Who was Raine Spencer? The story of the socialite who became Princess Diana’s stepmother

Sabrina Barr
Getty Images

In the months following the engagement of Princess Diana and Prince Charles, the years following their wedding and their subsequent divorce, the media probed every aspect of the royal couple’s lives.

Particular focus was placed upon the young Diana, who was propelled onto the global stage when she became engaged to the heir apparent at the age of 19.

As the world has come to learn, the ins and outs of Diana’s relationship with Prince Charles were not as smooth-sailing as they may have seemed at the time.

But this wasn’t the first strained relationship Lady Diana Spencer had dealt with: she had already had to cope with a sensitive family matter throughout her teenage years – her father’s marriage to socialite Raine Spencer.

Raine Spencer, née McCorquodale, was born in Newbury, Berkshire in 1929, the only child of romance novelist Barbara Cartland and army officer Alexander McCorquodale.

When Raine wed Diana’s father, having previously been married to the Earl of Dartmouth for almost three decades, the future royal was 14 years old.

Neither she nor her three siblings were at all fond of their stepmother, reportedly referring to her as “Acid Raine” and saying “Raine, Raine, go away!” in her presence.

Nonetheless, years later when Diana experienced the tribulations of divorce firsthand, the stepmother to whom she previously felt utter disdain is said to have become a close confidante.

On Saturday at 8pm, Channel 4 is broadcasting a documentary about Raine and her relationship with the late Princess of Wales, titled Princess Diana’s ‘Wicked’ Stepmother.

The film features an in-depth insight into Raine’s life and how her relationship with Diana evolved over the years, featuring interviews with notable individuals including Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, Countess Spencer’s hairdresser Peter Constandinos and Diana’s former butler Paul Burrell.

At 18 years old, Raine established herself as a distinguished debutante in the capital, marrying Gerald Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth, a year later.

The couple had three sons and one daughter together. Their daughter, Lady Charlotte Legge, was born two years after Diana.

While Raine is predominantly known as a socialite within London’s high society, she also embarked upon a career in politics at an early age.

When she was 23 years old, she became the youngest person to ever become a member of Westminster City Council, representing the Conservative party and going on to participate in local government for several subsequent years.

In 1973, after 25 years of marriage to the Earl of Dartmouth, Raine embarked upon a relationship with John Spencer, having met him on an architectural heritage committee.

Three years passed until Raine divorced her first husband, marrying Spencer – who went through a divorce with Diana’s mother in 1969 – two months later.

Raine’s relationship with her stepchildren was tumultuous to say the least; according to her former hairdresser Peter Constandinos, she thought very little of the young Lady Diana.

“She’s got nothing to say! Once you’ve finished talking about Duran Duran, that’s it,” he recalls the Countess saying.

Another alleged sore spot within their blended family was Raine’s decision to redecorate the family estate, Althorp, in Northamptonshire. Diana’s younger brother, Charles Spencer, once described his stepmother’s interior taste in a significantly unfavourable manner, saying her choice in furniture had “the wedding cake vulgarity of a five-star hotel in Monaco”.

In 1992, Lord Spencer passed away at the age of 68, having suffered a heart attack. Raine moved out of Althorp immediately after her husband’s passing .

In an obituary for the Countess published in The Telegraph following her death in 2016, it stated that a maid initially packed her clothes in suitcases bearing the Spencer emblem upon her exit from the stately property. However, the Princess of Wales opposed this course of action, demanding that her stepmother’s clothes be put in black bin liners instead.

And yet, at some point in the five years that followed before Diana’s death in 1997, she and her stepmother formed a close bond.

Diana, Princess of Wales with Raine Spencer, Countess Spencer (Rex Features)

“Diana and Raine forged a friendship which lasted until the Princess’s death,” author Ingrid Seward wrote in her book The Queen and Di: The Untold Story, published in 2000. “They took to having regular lunches together and spoke on the telephone almost every day.

“Raine became Diana’s closest and most trusted confidante. The Princess told me: ‘I’d rather speak to Raine than to my mother. She is the mother I never had.’”

When Raine divorced her third husband, Count Jean-François Pineton de Chambrun, in 1995 after two years of marriage, she decided to revert back to her Countess Spencer title.

At the time of Diana’s untimely death, the 36-year-old had not spoken to her mother, Frances Shand Kydd, in four months. This admission was made by Frances in court at the trial of Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, in 2002.

Five years later at an inquest into Diana’s death, Raine commented on her relationship with her late stepdaughter, stating: “[Diana] always said I had no hidden agenda.”

“So many people, because she was so popular and so world famous, wanted something out of her. It was a very draining life,” Countess Spencer said.

In 2016, Raine died at the age of 87 following a short illness. A year before her death, she gave an interview with the Gentlewoman magazine, in which she described her and Diana’s friendship.

“She had incredibly heavy pressures put upon her, but we ended up huge friends. She used to come and sit on my sofa and tell me her troubles,” Raine said. “I’m very happy about that.”

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