THE DIANA I KNEW
THE Daily Mail’s Richard Kay has been covering the Royal Family with outstanding authority for the past 11 years. During that time he has developed a unique relationship with Princess Diana. Here, he assesses the woman he came to know as a friend — and re
SIX HOURS before the Princess of Wales and the man she loved were killed in a papparazi car chase, she telephoned me from Paris.
She told me she had decided to radically change her life. She was going to complete her obligations to her charities and to the anti-personnel landmines cause and then, around November, would completely withdraw from her formal public life.
She would then, she said, be able to live as she had always wanted to live. Not as an icon — how she hated to be called one — but as a private person.
It was a dream sequence I’d heard from her before, but this time I knew she meant it.
In my view as someone close to the Princess for almost five years, Dodi Fayed was a significant factor in that decision. She was in love with him, and perhaps more important, she believed that he was in love with her and that he believed in her.
They were, to use an old but priceless cliche, blissfully happy. I cannot say for certain that they would have married, but in my view it was likely.
None of this would mean, she explained, an end to the good works that had been so closely identified with her. Dodi’s father, Mohamed Al Fayed, had agreed to help finance a charity for the victims of mines and, with Dodi’s encouragement, she had also sketched out the framework of a plan to open hospices for the dying all over the world.
And yet, in the midst of all this excitement, she suddenly said: ‘But I sometimes wonder what’s the point? Whatever I do, it’s never good enough for some people.’
There was a sigh and a silence. At the other end of the line was not so much a princess as a little girl who had unburdened herself and was waiting for words of comfort and understanding. She knew that whatever I said and whatever I might write, it would always be what I thought, and sometimes necessarily, it would be critical.
So she trusted me and revealed herself constantly as a person completely unrecognisable to her most vocal critics, many of whom had never even met her.
HER critics saw a scheming manipulator, a plotter, shrieking for the world’s attention and demanding the world’s approval and understanding.
I knew a girl of utter simplicity, even naivety — frightened, uncertain and, as Tony Blair said in his moving tribute yesterday, delightful company, especially when off-duty.
She asked me on Saturday why the media were ‘ so anti- Dodi’. ‘ Is it because he’s a millionaire?’ she suggested hesitantly.
You cannot be a ‘manipulator’ and ask a serious question like that. Anyway, I told her it had nothing to do with his money and was more involved with his father’s controversial image.
She listened. ‘Hmm.’ Maybe for once she thought I was being diplomatically evasive. It seemed to me that she actually believed that in a world filled with the disadvantaged, being rich might be something to be ashamed of.
But this was a Princess who understood so little about that aspect of the real world she left behind when she married in 1981, that the first time she insisted on paying for two coffees in an anonymous café where we had met for a chat, away from prying eyes, she tried to leave a £5 tip on top of a £2 bill.
Suddenly she brightened and we switched subjects to her ‘ boys’, William and Harry.
‘I’m coming home tomorrow and the boys will be back from Scotland in the evening,’ she said. ‘I will have a few days with them before they’re back at school.’
It may sound thoroughly irrelevant to reiterate what was obvious to everyone, her devotion to her sons. But the significance lay in their uncomplicated love for her.
She was a bit troubled on Saturday because William had called her to say that he was being required by Buckingham Palace to ‘perform’ — they wanted him to carry out a photocall at Eton where he was due to begin his third year on Wednesday.
What troubled Diana, and indeed William, was that the spotlight was being shone exclusively on William, 15, and not his 12-year- old brother, Harry.
DIANA had told me on a previous occasion how hard it was for Harry being overshadowed as a second son and said she tried to ensure as far as possible that everything was shared — a point endorsed by Prince Charles.
In her two sons — and latterly in Dodi — she saw the only men in her life who had never let her down and never wanted her to be anything but herself.
It was on a return flight from Nepal early in 1993 that the Princess and I had our first serious and lengthy conversation. We had a number of mutual friends and I had met her on several previous occasions. We talked about her trip, her children, her family and mine.
It was the start of what became a friendship based on one crucial element — her complete understanding that I, as a journalist, would never sacrifice my impartiality, especially where it concerned her acrimonious differences with the Prince of Wales and certain members of the Royal Family.
Competitors and some royal advisers frequently suggested I was in her pocket, and there was that picture of me getting out of her car in Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge — snapped, inevitably, by a paparazzo.
Over the years, I saw her at her happiest and in her darkest moments. There were times of confusion and despair when I believed Diana was being driven almost to the point of destruction by the incredible pressures made on her.
