly broke the queen's dress code!)

8. She made bold style choices.

For a 1985 appearance in Melbourne, Australia, the fashion icon accented her gown with an emerald-and-diamond choker — but she wore it as a tiara. We're pretty sure that wasn't quite how the Queen, who gave the necklace as a wedding gift, imagined the art deco treasure being displayed.

9. She talked frankly with the press.

In 1995, Diana secretly gave a very revealing interview to the BBC's Martin Bashir. Though her aides claimed she later regretted it, the princess tried to take control of the media and paparazzi frenzy around her life. It was her first solo interview and was watched by more than 21.5 million people in the United Kingdom.

10. She got real about her marriage.

In the BBC interview, she addressed Prince Charles's longtime relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles: "A woman's instinct is a very good one; obviously I had knowledge of it from people who minded and cared about our marriage ... There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded."

The feisty princess also didn't deny her own eventual affair when Bashir asked her if she was unfaithful with James Hewitt: "Yes, I adored him. Yes, I was in love with him. But I was very let down."

But airing the royal dirty laundry just wasn't done: Within a month of the interview, Diana's press secretary had resigned and the Queen sent the couple a letter urging them to divorce.

11. She spoke about mental illness and eating disorders.

Princess Diana also told Bashir about her struggles with bulimia, which she said were a result of the stress she felt keeping her marriage publicly intact. "That's like a secret disease ... You inflict it upon yourself because your self-esteem is at a low ebb, and you don't think you're worthy or valuable ... It's a repetitive pattern which is very destructive to yourself."

Her heart-wrenching honesty is one of the reasons why her sons and daughter-in-law are so passionate about their own work in mental health.

12. She enjoyed the single life.

After her divorce from Prince Charles, Diana refused to disappear. She enjoyed romances with various charming, wealthy men — including Dodi Al Fayed (not pictured). She and Prince William vacationed with him in Saint-Tropez in the summer of 1997, shortly before Diana and Dodi were killed in a car crash in Paris on August 31.

13. She refused formality.

When Diana spoke with children, she always crouched to see them at eye-level. It's become a signature move of her daughter-in-law. "Diana was the first member of the royal family to do this," said Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty magazine. "The royal family used to say that everyone had to be deferential to them. But Diana said, 'If someone might be nervous of you or you're speaking to a very young child or a sick person, get yourself on their level.'"

14. She wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty.

What Diana might be best remembered for is her compassion. (It's definitely been passed on to her sons!) Like every royal, Diana supported various charities, but none took it so far. She famously walked across a partially cleared minefield in Angola to spread awareness of land mines. She shook hands with an HIV positive patient and visited Brazilian AIDS orphans in April 1987, when the disease was very misunderstood and stigmatized. "HIV does not make people dangerous to know," the princess said, "so you can shake their hands and give them a hug: Heaven knows they need it."

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"I don't go by a rule book, because I lead from the heart, not the head, and albeit that's got me into trouble in my work, I understand that," she said in 1995. "But someone's got to go out there and love people and show it." Here, we celebrate the rebellious royal for all the ways she flouted tradition.

