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

Daily Mail - - Special Historic Edition - By Richard Kay

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.

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