‘Explosive’ Princess Diana tapes aired on TV

Do or Di: As a teenager, she “knew that something profound was coming my way”. © Getty

As the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death nears, Channel 4 has broadcast intimate conversations about her marriage and childhood. Should her private words have been made public?

Diana Spencer was 19 when she first started dating Prince Charles, heir to the throne of Britain. He was 31, and had just attended the funeral of his great-uncle.

“I said, ‘You must be so lonely,’” she recalled later. “’You need someone beside you.’ Oh. Wrong word… He leapt upon me, he started kissing me and everything and I thought, ‘Ahh! You know, this is not what people do!’”

This frank story was told by Diana to her voice coach, Peter Settelen. He had gone to her home at Kensington Palace in 1992 and 1993, to help her find a new voice after her marriage to Charles had finally fallen apart. There, the pair recorded hours of interviews about her personal life.

Last night, clips from those conversations were aired for the first ever time in the UK. The Channel 4 documentary, Diana: In Her Own Words, was made to coincide with the 20th anniversary of her death.

Diana covers a huge range of topics in just a few hours of footage. She speaks about her parents, who “never said they loved me”. She mentions a man who she “fell deeply in love with” while she was still married to Charles, and who she believed was “bumped off”. She discusses her sex life with Charles, which she described as “very odd”, admitting that it eventually “fizzled out”. She is candid about her struggles with bulimia, which she blamed on not feeling “good enough for this family”.

The tapes were made four to five years before she was killed in a car crash in Paris on August 31st 1997.

They are an “amazing historical document” says Channel 4’s deputy chief creative officer, Ralph Lee. He hopes that they will “create a new portrait of Diana”.

But not everyone is happy about the documentary. Her brother, Charles Spencer, demanded that it be dropped. Her friend, Rosa Monckton, told The Guardian that it is “a betrayal of her privacy and of the family’s privacy”. Her former private secretary, Dickie Arbiter, called the tapes “exploitative”.

Queen of hearts

They are right, say some. There has been a ghoulish fascination with Diana ever since she and Charles were first married. Many even blamed the press for her death; her car was trying to outrun paparazzi when it crashed. Now the media has hurt her again by revealing private conversations about the most intimate moments of her life. When will she be allowed to rest in peace?

This is different, say others. She was not hounded for this interview — she gave it willingly, and she seemed to enjoy it. For once, she was telling her life story in her own way, without worrying about tabloid spin or keeping up appearances. All she wanted, says her former protection officer Ken Wharfe, was to be heard. This gives her that chance. “She would love it.”

You Decide

  1. Imagine you have a private conversation about your life on tape. How would you feel if it were published 20 years later?
  2. Why are the public and the media still so fascinated by Princess Diana’s life and death?

Activities

  1. Write a list of questions that you have for each member of the royal family after reading about this interview — including the Queen, Prince Charles, and Diana’s two sons, William and Harry. Finally, write down the questions that you would have for Diana if she were still alive today.
  2. Create your own short video to commemorate 20 years since Princess Diana’s death.

Some People Say...

“The private lives of public figures should not be considered history.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The documentary was aired on Channel 4 last night in the UK, and on PBS in the USA. The tapes were recorded between September 1992 and December 1993. The police took them from Diana’s former butler in 2001 after he was accused of stealing from her. They were bought by NBC and shown in the USA in 2004.
What do we not know?
How reliable Diana’s narrative is — it is worth remembering that she was in the midst of her separation from Charles at the time, and was clearly angry about it. She accuses the Queen of calling Prince Charles “hopeless”, and Charles of saying that he refused “to be the only Prince of Wales who never had a mistress”. The royal family have not commented on the documentary or any of the allegations it contains.

Word Watch

Great-uncle
Lord Mountbatten was killed in 1979, in a bomb planted by the IRA, the terrorist organisation which was in favour of Irish independence from the UK. Mountbatten’s 14-year-old grandson and two others were also killed by the bomb, which had been planted in his boat.
Marriage
Diana and Prince Charles were married on July 29th 1981, in front of 750m TV viewers. Their separation was officially announced in 1992, and the divorce was finalised in August 1996, a year before her death.
Bumped off
Although she does not name the man in the tapes, it is widely known that she was referring to her bodyguard, Barry Mannakee. He was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1987. There is no evidence that it was murder.
Bulimia
An eating disorder in which people deliberately make themselves vomit in order to get rid of the food they have eaten beforehand. Diana’s battle with bulimia was first revealed in 1992.
Car crash
The official inquest blamed the crash on the driver, Henri Paul, who lost control of the car while drunk. He, Diana, and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed all died.