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Obituary: Frances Shand Kydd

Frances Shand Kydd: Public scrutiny and personal tribulations

Frances Shand Kydd was thrust into the spotlight in 1981 when her daughter Diana joined the British royal family. Like the princess, her life was marked by an aristocratic marriage, a scandalous divorce and a restless search for contentment.

The Queen and Prince Philip watched as young Frances Roche walked into Westminster Abbey and became the wife of Johnnie Spencer in 1954.

The Spencers had historic royal ties, and he was the heir to an earldom and the massive estate of Althorp in Northamptonshire.


The new vicountess proved a headstrong member of the Spencer clan and, although the marriage lasted 15 years, many of them were unhappy. The couple grieved together for the loss in infancy of their firstborn son, but grew increasingly distant.

A proud mother-of-the-bride in July 1981
Finally, in 1969, the vicountess caused a minor aristocratic scandal when she ran off with the wallpaper tycoon, Peter Shand Kydd.

She was vilified in the ensuing battle for her children and eventually lost custody. Even her own mother, a lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother, came down on the side of the earl.

The Shand Kydds were able to lead lives of relative privacy, until her youngest daughter Diana caught the eye of the Prince of Wales, and the media turned their attention on the family.

"Home Alone"

At the wedding ceremony on 29 July, the elegant mother-of-the-bride took her place in St Paul's Cathedral among a record number of royals and visiting dignitaries.

Within a few short years, Diana became the most famous and most photographed woman in the world, but her mother always attempted to stay out of the public eye.

Diana shared her mother's quest for peace and contentment
She separated from her husband in 1986, but remained on the remote Scottish Isle of Seil where they had made their home.

A heartbroken member of what she called the "Home Alone" club, Frances Shand Kydd sought solace in her enduring Catholic faith and in local charity work.

Fellow islanders were fiercely protective of their famous inhabitant, known for her lone walks along the beach and her love of fishing.

It was at her isolated two-room bungalow on Seil in August 1997 that she received the telephone call that informed her of her daughter's fatal car crash.


Frances Shand Kydd endured another media frenzy five years later when she testified at the London trial of Diana's former butler, Paul Burrell.

Paul Burrell's court case sparked more controversy
Before the proceedings were spectacularly halted, Mrs Shand Kydd had been forced to admit in court that she had fallen out with her daughter and not spoken to her for several months before her death.

She remained elegant and well groomed, but showed increasing evidence of the strains of being the mother of a royal icon, and grandmother of a future king.

She was convicted of drink-driving, suffered a car accident and also the theft of jewellery from her home.

Highland refuge

Mohammed Al Fayed voiced his suspicions over the deaths of the Princess and his son but, to Frances, hearing this was like "having repetitive major emotional surgery without an anaesthetic".

A forlorn but dignified figure at Diana's funeral in 1997
And there was more controversy over Diana's Will, when Frances Shand Kydd and her daughter Sarah were accused of disregarding the Princess's wishes for her godchildren.

With these setbacks, Frances Shand Kydd relied more and more on her highland refuge and, even as she became increasingly frail, refused to leave the Isle of Seil.

After years of enduring public scrutiny and personal tribulations, she found it provided the solitude she required to reflect on a tumultuous life of highs and lows.

She said: "It takes very little to make you happy if you've had real sadness. It makes you take less for granted, and it's a very enriching experience, really."