RELATED: Princess Diana's life in pictures 

73 PHOTOS
Princess Diana's life in photos
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Princess Diana's life in photos
UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 01: An informal study of Prince CHARLES, the Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana SPENCER, whose wedding will take place at Saint-Paul's Cathedral, London on 29th July 1981. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
Princess Diana wearing a tiara and diamond necklace on an official visit to Australia, April 12th 1983. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
LONDON - JULY 29: (FILE PHOTO) Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales leave St. Paul's Cathedral following their wedding July 29, 1981 in London, England. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
LONDON - JULY 29: Diana, Princess of Wales and Prince Charles ride in a carriage after their wedding at St. Paul's Cathedral July 29, 1981 in London, England. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/WireImage)
Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales (1961 - 1997) pose together during their honeymoon in Balmoral, Scotland, 19th August 1981. (Photo by Serge Lemoine/Getty Images)
Princess Diana wearing a Jasper Conran suit during a visit to a community centre in Brixton, October 1983. (Photo by Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE: Britain's Princess Diana arrived in Paris Friday, 13 November, 1992, on a private three day visit she is making without her husband, Prince Charles. (Photo credit should read JOEL ROBINE/AFP/Getty Images)
HONG KONG, HONG KONG: Britain's Princess Diana stands with tennis players Michael Chang of the US (L) and Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman during the awards ceremony at the Hong Kong Open 23 April. Princess Diana, on a private visit to Hong Kong, watched as Chang defeated Bjorkman 6-3, 6-1 to win the tournament. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
The Princess of Wales visits Chinatown in Liverpool, April 1982. She is pregnant with Prince William, and wearing a pink wool maternity coat by Bellville Sassoon and a hat by John Boyd. (Photo by Jayne Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images)
WINDSOR, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 06: Princess Diana At Polo, Just Two Weeks Before The Birth Of Her First Child, Prince William. Wearing A Maternity Dress Designed By Fashion Designer Catherine Walker She Is Walking With Sarah Ferguson. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
LONDON - JUNE 22: New born Prince William with Diana, Princess of Wales and Prince Charles leave St. Mary's hospital on June 22, 1982 in Paddington, London, England,. He was born in the Lindo Wing of the hospital on June 21. (Photo by David Levenson/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 01: Princess Diana Holding Her Baby Son, Prince William, At Kensington Palace. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
NEW ZEALAND - APRIL 18: Princess Diana And Prince William In New Zealand. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
(FILES) This picture taken 17 June 1997 shows Diana, Princess of Wales, a key volunteer of the British Red Cross Landmine Campaign at Red Cross headquarters in Washington DC. Princess Diana may have survived her fatal Paris car crash in 1997 if French medical staff had not wasted precious time, a leading British surgeon indicated at her inquest 19 November 2007. AFP PHOTO/FILES/Jamal (Photo credit should read JAMAL A. WILSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The Prince and Princess of Wales visit Barmouth in Wales, November 1982. She wears a suede beret by John Boyd and a coatdress by Arabella Pollen. (Photo by Terry Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images)
The Princess of Wales visits University College Hospital in London, December 1982. She wears a John Boyd hat and a velvet suit by Caroline Charles. (Photo by Jayne Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 01: Princess Diana And Prince Charles With Prince William And His Koala Bear Toy At Kensington Palace (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
Princess Diana (1961 - 1997) at the School of the Air, in Alice Springs, Australia, 30th March 1983. She is wearing a dress by Jan van Velden. (Photo by Jayne Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images)
AYERS ROCK, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 21: Prince Charles, The Prince Of Wales And Diana, Princess Of Wales Standing In Front Of Ayers Rock During Their Official Tour Of Australia (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
NEW ZEALAND - APRIL 18: Princess Diana During A Visit To New Zealand Wearing A Dress Designed By Fashion Designer Donald Campbell (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
MANUKAU - APRIL 19: Diana Princess of Wales meets firemen during a visit to Manukau, near Auckland, New Zealand during the Royal Tour of New Zealand on April 19, 1983. Princess Diana wore a suit designed by Jan Van Velden, with a hat by John Boyd. (Photo by David Levenson/Getty Images)
CANADA - JUNE 23: Princess Diana in Edmonton during an official visit of Canada (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
