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See Photos From the ‘Lonely’ Childhood That Shaped Princess Diana

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Before Diana was the Princess of Wales, she was Diana Spencer. And while contemporary audiences may remember Diana — who died 20 years ago this Thursday, at 36, in a car crash in Paris — for braving the paparazzi, in her early life she was known for being the shy and quiet one in her family.

The above photos shed light on her early life, from scenes at her birthplace, Park House, to family summer vacations in Sussex. As TIME described her privileged upbringing in an April 20, 1981, cover package published shortly after the then-19-year-old Diana became engaged to the Prince of Wales Charles, the house that the Spencer family rented from the Crown had the only heated pool in the area — and that pool was more than a symbol of wealth. Because Park House was part of the royal estate at Sandringham, the neighbors who came by to take advantage of the pool included the Windsor children. “Diana and Charles may have met a few times when she was a child and he already a young man, but everyone is fuzzy on the details,” the story noted.

That pool was not the only indicator of her privilege, the story continued:

Diana attended West Heath, a boarding school in Kent, where she excelled in sports and recorded a middling result on standard exams known as O Levels. At 16, she spent twelve weeks at a Swiss finishing school, primarily to learn to ski but also to brush up on French, cooking, sewing and typing. Nothing much here for a résumé, but perfectly fine, thanks, for the sort of genteel, pass-the-time employment that came Diana’s way: governess, cook, nanny, kindergarten teacher.

But, despite having all the makings of a happy childhood, that period could also be a solitary one for the young Diana. She had a strong connection with animals, doting on her Shetland pony and serving as head of “Pets’ Corners” at her boarding school Riddlesworth Hall, but often spent time without many people around. Her parents’ marriage having fallen apart before she was 10, the family home Althorp House could be “a lonely place” for Diana, Tina Brown, the former editor of The New Yorker and The Daily Beast, writes in the forward of the new book Remembering Diana: A Life in Photographs.

“A frequent erroneous press assumption,” she writes, “was that her distinguished aristocratic background meant familiarity with a grand, high-society world. In fact, Diana’s childhood was limited in its circle and almost feral in its neglect. She spent most of her free time with the servants below stairs (one reason, perhaps, she could communicate so well with ordinary people).”

Princess Diana as a young girl.
Lady Diana Spencer ages 3 years old at Park House, Sandringham, Norfolk. PA Images via Getty Images
Princess Diana as a young girl.
Lady Diana Spencer with a pram at Park House, Sandringham in Norfolk, 1964. Central Press—Getty Images
Princess Diana as a young girl.
Portrait of Lady Diana Spencer circa 1965. Central Press—Getty Images
Princess Diana as a young girl with her brother.
Lady Diana Spencer with her brother Charles, Viscount Althorp, (Earl Spencer) at their home in Berkshire. AP Photo
Princess Diana as a young girl.
Lady Diana Spencer poses barefoot with a croquet mallet circa 1970 at Itchenor Sussex. PA Images via Getty Images
Princess Diana as a young girl with her family
A portrait of the Spencer family; (L-R) Lady Sarah Spencer, Viscount Spencer, Earl Spencer, Lady Jane Spencer and Lady Diana Spencer at home. Keystone—Getty Images
Princess Diana as a young girl.
Lady Diana Spencer during a summer holiday in Itchenor, West Sussex in Britain. Hulton Archive—Getty Images
Princess Diana as a young girl with a horse.
Lady Diana, playing with a pony in the countryside in England in the mid-1970s.Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Princess Diana at age 19 as a nanny.
Lady Diana Spencer at the Young England Kindergarten School in Pimlico where she worked as a nursery assistant. Circa 1908.Tim Graham—Getty Images
Princess Diana surrounded by press before her engagement to Prince Charles.
Lady Diana Spencer surrounded by press photographers and reporter Howard Foster shortly before the announcement of her engagement to Charles, Prince of Wales. Ian Tyas—Getty Images

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Write to Olivia B. Waxman at olivia.waxman@time.com