Princess Diana: 10 TV portrayals and storylines about the People's Princess

Victoria Leigh Miller

It’s impossible to believe, but Aug. 31 marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana. The beloved People’s Princess captivated the world during her short lifetime, and two decades later, documentaries and specials commemorating the anniversary of her death dominate the small screen. And there’s more to come: Casting is underway for the perfect Princess Dianas for Netflix’s The Crown and Ryan Murphy’s Feud Season 2.

While there’s currently an influx of Diana-related TV material due to the anniversary of her death, Princess Diana portrayals are nothing new. Well before her death and in the years after, the popular princess made unwitting cameos on TV movies, late-night shows, and even animated comedies.

Click through this slideshow to see 10 past Princess Di references and portrayals on TV.

Catherine Oxenberg in ‘The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana’ (CBS, 1982) and ‘Charles and Diana: Unhappily Ever After’ (ABC, 1992)

A distant cousin of the British royal family, Catherine Oxenberg was a natural to play the Princess of Wales in CBS’s 1982 made-for-TV movie about Diana’s courtship and marriage to Prince Charles. But a decade later, Oxenberg took on a less happy role for an ABC movie as the royal couple’s fairy-tale marriage crumbled.

(Photo: Everett Collection)

Caroline Bliss in ‘Charles and Diana: A Royal Love Story’ (ABC, 1982)

It was 1982 and Diana fandom was at its height. English actress Caroline Bliss played the newlywed princess in a second TV movie about the royal couple’s fairy-tale July 1981 wedding.

(Photo: Alamy)

Madonna in ‘Saturday Night Live’ (NBC, 1985)

Princess Diana has been portrayed several times on NBC’s long-running late-night sketch comedy series, with everyone from Christine Ebersole to Jan Hooks to (unfortunately) Anthony Edwards doing Diana duty. (In Lady Di’s defense, Edwards looked nothing like her!) But nothing topped MTV’s then-pop princess, Madonna, channeling Diana in the November 1985 sketch “Nancy Reagan Meets Charles and Di.”

(Photo: Getty Images)

‘Night Court’ (NBC, 1988)

NBC’s long-running courtroom comedy featured Christine Sullivan (Markie Post), a public defender who was obsessed with Di. (Nothing says “obsessed” more than a set of porcelain princess thimbles!) In the 1988 episode “Chrizzi’s Honor,” Christine invited the entire staff to attend her party to celebrate Charles and Diana’s sixth wedding anniversary.

(Photo: Everett Collection)

Serena Scott Thomas in ‘Diana: Her True Story’ (NBC, 1993)

This NBC docudrama was based on Andrew Morton’s bestselling book about the volatile marriage between Charles and Diana. Serena Scott Thomas played Diana in this version of the story and then, ironically, went on to play Kate Middleton’s mom, Carole, in Lifetime’s 2011 movie William and Kate, which was about the royal wedding of Diana’s son Prince William and Kate Middleton.

(Photo: Alamy)

Julie Cox in ‘Princess in Love’ (CBS, 1996)

A year before her death, Diana’s personal affairs were the subject of the 1996 TV movie Princess in Love, which starred British actress Julie Cox. The story, based on Anna Pasternak’s book of the same name, detailed the alleged five-year secret affair between the princess and her riding instructor, Maj. James Hewitt.

(Photo: Everett Collection)

‘My So-Called Life’ (ABC, 1995)

In the final My So-Called Life episode, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” Diana was a recurring figure in Patty Chase’s (Bess Armstrong) dreams as the mom of two dealt with her own marital issues. Princess Diana’s message to Patty was “Princesses don’t get divorced,” but teen daughter Angela (Claire Danes) didn’t want to hear the details. “Oh, not another Princess Diana dream,” she said.

(Photo: Hulu)

‘Passions’ (NBC, 1999)

TV’s most bizarre daytime drama went there in 1999 when Sheridan Crane (McKenzie Westmore) claimed friendship with Princess Diana and was seen talking to her on the phone and even asking about her post-prince boyfriend Dodi Fayed. The storyline became even more controversial when the deranged Diana fan was involved in a serious car accident in the same Paris tunnel where the Princess of Wales died, and a “guardian angel Diana” appeared to her and helped her fight to survive her injuries. In another arc, Sheridan changed her name to Diana. Westmore later called the fantasy Princess Diana sequences “the worst storyline ever,” admitting that she feared her career was over after the controversial role.

(Photo: NBC via Youtube)

‘The Simpsons’ (Fox, 2013)

The Fox animated comedy has had many Princess Di references over its 28 seasons. Homer Simpson once claimed to have written a song for the famous princess, while Ms. Hoover’s Inspirational Women’s Day spawned 15 Princess Dianas as students dressed up as inspiring women. But the Princess Diana “character” was seen only once on the show, as a hologram in the Season 24 episode “Whiskey Business.” The unlikely hologram of a rapping Princess Di was only trumped by a worm-dancing Mahatma Gandhi.
(Photo: Fox)

‘The Goldbergs’ (ABC, 2014)

In the Goldbergs episode “The Facts of Bleeping Life,” we found out that matriarch Beverly (Wendi McClendon-Covey) was a Charles and Diana fanatic, and that the royal wedding even inspired her to renew her vows with Murray (Jeff Garlin). “It was 1980-something, and America had its latest obsession — the Royal Wedding. And no one was more into Prince Chuck and Lady Di than my mom,” narrated young Adam Goldberg, as his mom pondered over what it would be like to be married to someone as regal and majestic as Prince Charles.
(Photo: Getty Images)

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