A decision by Channel 4 to broadcast private video recordings of Diana, Princess of Wales, in which she discusses her failing marriage and her love affair with a royal protection officer has been condemned as “exploitative” and “hurtful”.
The princess spoke candidly to her voice coach, Peter Settelen, during a series of meetings at Kensington Palace in 1992-93. He taped them, ostensibly to improve her public speaking technique.
Following the princess’s death in 1997, the tapes found their way into the hands of her butler, Paul Burrell. Earl Spencer fought an unsuccessful legal battle to claim them, but they reverted to Mr Settelen.
He has sold them to Channel 4 for an undisclosed sum and they form the heart of a documentary, Diana: In Her Own Words, to be shown next Sunday.
Friends of the Royal family are said to be aghast that the private tapes will be aired, barely a week after Princes William and Harry paid public tribute to their mother with a film of their own. Critics say the film is “exploitative” and “ghoulish”.
Penny Junor, the royal biographer who has written studies of the Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and Prince Harry, condemned the decision to screen the tapes. They were broadcast in the US in 2004, but have not been seen since. The BBC bought some of the footage in 2007 but the project was shelved amid claims it would be deemed in bad taste.
Ms Junor said: “This is just another way of exploiting Diana. It’s not what Charles would want and it’s clearly not what the boys would want. It will be deeply hurtful to them.
“It seems to me a very bad idea to broadcast these tapes, especially at this difficult time for the family.”
Princess Diana’s former butler Paul Burrell condemns Channel 4 tapes
But Channel 4 has strongly defended its decision to air the recordings. Ralph Lee, its deputy chief creative officer, said the conversations could not be considered private because they were done in a question-and-answer style with a camera running.
“The idiom – that she’s sitting on a sofa – is very familiar. She’s very clearly talking to someone in front of a camera. There’s nothing surreptitious,” he said.
“The word that has been used is that the footage is somehow ‘ghoulish’. I simply don’t agree with that. She is self-consciously and clearly taking part in a filmed process. I don’t think viewers will feel greatly uneasy with that.”
Asked about the feelings of Princes William and Harry, Mr Lee replied: “It’s not for me to speculate what they’ll think of it.”
In the tapes, Mr Settelen asks probing questions about her personal life, in what Channel 4 suggest could have been a practice run for her 1995 Panorama interview.
She recalls the night that her relationship with the Prince of Wales, a family friend, turned romantic. “We were sitting on a bale of straw at a barbecue… whereupon he leapt upon me and started kissing me,” she tells Mr Settelen.
“Next day he said, ‘Oh, you must come to Buckingham Palace with me. I’ve got some work to do but you wouldn’t mind sitting there while I do my work.’ And I thought, ‘Well, bugger it, I do mind sitting there while you do your work.’ And I said that. And that sort of lit up something in him, because someone answered back.”
Diana speaks of the anxiety she suffered during their early public engagements, her struggle with bulimia and how she was left “traumatised” when the Prince was asked in their engagement interview if he was in love and he famously replied: “Whatever love means.”
Referring to the Prince’s affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, now Duchess of Cornwall, the princess said: “I remember saying to my husband, ‘Why? Why is this lady around? And he said, ‘Well, I refuse to be the only Prince of Wales that never had a mistress.’”
One of the longest excerpts details her relationship with Manakee. “When I was 24, 25, I fell deeply in love with somebody who worked in this environment,” she confides.
“I was quite happy to give all this up,” she says, gesturing at the palace walls, “just to go off and live with him. Can you believe it?”
Manakee was transferred to other duties when rumours of the relationship began circulating. He died in a motorcycle accident weeks later. “It was all found out and he was chucked out and then he was killed. And that was the biggest blow of my life, I must say.”
The documentary includes interviews with the princess’s dance teacher from the English National Ballet; one of her closest friends, James Colthurst; her former protection officer, Ken Wharfe; and her former private secretary, Patrick Jephson.
Mr Wharfe admitted that “alarm bells went off” when the princess told him that Mr Settelen was recording their conversations. But he said the tapes showed the princess’s true nature and “it’s a film that both William and Harry should see”.
A young Prince William can be heard giggling in the background of one of the recordings.
Twelve tapes were recorded in total. Mr Settelen has only seven, Channel 4 said, and the whereabouts of the other five remain a mystery.
Mr Settelen declined to take part in the documentary.
His solicitor, Marcus Rutherford, said: “For the past 15 years Peter has been reluctant to show the tapes. But now, coming up to the 20th anniversary, with everyone, including her own children, discussing Diana and revisiting her life, he wants Diana to be able to speak for herself. It’s about giving her a voice.”
‘She loved to dance’ says Diana’s ballet tutor
Diana’s private ballet tutor has told how dancing helped the Princess cope with the stress of her turbulent personal life.
Anne Allan, who was first approached by Diana for lessons in 1981 when she was an instructor at the English National Ballet, said: “When I first met her you could see that there was a huge shyness. But over time as we went through our dance class realised just how much dance meant to her.
“She had dance in her soul. I realised the pure enjoyment that it gave her. She loved the freeness of being able to move and dance. She loved it. I could see it helped to alleviate her emotional life. That was hard for her at that time.”
Ms Allan, who now works as a choreographer in Canada, tells Channel 4’s Diana: In Her Own Words, that the princess struggled to cope with Prince Charles’ infidelity.
“She loved Charles, yes. But Charles loved another woman. It’s very hard for any woman when you love someone and you realise that perhaps they don’t love you. I think it made her very sad – devastated. She felt she wasn’t enough,” said Ms Allan.
“She told me that she was pregnant and she wanted to give her marriage absolutely everything that she could. She really wanted everybody to feel proud, but particularly Charles. It was very important because of course he was going to be the future king.
“She realised that Charles was seeing Camilla, and I just remember being quite horrified about what she was telling me, and at the same time rather shocked. She was worried about what it was that was going on. I know that she did ask Camilla to leave her husband alone. I thought that was quite brave of her actually because I know how much that must have taken for her to do that. “What can you do about it? All you can do is to try to make the marriage work and hope in time that things change, but that’s not really what happened.”
Ms Allan tells the programme that the stress of her failing marriage led to the princess suffering from bulimia.
“I noticed that she had lost a little bit of weight and that’s when she told me that was bulimic. It was pure pressure, stress,” she said.