Princess Diana (1961 - 1997) leaving St Mary's Hospital, London with her new-born son Prince Harry, September 1984. She is wearing a red coat by Jan van Velden. (Photo by Terry Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images)
VENICE, ITALY - MAY 5: (FILE PHOTO) (L-R) Diana the Princess of Wales holds her son Harry, whilst looking at Prince William held by his father Prince Charles on May 5, 1985 in Venice, Italy. Prince William will celebrate his 21st birthday on June 21, 2003. (Photo by Georges de Keerle/Getty Images) 
LA SPEZIA, ITALY - APRIL 20: The Prince and Princess of Wales in La Spezia during a tour of Italy. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
TWERTON ON AVON - MAY 31: Diana Princess of Wales meets girl guides outside the Poolemead centre for the Deaf on May 31, 1985 in Twerton on Avon, Bath, Avon. (Photo by David Levenson/Getty Images)
CANADA - JULY 01: Diana Princess of Wales celebrates her birthday in Canada (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
Princess Diana (1961 - 1997) inspects a guard of honour during a two-day visit to the 1st Battalion, the Royal Hampshire Regiment in Berlin, October 1985. She is wearing a pink and black suit by Victor Edelstein and a hat by Frederick Fox. (Photo by Lucy Levenson/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 04: Diana, Princess of Wales with her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, at the piano in Kensington Palace (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
KLOSTERS, SWITZERLAND - FEBRUARY 06: Prince Charles With Princess Diana On A Ski-ing Holiday Together. The Princess Is Wearing A Red 'head' Ski Suit And A Headband And She Is Holding A Pair Of 'dynamic' Skis. The Prince Is Wearing A Blue Ski Suit And Carrying A Pair Of 'k2' Skis. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
VIENNA - APRIL 16: Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a sapphire diamond and pearl necklace, attends a banquet on April 16, 1986 in Vienna, Austria (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
TETBURY, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 18: Princess Diana Carries Prince Henry (harry) On Her Shoulders At Highgrove. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 22: PRINCESS DIANA ON BOARD HMS TRAFALGAR NUCLEAR SUBMARINE MEETING THE CREW DURING A VISIT TO THE NAVAL SUBMARINE BASE IN FASLANE IN THE FIRTH OF CLYDE, SCOTLAND (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
SANDHURST - APRIL 10: Diana, Princess of Wales wears a Catherine Walker white suit with drum majorette gold frogging and epaulettes and a graham smith hat for her visit to the Sandhurst Military Academy on April 10, 1987 in Sandhurst, England (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
Princess Diana and Prince Charles of Wales attending a Lionel Richie concert at Wembley Arena, London, November 7th 1987. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)
The Prince And Princess Of Wales At A Prizegiving, At Polo, Smiths Lawn, Windsor. (Photo by Julian Parker/UK Press via Getty Images)
Diana, The Princess Of Wales, And Prince William, At A Polo Match, Smiths Lawn, Windsor. (Photo by Julian Parker/UK Press via Getty Images)
ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 14: Princess Diana With Her Sons Prince William And Prince Harry At Aberdeen Airport. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
MAJORCA, SPAIN - AUGUST 10: Diana, Princess of Wales with Prince Harry on holiday in Majorca, Spain on August 10, 1987. (Photo by Georges De Keerle/Getty Images)
Princess Diana (1961 - 1997) driving an armoured vehicle with the Royal Hampshire Regiment at Tidworth, Hampshire, 23rd June 1988. (Photo by Jayne Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images)
CHAMBORD, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 09: Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a white and blue lace and sequin evening coat-dress designed by Catherine Walker for a dinner at the Chateau de Chambord during her official visit to France. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
The Princess of Wales at the museum in Kuwait City, March 1989. She is wearing a gold embroidered bedouin gown that was presented to her with a silver tea set to mark the occasion of her visit. (Photo by Jayne Fincher/Getty Images)
The Princess of Wales with her sons William and Harry on the chair lift during a skiing holiday in Lech, Austria, April 1991. (Photo by Jayne Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 7 Diana, Princess of Wales attends the Premiere of Dangerous Liaisons, in London's West End, on March 7, 1989 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Julian Parker/UK Press via Getty Images)
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - MARCH 15: The Prince And Princess Of Wales attend a desert picnic on March 15, 1989 in Adu Dhab, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Georges De Keerle/Getty Images)
BATH - MAY 30: (FILE PHOTO) Prince William, Diana, Princess of Wales, Prince Harry and Charles, Prince of Wales, attend the wedding of the Duke of Hussey's daughter in May, 1989 in Bath, England. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 11: Princess Diana With Her Sons Prince William And Prince Harry Standing On The Steps Of Wetherby School On The First Day For Prince Harry. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
