Diana was not prepared for life in the royal family, a close friend believes (Image: PA)

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A close friend of the late Princess Diana said she may not have been fully aware of the "machine she was in'' when she joined the royal family.

Dr James Colthurst first met the then Lady Diana Spencer when she was 17 on a skiing trip. She had twisted her ankle and as a young medical student, he was asked to take a look at it.

He recalled a “bright” and “mischievous” woman. They hit it off and would remain friends for the rest of her life.

Just a few short years after that first meeting Diana, aged 20, married Prince Charles and would become one of the most famous women in the world.

Writing in The Telegraph to mark Diana’s 60th birthday, Dr Colthurst recalled witnessing the pressures she faced as she navigated life as a member of “The Firm”.

Diana had not been briefed on what to expect after marrying into the royals, it's claimed
(Image: Getty Images)

“I felt, when she joined the Royal family, she may not have been fully aware of the machine she was in,” he wrote.

“The Firm, for its part, was unaccustomed to having a superstar in its midst, and I don’t think they knew how to cope with the enormous amount of publicity she generated.”

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He also reflected on the run-up to her marriage to Charles. Diana had not been given much of a brief from Clarence House on what to expect following the wedding.

However, he conceded no one was quite prepared for just how popular she would become.

There was, Dr Colthurst said, “jealousy” among Charles’s team as Diana’s profile grew.

Princes William and Harry will put aside their rift to reunite for the Princess Diana memorial

And when relations between Diana and Charles began to falter, Dr Colthurst recalled how difficult it was to watch it play out in the public eye.

During those rocky years of her marriage, he said he would sometimes receive between eight and ten phone calls a day from her.

But it was her commitment to the causes close to her heart, including helping those with HIV, helped her through the darker times, Dr Colthurst said.

Her daunting number of patronages and charity work brought the "interactions" with people she so enjoyed, and it was these he said that helped to “balance” what appeared to be an unhappy life at Kensington Palace.

Diana sons William and Prince Harry have grown up to have very different views of the monarchy
(Image: UK Press via Getty Images)

Dr Colthurst said his final memory of his friend of nearly 20 years was of her laughing down the phone, concluding that she seemed “happy” in her final months.

Diana died aged 36 in August 1997 in Paris.

On Thursday a statue designed in her memory by the sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley will be unveiled at Kensington Palace’s Sunken Garden.

Diana with the Queen in 1987, a decade before the princess's tragic death

The Garden has also been revamped to fill it with more than 4,000 flowers including one of Diana's favourites, forget-me-nots.

Prince William and Harry, whose relationship has been strained for some time, will be reunited at the unveiling.

It will be the first time they have appeared together since the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral.

Prince Charles and his then fiancee Lady Diana Spencer with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in 1981
(Image: Getty Images)

Harry quit as a senior working royal last year and has since voiced a string of allegations about the royal family, the most damning being a claim of racism.

At least for today, they are setting aside their rift to remember their mother.

Royal observers are hoping that their meeting will begin to thaw the frosty relations between the pair.

Dr Colthurst admitted Diana had set a “high bar” for her sons but that both men had inherited her “easy” way with others and sensitive and caring natures.

They are, he concluded, very much their mother’s sons in their wish, like her, to “do good in the world.”