Yesterday was Diana's 49th birthday, and her sisters still wonder: What would her life be like now?
Her birthday yesterday passed virtually unnoticed: July 1. She would have been 49.
In other circumstances, the day would have signalled a deluge of joshing for Princess Diana from her sisters that she was on the brink of joining them in the 'Over-Fifties Club'.
For Lady Sarah McCorquodale, 55, and Lady Jane Fellowes, 53, the poignancy of 'Duch's' birthday always revives memories of sisterly fun as well as the heartache of divided loyalties which, for Jane at least, as the wife of Lord Fellowes, the Queen's private secretary throughout the crisis of the royal marriage, were left sadly unresolved.
Their lives have moved on. They are greyer, comfortably lined and sensibly dressed, looking forward to being grandmothers, while Diana remains forever the iconic young and beautiful princess she was on the day of her death on August 31, 1997.
Those who spotted them at Middle Wallop in Hampshire the other week proudly watching their nephew Prince harry being presented with his army air Corps wings, must have pondered the same inevitable question: What would Diana have been like now?
To some this is a futile game. But anyone who has lost a child or a sibling when they were still young will understand why Sarah and Jane, the sisters who calmed a doubting 'Duch' on the eve of her wedding to Prince Charles by telling her it was too late because her face was 'already on the tea towels', will understand why they, too, ask themselves this question.
Sarah, of course, was courted by Prince Charles long before Diana. but she fell by the wayside after unguardedly telling a magazine: 'I wouldn't marry anyone I didn't love, whether he was the dustman or the King of England.'
At the age of 25, she settled for old Harrovian Lincolnshire farmer and former Guards officer Neil McCorquodale. They married in 1980, a year before Charles and Diana, and remain happily together with three children Emily, 27, George, 26, and Celia, 21, all of whom are firm friends with their first cousins William and Harry.
As for Jane, the quietest and most unobtrusive of the three sisters, the one who always avoided the limelight and in 1978, when she was 21, married a dependable man 16 years her senior, the past 13 years have been blighted by the fact she and the Princess had had a difficult relationship during the last 18 months of her sister's life.
The princess resented that Jane appeared not to support her in the bitter clash that became known as the 'War of the Waleses'. But Jane was in an impossible position because of her husband's role as the Queen's private secretary.
Troubled marriage: Diana and Prince Charles kiss on their wedding day in 1981
The pain of the family split has never quite left her but is, these days, certainly ameliorated by the close friendship that her own three children Laura, 30, Robert, 27, and Eleanor, 25, have forged with Diana's sons.
What Diana would be doing now is anybody's guess, but friends know she would have continued to do good, especially with the landmines cause, which has now been taken up by Prince Harry.
Within the family, there's little doubt Diana would have remarried and tried to add a daughter to the two sons she adored.
Crucially, the endless debate among those who loved Diana is whether she would have married Dodi Fayed, who died with her in Paris.
Surprisingly, some believe that she might have - though this was never the opinion of her mother Frances Shand Kydd who died in 2004, unreconciled with her daughter, with whom she had quarrelled over Diana's friendships with Muslim men.
Others are convinced she was merely using Dodi to bring back to heel the Pakistani-born heart surgeon Hasnat Khan, who severed their passionate two-year relationship after telling her marriage could not work because of their different cultures and backgrounds.
Questions: Diana and Dodi Fayed days before dying. But would they have married?
Diana would never have remarried without the unequivocal approval of William and Harry. But it remains especially ironic in these troubled times that had she become a Muslim's wife, far from creating complications for the Royal family, her position as the mother of a future king and a much-adored figure would have established a unique and welcome bridge between faiths.
At the same Diana knew that her pool of potential husbands was very small. As she often ruefully said: 'Who's going to take me on?' No man personified those anxieties more than Hasnat Khan, the man she loved.
'Diana knew her pool of potential husbands was very small. As she often ruefully said: "Who's going to take me on?"'
Having returned home to Lahore for an arranged marriage that did not last, the discreet Khan, 52, who used to be smuggled into Kensington Palace in the boot of butler Paul Burrell's car, returned to England two years ago to work in the cardiac unit at Basildon hospital in Essex.
He would have noted yesterday's date, even though he is now engaged to a fellow doctor, Greek-born Alexandra Panagoulas.
