Mail on Sunday - 8 July 2017
The 25th Anniversary Edition of Diana's 'true' story continues the never-ending (but ever-changing) saga of the royal
By Craig Brown
Andrew Morton - Ken McKay/ITV
‘It’s hard not to feel sorry for A-level history students 100 years from now, when they are told that they will have to study for exams on Charles and Diana. “Oh, no! Please sir, can’t we do something easier, like the Schleswig-Holstein Question, or the Causes of the First World War?”
The more we find out, the less we know. Even the most dedicated Royal-watchers seem to change their minds, from year to year. Take Penny Junor, for instance. In her 1987 book Charles, she painted a rosy picture of the Royal Honeymoon.
“When their two weeks on Britannia were over, the relaxed and sun-soaked newly-weds returned to Britain… Charles looked years younger, and carefree for almost the first time in his life… Diana glowed with contentment.”
But in Junor’s new book about Camilla, she paints a rather different picture of the Royal Honeymoon. “The whole thing was a disaster,” she says, “serving only to demonstrate how little they had in common.”
Which version to believe? Contradiction piles on contradiction, with wildly differing accounts from authors and protagonists alike. Over the years, Charles and Diana contradicted not only each other but also themselves.
Were those first few weeks of marriage really as unhappy as both made them out to be? One of their most judicious chroniclers, Sarah Bradford, suspects not. “Both sides, writing with hindsight, exaggerated the misery of that time: at an informal photo call on the banks of the River Dee, the couple looked fond and radiant.”
By now, even the most forensic Royal chronicler must be finding it hard to separate fact from fiction. So what chance for those poor sixth-formers as they go into the examination hall in 2117 to face the Charles and Diana paper?
This new, or “new”, book by Andrew Morton will serve to confuse them still further. In 1992, Morton produced Diana: Her True Story, which revealed that the Royal marriage seen by the nation as a fairy tale was in fact from a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.
Charles was unloving and unfaithful, and Diana was bulimic and self-harming and the veteran of multiple suicide attempts. The book was condemned at the time as sensationalist trash, but then it soon emerged that Diana had secretly collaborated with Morton, and that most of the malicious gossip had come straight from the horse’s mouth.
For followers of Diana, this work became their Dead Sea Scrolls. Making hay while the sun shone, Morton brought out first Diana: Her New Life in 1994, and then, within months of her death in 1997, Diana: Her True Story In Her Own Words, in which he reprinted the transcripts of her original interviews and officially outed her as his principal source.
He followed this up with Diana: In Pursuit Of Love (2004), in which he chronicled her affairs with Messrs Hewitt, Gilbey, Hoare, Carling, Khan, Mannakee and Whalley, even though, for all her candour about her husband’s flings, she had never uttered a word about them to her lapdog biographer.
And now, to prove that there’s still life in the old lapdog, here comes Diana Her True Story – In Her Own Words in what is grandly billed as – woooh! – the Fully Revised 25th Anniversary Edition.
In his foreword, Morton suggests that there’s plenty of new material here because noise interference on the original tapes “prevented us from being able to include as much as we would have liked” in the original work. So now, “thanks to advances in modern technology, we’ve been able to extract her words and I can now share a more comprehensive account of her historic and truly unique interviews”.
Oh, yes? In fact, if you compare this transcript to the transcript in his previous book, you’ll find there’s precious little new here – maybe five per cent at most. Half a page on the merits of the 81-year-old Jacob Rothschild (“Jacob’s very, very clever”) is hardly a testament to advances in modern technology. Much of the rest concerns Diana’s mother, who was still alive 25 years ago, and so may well have had a libel lawyer on hand to greet the book’s first publication.
“My mother let me down terribly with the wedding. She kept crying and being all valiant and saying that she couldn’t cope with the pressure. I tended to think that I was the one under pressure, because I was the bride. So I didn’t speak to her for three or four years afterwards. She drove me mad when I was engaged – mad, mad, mad… It was me that was being strong and her sobbing the whole time. When I didn’t include her [in the wedding preparations] she got hurt, so out came the Valium. She’s been on the Valium ever since…”
Or - just as likely - when she came to editing Morton’s original text, did Diana realise that passages such as this would put her in a bad light? Did she then put a red pencil through them? If so, Morton isn’t saying.
In another new passage, Diana also reveals that as a child she saw her father slap her mother across the face. “I was hiding behind the door and mummy was crying.” She also claims that in the swimming pool at Highgrove, the three-year-old William once snapped at her: “You’re the most selfish woman I’ve ever met. All you do is think of yourself.”
“Where did you hear that?” said Diana.
“Oh, I’ve often heard Papa saying it,” said William. Or so she said he said he said. This, too, Diana may have excised in a fit of maternal discretion.
Most of the rest is a rehash, a rehash of a rehash, or a rehash of a rehash of a rehash. Yet, in a strange way, the tale of Charles and Diana grows all the more startling, all the more gothic, with each new repetition.
If only Alfred Hitchcock were still alive, just think what a movie he would make of it - part Rebecca, part Marnie, with a bit of Gaslight thrown in. At school, Diana wins, in her own words, ‘all sorts of prizes for the best-kept guinea pig section’ and enjoys tap-dancing.
She is pretty but, as she matures, some mental blockage prevents her from going all the way. “All my friends had boyfriends but not me because I knew somehow I had to keep myself very tidy for whatever was coming my way.” Just imagine the Hitchcock close-up on the red lips as they utter those two words: “very tidy”!
Diana falls in love with the oppressed Prince and, though they barely know each other, they are soon engaged to be married. One day she is passing his door when she hears him on his phone saying “Whatever happens, I will always love you,” to his former girlfriend, Camilla.
“He’d found the virgin, the sacrificial lamb, and in a way he was obsessed with me. But it was hot and cold, hot and cold,” recalls Diana, as though auditioning for the lead role in her own story.
They marry, to universal rejoicing. As they walk up the aisle, Diana looks out for Camilla. At that very same moment, according to Penny Junor, the Prince is also looking out for Camilla, with “a slightly plaintive, sad look” on his face.
On their honeymoon, two photos of her fall out of the Prince’s diary, and he sports cufflinks with their two initials entwined. Consequently, Diana throws up four times a day. “Anything I could find I would gobble up and be sick two minutes later… that slightly got the mood swings going… I remember crying my eyes out on our honeymoon… At night, I dreamt of Camilla the whole time.”
When she is pregnant, she throws herself down the stairs, to be discovered by her mother-in-law, the Queen. As she grows madder, the Prince goes colder. After five years, “I wanted to talk to Charles about something. He wouldn’t listen to me, he said I was crying wolf. So I picked up his penknife off his dressing table and scratched myself heavily down my chest and both thighs. There was a lot of blood and he hadn’t made any reaction whatsoever.”
And so it goes on, a tale to be told, and retold, until the truth of what actually happened, the interminable rights and wrongs, are forever lost in the mists of time. Pity those poor students!’
Charles & Diana on honeymone - Getty Images