Quite the storm about Channel 4′s decision to broadcast the Diana, Princess of Wales tapes recorded at Kensington Palace by her voice coach. The tapes were found in butler Paul Burrell’s possession, confiscated by the police then held until the courts decided the copyright belonged to said voice coach whose decision it was to sell.
First things first, Diana gave the strongest indication in her Panorama interview that ‘she won’t go quietly’ and thus the case has proved on the 20th anniversary of her death. Diana was no fool and I cannot imagine the lady was unaware that these tapes were explosive to say the least. Why else were they made but for future broadcast?
The thing that struck me the most about the Diana we see on the tapes is how utterly relaxed, natural and animated she is. There is none of the melodrama that we saw on the Panorama interview which was evidently scripted and performed. On the tapes, she is in turn playful, perceptive and incredibly down-to-earth speaking of herself as a ‘fat, jolly Sloane Ranger’ when she became engaged to the Prince of Wales.
The Princess’s humour is a delight. Make-up artist Barbara Daley recalls how the then Lady Diana Spencer hummed ‘Just One Cornetto’ as she stepped into the State Coach en route to St Paul’s presumably in reference to the ludicrous crushed meringue wedding dress that overwhelmed her.
Diana makes it clear that she was aware of the Prince of Wales’s oddities before they married despite describing his courting telephone calls as a ‘thrill so immense and intense’. When interviewed for the engagement, she was mortified when Prince Charles replied ‘whatever love means’ to the question whether they were in love.
The footage chosen to accompany the Diana tapes was clever. There’s a close-up on the bride as she’s about to step out on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with Diana looking distinctly uneasy until she sees the crowd and beams a dazzling smile. Another close-up showed trouble behind the nineteen-year-old bride’s eyes. The caption might read: ‘what have I got myself into?’
The Diana on the tapes is a disappointed romantic who has made the best of a marriage doomed before her train had slithered up the steps of St Paul’s. I thought one of the saddest moments on the documentary was when Diana’s dance teacher said that even in 1981 – the year of the marriage – she was aware that her husband’s heart was elsewhere. Ironic for a woman who would come to be loved by millions but not uncommon.
Like all great actresses, Diana shielded her anxieties from the public gaze. So good was the face she showed to the world that her popularity soared: another black mark in the eyes of the Royal Family. Knowledge that her husband was still consorting with Mrs Parker Bowles led to bulimia that Diana said on record all The Firm knew about. Her explanation was that ‘I chose to hurt myself instead of hurting all of you’. Breaks your heart, doesn’t it.
Much more than the Panorama interview, the Diana tapes set the record straight. She is an emotionally intelligent woman with a wry smile but terribly sad eyes. Her platonic love affair with her personal protection officer who was dismissed and killed in a motorcycle accident is described as the love of her life. It appears he was the Prince Charming that Charles would not be for his young wife.
The tapes are also proof that the Prince of Wales’s court were smearing Diana because she would not accept Camilla Parker-Bowles as her husband’s mistress. When Diana went to ‘the top lady’ for advice, the answer came ‘I have no idea. Charles is hopeless’. She was indeed isolated and fell into the arms of the handsome guardsman James Hewitt. Quite frankly, who wouldn’t?
The ‘War of the Windsors’ that became public in HM’s annus horribilis, 1992, wasn’t a fair fight. Diana was alone and Prince Charles had the might of the Royal Family behind him. After the separation from Prince Charles, Diana – a woman who needed love and affirmation – was told in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t wanted. Fortunately, the British public wanted her, adored her and stood up for Diana after she decided to fight back with the Panorama interview.
The ‘Queen of People’s Hearts’ Panorama interview was watched by twenty-two million people . Diana cast herself as a woman scorned who remained strong nonetheless. What the Diana tapes show is a woman who kept her sense of humour. There is a wonderful moment when the voice coach asked why she dedicated so much time to her charities and Diana replies in fits of giggles ‘because I’ve nothing else to do’.
As we all know, the best revenge is to look good and by 1997, the year of her death, Diana had perfected her image as an independent, glamorous star who – far from going quietly – wasn’t going anywhere. She had staked her territory as a charitable ambassador and mother of two boys who clearly worshipped her. She may or may not have married again. But the public’s fascination with Diana had, by 1997, exceeded that of the Royal Family. The world is a worse place for her untimely death.
Diana: In Her Own Words was an admirable hurrah from beyond the grave for a woman of exceptional qualities. She didn’t go quietly and the powers that be could not deny her a voice.