Diana's family feel an enormous debt of gratitude to the Guinness-drinking heart surgeon, for unlike so many others - James Hewitt, for example - Khan has never cashed in on their relationship by telling all.
The wigs she wore for their clandestine meetings, her climbing through the window of his digs at Harefield hospital, Middlesex - these details were disclosed by the gossipy Paul Burrell, who made millions from them.
Khan's contact with the family was never broken off - he was invited to the Diana memorial service at the Guards Chapel in 2007.
He did not go because Camilla was due to be there, and he felt it was inappropriate for her to attend.
In the end neither of them went. But Khan was at the Wembley concert, which William and Harry hosted.
Beloved mother: Diana with Princes William and Harry at Thorpe Park in 1993
As for Lady Sarah and Lady Jane, their lives have taken very different paths since their sister's death at the age of 36.
If anyone came close to taking on Diana's mantle it was Lady Sarah. Quick-brained, well-organised and earthy, Sarah shared two things with Diana.
The first was having gone out with Charles, the second having suffered from an eating disorder, though in her case it was anorexia (Diana had bulimia).
Diana made Sarah a lady-in-waiting and she was efficient, especially in writing the many thank-you letters that had to be sent following visits and overseas tours.
In the last five difficult years of her life, the sisters would talk for hours, often at Sarah's Chelsea flat where Diana would bring a cold supper prepared in the Kensington Palace kitchens.
After Diana's death, Sarah became president of her sister's memorial fund and sat on the then Chancellor Gordon Brown's memorial committee, exploring suitable ways to remember the princess.
Sarah, tall and slim like Diana, found herself spending a lot of time in the capital, but the invitations to its glittery parties and receptions were not for her. She was happiest slipping back into the country life, especially to her horses and the Belvoir Hunt, of which these days she is a Master.
Diana nurtured her sons, seen in Botswana recently, and wanted more children
She has just ended a year as High Sheriff of Lincolnshire, during which she was constantly wondering what Diana would have done as - wearing her official uniform of Lincoln green knickerbockers, ruffs and a hat - she attended the funerals of four servicemen from the county killed in Afghanistan, visited magistrates, went out on the Skegness lifeboat and tried out a Formula 1 racing car simulator.
'I'm aware people ask me to do things because of my sister,' she told a friend, 'and thanks to Diana I knew how to go about it, especially that touch of irreverence that people like, such as saying, "I'm dying for a fag".'
In January, when Prince William came to stay with her and husband Neil at their home in Stoke Rochford, near Grantham, her nephew accompanied her to several functions.
'It was spooky,' she told a friend, 'just like being with Diana. He's such a chip off the old block.'
She is still president of the Diana fund - which has given away around £100 million, latterly to support palliative care projects in Africa and to needy refugees and asylum seekers.
It is no longer raising money and will be wound down in about two years when the money has gone. Lady Sarah decided some time ago that she 'didn't want the fund to be a burden to William and Harry'.
And what about Lady Jane, who often found herself caught in the crossfire between family ties and marital loyalty? Lord Fellowes, as he is now, has long-since left Buckingham Palace.
So close: Diana's sisters Sarah McCorquodale and Jane Fellowes last month
Ten years ago he moved on from the Queen's side to become chairman of Barclays Private Bank.
Apart from giving up his grace-and-favour apartment in Kensington Palace (next door to butler Paul Burrell's quarters), little else changed in the Fellowes's lives. They continue to live in Kensington and to weekend at their home in Norfolk.
'Jane's life is Robert and the children,' says a family friend. 'She is content with that.'
William and his girlfriend Kate Middleton were among the guests when the Fellowes's daughter Laura married City banking figure Nick Pettman at Snettisham, in Norfolk, last summer.
Last month they were guests of the Queen at Royal Ascot, and stayed at Windsor Castle. The invitation came as Robert, now 69, stepped down from Barclays into retirement.
'Jane is delighted,' says a close family friend. 'They both love cricket and their plans are to watch a lot of it together.' as ever on Diana's birthday, Althorp house, the Spencer family's 16th- century ancestral seat where Diana's brother Charles (Lord Spencer) lives, began its two-month open season yesterday.
Groups stood on the bank looking across the round Oval, the small lake where Diana lies buried on an island in the centre.
You can't see anything from the shore. But doubtless, those pilgrims visiting this shrine to a remarkable woman would have seen Diana very clearly - the way she will always be remembered
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