Diana tapes damn the en­tire aris­toc­racy

Sunday Herald - - COMMENT - Vicky Al­lan

THE record­ings of Princess Diana made in 1992 by her voice coach Peter Set­te­len have long been easy to find on the in­ter­net. This evening, the footage will be broad­cast in Chan­nel 4 doc­u­men­tary Diana: In Her Own Words. The plan to broad­cast the ma­te­rial has trig­gered out­rage. Ex-royal but­ler Paul Bur­rell de­clared it a “step too far”; Dickie Ar­biter, for­mer spokesman for the Queen, pro­nounced it “shame­ful”; Diana’s friend Rosa Mon­ck­ton called it “a breach of pri­vacy”. Her brother Earl Spencer begged Chan­nel 4 not to screen them.

The heat around the tapes, how­ever, is noth­ing new. Twelve of them were found in a po­lice raid in Bur­rell’s home in 2001 and were re­turned to Set­te­len fol­low­ing a law­suit, af­ter which he sold them to the US net­work NBC. The BBC even came close to broad­cast­ing them in 2007, then shelved the pro­gramme.

So on one level the doc­u­men­tary is no big deal. The stuff is out there in the public do­main. The royal fam­ily and the Spencers may be scram­bling to close the sta­ble door, but the horse has so long bolted that it’s al­ready gal­loped along the mo­tor­way and crossed the At­lantic to the United States, where it starred in an NBC doc­u­men­tary.

Some 20 years af­ter Diana’s death, there is lit­tle that is sur­pris­ing in the tapes. Mostly, it is just Diana say­ing, in dif­fer­ent words, what was said in the 1992 An­drew Mor­ton book Diana: Her True Story, and in the 1995 Martin Bashir Panorama in­ter­view. But there are fresh de­tails – like the fact she and Charles had sex once ev­ery three weeks, or that when she went to the Queen for ad­vice she was of­fered no help, ex­cept the com­ment that Charles was “hope­less”.

Some lines stand out. We learn that Charles’s “what­ever in love is” re­ply to an early in­ter­viewer who asked if the cou­ple were in love “ab­so­lutely trau­ma­tised” her. She also, with acute self-loathing, re­calls how she her­self an­swered “yes”, “like the fat Sloane ranger I was”.

But prob­a­bly most shock­ing is her de­scrip­tion of how, when she chal­lenged Charles over his re­la­tion­ship with Camilla, he replied: “I refuse to be the only Prince of Wales who never had a mis­tress.”

It is not only the royal fam­ily but the wider aris­to­cratic class, in­clud­ing her own birth fam­ily, the Spencers, that are con­demned by her in­ter­view. Her par­ents gave her no hugs, never told her they loved her, and sent her to board­ing school at the age of nine.

The mes­sage that emerges is about the whole aris­to­cratic mess, the sys­tem of power and class that dom­i­nates our coun­try. Has that changed? A lit­tle, per­haps.

Fewer posh peo­ple send their chil­dren to board­ing school at a ten­der age. Hugs are more in fash­ion. Hands-on fa­ther Prince Wil­liam was pho­tographed strug­gling to put baby Ge­orge into a car seat as he and Kate left hos­pi­tal fol­low­ing the birth. The stiff up­per lip has drooped a lit­tle. But there’s still an el­e­ment that is all about power, hi­er­ar­chies and keep­ing up ap­pear­ances.

What strikes me most is how dis­tant, his­tor­i­cally speak­ing, the plight of Diana now seems. The royal fam­ily has weath­ered its bad pub­lic­ity, shuf­fled Charles into the back­ground, and is more pop­u­lar than ever. Bol­stered by the TV drama The Crown, can­did in­ter­views by the princes, and the com­par­a­tively ple­beian glam­our brought by Kate Mid­dle­ton and Prince Harry’s girl­friend Meghan Markle, the roy­als are en­joy­ing a re­nais­sance.

One of the ar­gu­ments be­ing made to jus­tify tonight’s doc­u­men­tary is that since the two princes made their own doc­u­men­tary, Our Mother, they in­vited a kind of open sea­son on Diana. Slight as this jus­ti­fi­ca­tion may seem, it does con­tain the germ of a prin­ci­ple. The royal fam­ily is good at cre­at­ing its own pro­pa­ganda, spin­ning tales for us, cre­at­ing images. Since we, the tax­pay­ers, fund this fam­ily, there is a re­quire­ment for real sto­ries that crack through the palace’s PR fa­cade.

I don’t feel sul­lied by hav­ing watched the Set­te­len in­ter­views. It seemed to me that their sleaze fac­tor had been hyped up. In this era of open­ness, it all seems a lit­tle tame and fa­mil­iar. Watch­ing them, I felt some plea­sure in see­ing that young woman, re­laxed un­guarded, feet on the sofa, be­ing more “real” than she had seemed in any other footage I’d seen.

No doubt many peo­ple will watch it, not just for scan­dal, but be­cause there re­mains an ap­petite for in­ti­mate images and in­ter­views with beau­ti­ful women, like Diana, Jackie Kennedy or Marilyn Monroe, who were caught in the web of power that was the pa­tri­archy of their time.

That said, this footage, old news as it is, isn’t re­ally the doc­u­men­tary we need right now. That film would be one that sheds light on the royal fam­ily at this mo­ment. Can it re­ally have changed so much since Diana’s time? Isn’t it, surely, just the same pa­tri­ar­chal sys­tem and hi­er­ar­chy, but with a few more mod­ern faces?

There re­mains an ap­petite for in­ti­mate images and in­ter­views with beau­ti­ful women, like Diana, Jackie Kennedy, or Marilyn Monroe

Photograph: PA/PA Wire

Diana con­tin­ues to in­ter­est and in­trigue us

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.