I WAS fifteen in 1980, when the 19-year-old Diana Spencer first stepped on the public stage. She was an aristocrat in Kensington and I was a schoolgirl in Cleckheaton. We had nothing at all in common. But, immediately, I was fascinated.

My print-worker father and secretary mother were not royalists. But luckily my godmother was. I spent the day of the 1981 Royal Wedding glued to her telly in Huddersfield. We oohed and aahed at every detail, thrilling in the glamour and romance. Diana, we thought, was the happiest, luckiest girl in the world.

I was desperate to be like her, but this a tough call in Cleckheaton. I needed a string of pearls, a shirt with a frilly collar and a Laura Ashley skirt. No-one I knew had any pearls and the nearest Laura Ashley shop in those days was in distant York. Meaning a bus to Leeds and subsequent train. Getting there and back took a whole day.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Wendy Holden has long been fascinated by Princess Diana. Pic: Laurie Fletcher Wendy Holden has long been fascinated by Princess Diana. Pic: Laurie Fletcher (Image: Laurie Fletcher)

But I was determined. Armed with the proceeds of my Saturday job at Bradford BHS, I set off for the county capital, returning with a cherry-red number. I got my mousy hair cut Di-style at Cleckheaton’s Heads and Tales salon (amazingly still there four decades later). As a final touch, I started to imitate her soft, breathy, upper-class voice, as heard on the famous TV interview with Prince Charles.

This was too much for my parents. My entire family had strong Yorkshire accents. As youthful rebellion went, my Southern pronunciation was more shocking than if I’d become a punk rocker and gobbed on the carpet.

Luckily, I’d been working hard at my Cleckheaton comprehensive school. My efforts and those of my teachers at Whitcliffe Mount resulted in a place at Cambridge where Prince Edward, Prince Charles’ single brother, was actually studying. I couldn’t wait to meet him. How could he resist me?

I went ‘up’, as they say, to Cambridge in 1983. The beeswax-scented corridors thronged with Sloaney Diana types in frilly collars (and that was just the men). I had arrived! I was beside myself with excitement.

Having worked so hard to eradicate my Yorkshire accent, I was confused to find many posh, rich types pretending to be Northern to seem ‘authentic’. This made me wonder if Cambridge students were as clever as they were cracked up to be. As for Prince Edward, while we often shared the same study room in the university library, we never got chatting.

Gradually, I abandoned my efforts to be royal. But my interest in Diana continued. And during my first job after university, I finally met her.

I was deputy editor of a small magazine aimed at foreign diplomats in London. This involved attending hundreds of embassy drinks and it was gratifying when this difficult diplomatic work was recognised with an invitation to a Buckingham Palace garden party. The Queen and Prince Philip would be there, and Charles. And Diana.

I found myself next to a row of Chelsea pensioners as she came up to chat. She included me in the conversation and so, for a few seconds, those huge blue eyes and that light, breathy voice were actually directed at me.

Our paths crossed again soon afterwards. I had made friends with Lucia Flecha de Lima, the warm-hearted wife of the Brazilian ambassador. She invited me to a party in her magnificent Mayfair house. Diana, Lucia’s close friend, entered in a beautiful close-fitting grey lace frock. It would have been simple to go up and talk to her, but I didn’t dare.

Some years later, at the Christmas party of a national broadsheet, I was in the same room once more. Diana appeared in a column dress, sparkling, smiling, glowing. Again I wanted to talk to her but, again, my nerve failed me. It was to be my last chance.

It is over a quarter of a century since her death. A whole generation has grown up since that awful night in Paris. Diana is now a historical figure, which is why I have written a historical novel about her.

The Princess is a close imagining of Diana’s backstory; how, why and by whom she was chosen to be Princess of Wales and the long and complicated journey to the altar. I fictionalise her childhood and schooldays, the brief, happy time in the Sloaney flat and how it felt to be in the eye of that thrilling storm as the engagement to Prince Charles, initially a remote prospect, became a real one.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The Princess is a close imagining of Diana's back story The Princess is a close imagining of Diana's back story (Image: Wendy Holden)

But, as I discovered, nothing about the engagement or wedding was how it looked. My godmother and I, watching, open-mouthed, from our Huddersfield sofa, thought we were watching a dream coming true. But actually, it was one ending.

* The Princess, by Wendy Holden, is published by Welbeck in hardback at £14.99 and in ebook on August 17. It’s also available in audiobook.