I knew from the outset that her mines campaign would cause her as much distress as satisfaction, as her simple notion of using her own fame to save lives was thrown in her face by politicians who accused her of embarrassing the Government by meddling in things she didn’t fully understand.
‘What is there to understand when people are having their legs blown off?’ she asked me on many occasions.
She talked of being strengthened by events, and anyone could see how the bride of 20 had grown into a mature woman, but I never found her strong. She was as unsure of herself at her death as when I first talked with her
on that aircraft and she wanted reassurance about the role she was creating for herself.
In private, she was a completely different person from the manicured clothes horse that the public’s insatiable demand for icons had created.
She was natural and witty and did a wonderful impression of the Queen. This was the person, she told me, that she would have been all the time if she hadn’t married into the world’s most famous family.
Just before last Christmas, I lunched with her at a friend’s house in Hampstead. We ate vegetable curry with pulses and rice, and drank still water. Diana was intoxicating company. She never needed on that day — or any carefree day with friends for that matter — the fortification of alcohol.
After lunch, she helped clear the table and stacked the dishwasher, soaked the pans and wiped the table with a damp cloth.
Then four of us went for a walk on Hampstead Heath. We were all arm-in-arm, plodding through mud after heavy rain in ordinary shoes, laughing at the state they were in.
People passing us on the Heath could hardly believe they were seeing the most famous woman in the world, entirely without her public make-up. She wore jeans and ankle boots. Her unstyled hair was at its natural shape, flat.
But the simple soul who was the real Diana was already anticipating Christmas, which she hated because her sons inevitably spent it with their father and the rest of the Royal Family.
She would be alone as usual, and told me she was going away to Bermuda for a few days. It was the solitary glum moment in a sunny afternoon and she soon shrugged it off and began to have fun.
On Saturday, she didn’t talk much about Dodi, and I understood why: she was afraid that the moment too much was read into the relationship it would end.
She always feared that the pressures of publicity would alienate any man in her life.
‘Who would have me with all the baggage I come with?’ she would say.
She had told me she regretted admitting in her famous Panorama interview to having an affair with James Hewitt, whom she had also loved.
So why had she said it? The answer was simplicity itself: Charles had admitted adultery on television, so why shouldn’t she?
Whatever the psychiatrists said about her bulimia and its roots in her disruptive childhood, Diana believed that its main cause was the poor quality of her life with Charles — ‘ there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded’, as she told the Panorama audience.
This made her gloomy enough. And yet it never pushed her to the extremes of misery she felt when commentators and the public misunderstood what she was doing.
Most of all, she hated being called ‘manipulative’ and privately railed against those who used the word to describe her. ‘ They don’t even know me,’ she would say bitterly, sitting cross-legged on the floor of her apartment in Kensington Palace and pouring tea from a china pot. It was this blindness, as she saw it, to what she really was that led her to seriously consider living in another country where she hoped she would be understood.
The idea first emerged in her mind about three years ago. ‘I’ve got to find a place where I can have peace of mind,’ she said to me.
She considered France, because it was near enough to stay in close touch with William and Harry. She thought of America because she — naively, it must be said — saw it as a country so brimming over with glittery people and celebrities that she would be able to ‘disappear’.
She also thought of South Africa, where her brother Charles has made his home, and even Australia because it was the furthest place she could think of from her seat of
unhappiness. But this would have separated her from her sons.
Everyone said she would go anywhere, do anything to have her picture taken, but in my view the truth was completely different.
A good day for Diana was one where her picture was not taken and paparazzi photographers did not pursue her and clamber over her car. ‘Why are they so obsessed with me?’ she would ask me, and I tried to explain, but never felt that she fully understood.
Millions of women dreamed of changing places with her, but the Princess I knew yearned for the ordinary humdrum routine of their lives. ‘They don’t know how lucky they are,’ she would say.
On Saturday, just before she was joined by Dodi for that last fateful dinner at the Ritz in Paris, she told me how ‘fed up’ she was with being compared publicly with Camilla Parker Bowles.
‘It’s all so meaningless,’ she said, and left it at that.
She didn’t say — she never said — whether she thought Charles and Camilla should marry. Then, knowing that as a journalist I often have to work at weekends, she said to me: ‘Unplug your phone and get a good night’s sleep.’ They were her final words to me, uttered with the same warmth and consideration with which she wrote to my mother when my father died last year and then sent tickets for the ballet I had told her my mother loved.
On Saturday evening, Diana was as happy as I have ever known her.
For the first time in years, all was well with her world.