Andrew Morton - Diana in her own words (1997)
‘The tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales on 31 August 1997 plunged the world into paroxysms of grief, despair and regret, unrivalled in the modern era. This spontaneous eruption of anguish was a sign not only of her enormous personal impact on the world stage but of the potency of her position, of what she represented as a woman and as a flag-bearer for a new generation, a new order and a new future. (….)
It would be easy for me to subscribe to that process: both my books, Diana, Her True Story and Diana, Her New Life are currently bestsellers around the world so there is every commercial imperative to allow any distortions within their pages to remain. This, however, would be to dishonour her memory, to distort history and to run counter to the people’s spirit of honesty and openness so eloquently captured by her brother, Earl Spencer at her funeral.
For what people have never realized is the extent of the Princess’s commitment to my book, Diana, Her True Story, which was first published in June 1992. To all intents and purposes it was her autobiography, the personal testament of a woman who saw herself at the time as voiceless and powerless. The story contained in its pages came from her lips, the pain and heartache in her life revealed in a series of tape-recorded interviews at Kensington Palace during the summer and autumn of 1991. There were no camera lights, no rehearsals, no second takes. Her words came from the heart, outlining in graphic and, at times, agonizing detail the sorrow and loneliness felt by a woman admired and adored around the world. (….)
Like a prisoner condemned for a crime she did not commit, Diana had a crying need to tell the world the truth about her life, the distress she felt and the ambitions she nurtured. Her sense of injustice was profound. Quite simply, she wanted the liberty to speak her mind, the opportunity to tell people the whole story of her life and to let them judge her accordingly.
In the winter of 1990, when I first started researching a biography of the Princess of Wales, I knew little of these concerns. As both a journalist and author I had been writing about the royal family since 1982, the year after Diana’s marriage to the Prince of Wales, and had built up a number of contacts inside the various palaces and in the circles of the Princess of Wales and the Duchess of York. Earlier in 1990 I had written Diana's Diary, a lifestyle book about the Princess which, I was later to learn, had been well-received by her.
During my researches for this book it became clear that all was not well with the royal marriage, Diana’s friends and former members of staff making dark hints about the Princess's unhappiness. (….)
Meanwhile, as Diana continued to consider the dilemma of her life inside the royal family, she noticed that a series of articles I had written for the Sunday Times, notably on the furore over Prince Charles’s offer of a party at Highgrove for her 30th birthday as well as the departure of the Prince’s private secretary, Sir Christopher Airey, were sympathetic to her cause. She was now aware that I was piecing together her life story, that I was an independent writer, neither wedded to Fleet Street nor, more importantly, in the thrall of Buckingham Palace - issues of some importance as she considered her future course of action. In any event, after some initial and expected hesitation, she decided to unlock the door to the inner sanctum of her psyche. I was asked to become the conduit of her true story. (….)
For my part Diana was interviewed by proxy, using a trusted intermediary so that if the Princess was asked: “Did you meet Andrew Morton?” she could answer with a resounding “NO”. I submitted endless written questions about every aspect of her life, starting, naturally, with her childhood. In return she answered as best she could, speaking into a rather ancient tape recorder in the quiet of her private sitting room. (….)
For the first time in her royal life she felt empowered. At last her voice was about to be heard, the truth was about to be told. “Tell Noah [her nickname for me] to make sure the story gets out,” she would say to trusted confidants, disappointed that the process of writing and researching a book could not happen overnight. (….)
While she was desperate, almost to the point of imprudence, to see her words appear before a wider public, this mood was tempered by a fear that Buckingham Palace would discover her identity as the “Deep Throat” of my book. As the publishing date approached, the tension at Kensington Palace became palpable. Her newly appointed private secretary, Patrick Jephson described the atmosphere as “like watching a slowly spreading pool of blood seeping from under a locked door”. In January 1992 she was warned that Buckingham Palace was aware of her co-operation with the book, even though at that stage they did not know its contents. None the less she remained steadfast in cooperating with the venture. The tension was not entirely one-sided; I had been warned on two separate occasions by Fleet Street colleagues that Buckingham Palace was looking hard for my mole. Shortly after one such warning, my offices were burgled and files rifled but nothing of consequence, apart from a camera, was stolen. From then on a scrambler telephone and local pay phones were the only sure way of speaking to her confidants without the worry that the conversations were being bugged.
This problem, however, had been anticipated fairly early on. From the first there was a need to give Diana deniability, developing various ploys so that when she was taken in for interrogation by the Palace guards she could categorically disavow any involvement with the book. The first line of defence were her friends, who were used as cover to disguise her participation. So in tandem with writing questions for the Princess, I sent out a number of begging letters to her circle of friends. They in turn contacted Diana to ask if they should or should not co-operate. (….)
As the project gained momentum, the acid test came when the Princess read the manuscript. (….) To my great relief she read with approval her own words from the taped interviews which were liberally sprinkled throughout the text, either through direct quotation or in the third person. (….) Even though a number of Diana’s close friends were prepared to go on the record in order to underpin the authenticity of the text, the Princess accepted that the book needed a direct link with her own family in order to give it a necessary legitimacy. As a result she agreed to supply the Spencer family albums, containing endless delightful portraits of the growing Diana, many taken by her late father, Earl Spencer. One day several large, red, gold-embossed family albums made their way to the offices of my publisher, Michael O’Mara in South London. A number of photographs were selected, duplicated and the albums returned. The Princess herself helped to identify many of the people who appeared in the photographs with her, a process she greatly enjoyed as it brought back many happy memories, particularly of her teenage years.
She appreciated, too, the fact that, in order to make the book truly distinctive, we had to have a hitherto unpublished jacket picture. As it was out of the question that she could attend a photo shoot, she herself chose and supplied the winsome Patrick Demarchelier cover photograph, which was one she kept in her study at Kensington Palace. This shot, and those of her and her children which were used inside, were her particular favourites.’ (….)
Postscript by Irène Diependaal written for Hereditas Historiae
The quotations are taken from the foreword of Andrew Morton’s Diana, Her true story – In her own words. It was published shortly after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997. In 2017 Andrew Morton published a third edition of the book. An essay review on this third version, written by Craig Brown and published in The Daily Mail, is also to be found in this section of Hereditas Historiae. To promote this third version: Andrew Morton wrote, 20 years after Diana's death, an updated version of his story for The Sunday Times (20 August 2017): "Sex, lies and audiotape: Andrew Morton on how Diana’s memoir rocked the world". It is to be found in this section of Hereditas Historiae.