INDONESIA - NOVEMBER 05: The Princess Of Wales Playing Bowls At Sitanalia Leprosy Hospital In Indonesia (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
NIGERIA - JUNE 3: (FILE PHOTO) (PRINCESS DIANA RETROSPECTIVE 17 OF 22) The Princess of Wales speaks with Nigerians circa 1990 during a visit to Nigeria. Princess Diana, 36-years-old, died with her companion Dodi Fayed, 41-years-old, in a car crash August 31, 1997 in Paris, France. Fayed was the son of an Egyptian billionaire. (Photo by Georges De Keerle/Getty Images)
The Princess of Wales and the Queen Mother in an open-topped landau on their way to the Royal Ascot race meeting, June 1990. The Princess wears a Catherine Walker suit and a Philip Somerville hat. (Photo by Jayne Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images)
The Princess of Wales walks amongst crowds of children waving flags during her visit to Cullompton in Devon, September 1990. She is wearing a Catherine Walker dress. (Photo by Terry Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 05: Princess Diana With Mrs Barbara Bush At The White House (Photo by TIM GRAHAM/Getty Images)
Diana, The Princess Of Wales Takes Her Sons, Prince'S William, And Harry Out On The Boat ' Maid Of The Mist ' To View Niagara Falls. (Photo by Julian Parker/UK Press via Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 18: Diana Princess of Wales attends the Premiere of Hot Shots, in London's West End, on November 18, 1991 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Julian Parker/UK Press via Getty Images)
The Princess of Wales (1961 - 1997) talks to children at the British school in Seoul during a visit to Korea, 1992. (Photo by Linda Grove/Getty Images)
INDIA - FEBRUARY 11: Diana Princess of Wales sits in front of the Taj Mahal during a visit to India (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
CALCUTTA;INDIA - FEBRUARY: Princess Diana the Princess of Wales holds hands with a nun at Mother Teresa's Hospice in Calcutta during her visit to India in February of 1992. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
GIZA, EGYPT - MAY 12: Diana Princess of Wales visiting the Pyramids in Giza during an official tour of Egypt. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
EGYPT - MAY 13: Diana, Princess of Wales in teh Alazhar Mosque, Cairo, Egypt (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 13: Diana, Princess of Wales, Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, and Prince Harry, attend the Trooping The Colour Ceremony on June 13, 1992 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Julian Parker/UK Press via Getty Images)
Princess Diana (1961 - 1997) on a skiing holiday in Lech, Austria, March 1993. (Photo by Jayne Fincher/Getty Images)
Princess Diana (1961 - 1997) meets local people during a field visit to Red Cross projects in the remote mountain villages of Nepal, 3rd March 1993. (Photo by Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images)
Diana Princess Of Wales, Prince William & Prince Harry Visit The 'Thorpe Park' Amusement Park. (Photo by Julian Parker/UK Press via Getty Images)
Princess Diana (1961 - 1997) during a visit to the Red Cross borehole project for refugees in Zimbabwe, July 1993. She is wearing a safari suit by Catherine Walker. (Photo by Jayne Fincher/Getty Images)
Princess Diana (1961 - 1997), Prince Harry, Prince William and Prince Charles at a parade in the Mall, London, during V.J. Day commemorations, August 1994. Diana is wearing a Tomasz Starzewski suit and a hat by Philip Somerville. (Photo by Terry Fincher/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 20: Princess Diana Reviewing The Troops Of The Princess Of Wales Regiment In Kent. The Princess Is Wearing A Pink Suit Designed By Versace. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
Diana, Princess Of Wales Attends The Serpentine Gallery Summer Party. (Photo by Julian Parker/UK Press via Getty Images)
LONDON -OCTOBER 08: Diana, Princess of Wales laughs as she visits the London Lighthouse, the HIV/Aids charity, to help launch it's £1.5 million Capital Appeal on October 08, 1996 in London, England . (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
Diana, Princess of Wales at Costume Institute Gala at Metropolitan Museum of Art for a benefit ball. (Photo By: Richard Corkery/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
ANGOLA - JANUARY 15: Diana, Princess of Wales wearing protective body armour, visits a minefield being cleared by the chirty Halo in Huambo, Angola (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
WINDSOR, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 09: Official Portrait Of The Royal Family On The Day Of Prince William's Confirmation. Front Left To Right - Prince William, Princess Diana, Prince William, Prince Charles And The Queen. Back Left To Right - King Constantine, Lady Susan Hussey, Princess Alexandra, Duchess Of Westminster And Lord Romsey (Photo by Tim Graham Picture Library/Getty Images)
GREAT BRITAIN - JUNE 06: Diana, Princess of Wales crouching down to embrace a pupil at the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
Diana, The Princess Of Wales Visits Washington, Usa.Gala Dinner Held By The American Red Cross, To Raise Funds For Landmine Victims Around The World. . (Photo by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)
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