Just over a year after the late royal married Prince Charles in 1981, the first TV movies about the princess starting appearing. Debuting in September 1982, The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana starred Catherine Oxenberg as the Princess of Wales.
The film, which also starred Hollywood legend Olivia de Havilland as the Queen Mother, was the most-watched primetime show of the week when it premiered on CBS, beating out a competing ABC production called Charles and Diana: A Royal Love Story.
Oxenberg happened to be Charles’ cousin, so she actually met Diana before she portrayed her onscreen. “The only thing that the film cost me was return visits to Buckingham Palace,” the actress told Closer in 2019. “My mom was super nervous — she was very worried that it would offend Charles, who’s her second cousin, but he was very gracious. He said, ‘Look, they’re going to make the movie anyway. At least Catherine can bring dignity to the role.'”
The Dynasty alum reprised the role of Diana in 1992’s Charles and Diana: Unhappily Ever After, which aired on ABC just four days after then Prime Minister John Major announced the “amicable separation” of the pair to the House of Commons.
The duo’s divorce was finalized in 1996 and Diana died the following year in a car crash, but the appetite for TV shows and movies about her life has never abated. Netflix’s The Crown, which debuted in 2016, began its action well before the princess entered the scene, yet fans were still eager to see Charles and Diana’s romance play out on the Emmy-winning series.
Finally, in November 2020, Emma Corrin made her Crown debut as Diana in the show’s fourth season. The following year, she won a Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Television Award for her portrayal of the royal.
The actress has said that she thinks of the Netflix version of Diana as “fictional” while she’s acting so that she does’t get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information about her. “When I got the scripts, I could really just work off what was on the page,” she told Variety in June 2021. “It’s sort of a love story. It’s a marriage. It’s two humans navigating extraordinary circumstances by virtue of their position in society. As soon as I narrowed it down to that, I could make any research much more specific.”
Keep scrolling to take a look at the actresses who’ve played Diana over the years: