It has been said that the most we can ask is to die in our sleep.
It appears that the least we can ask is to be pursued by jackals, be betrayed
by a drunk driver, have our heart partly pulled out of our chest, bleed from
the nose and mouth and ears, have our cries of pain - "Aye, aye, aye" - echo in
a black tunnel, and die comfortless after 20 minutes of swarming by men we
The sadness and horror of it boggle the mind. Even Andrew Morton, her
authorized biographer, who followed every step of the late Princess Diana's
adult life, still cannot believe it happened, particularly in such a violent
He first learned of her death when he was awoken on that terrible morning at a
friend's house in Edinburgh and told, "Andrew, this is not a wind-up. Diana's
He said in an interview in Toronto this week on his book tour that he has
wept, many times, since that moment. "What gets me about it is the utter waste
of it. That's what makes me really angry. Diana had clawed her way out of the
depths, the darkness, through this tunnel and she was seeing a bit of sunlight
in her life. One step forward, two steps back," a progress Morton had
"And for the first time, the PM acknowledged her humanitarian work, she had her
dream job, she had got what she wanted. That's what I find worst of all, the
utter waste, I can't tell you. She was about to achieve greatness, she really
Morton, whose Diana, Her True Story had already sold five million copies
worldwide, decided to reissue his book with the stunning revelation that the
source of that book had been not only Diana's friends and family, but Diana
herself. This had been suspected before, but not known. The reissued book,
subtitled "With New Material Including Her Own Words," contains edited
transcripts of Diana's spoken, taped responses (six 90-minute cassettes, not
all filled) to Morton's written questions.
The transcripts are quite extraordinary to read, giving a very human version of
the princess looking back on a truly awful life. They give the sad illusion
that this lovely young woman is still alive, chattering away, free-form, in her
distinctive British shorthand.
Her first memory is the smell of the hood of her pram. Her worst disruption was
when Mummy decided to "leg it" (leave Earl Spencer). She nannied in London for
"velvet hairbands" (bossy, Sloane Ranger types). When she's sick, she's sick as
a parrot." People are all over her "like a bad rash." When she doubted her
ability as a wife and mother, she had "doubts as long as one's leg." She "cocks
She talks like a regular person, recalling having to turn on the Christmas
lights in the Regent Street shopping district and not being able to do up her
culottes because she was pregnant and nauseated. "I was shit scared," she
confesses and so would we be, if we were honest enough to admit it.
But people don't like princesses to use that word, and Morton was aware that
Diana, feeling voiceless and desperate to get her story out, was very much in
unfamiliar territory, perhaps taking inadvisable risks. So he protected her
from herself with a gallantry that is absolutely not typical of journalists and
only now do we discover that the princess was "shitting bricks" when she
visited her husband's relatives at Balmoral.
There's so much more that we know now. In the transcripts, she says one of the
most vivid memories of the royal wedding was walking down the aisle at St.
Paul's and seeing Camilla Parker-Bowles wearing pale grey and a veiled pillbox
hat, accompanied by her son, of all people. She says that in the six weeks
before Harry's birth, she and Charles were "the closest we've ever, ever been
and ever will be," but Charles' cruel remarks about the baby - didn't want
another boy, didn't like redheads - plus the Camilla affair, killed it.
And as for what many people wondered about - how could you vomit up your food
for 11 years and still look healthy and beautiful, albeit rake-thin - Diana
herself couldn't figure it out. "My skin never suffered from it nor my teeth.
When you think of all the acid! I was amazed at my hair." As indeed we all
Back in 1991, Morton and his publisher, Michael O'Mara, were taken aback by
Diana's remarks about her husband's infidelity. Hard as it is to imagine now,
they didn't believe her until she showed them Parker-Bowles' love letters to
Prince Charles. What seemed like paranoia turned out to be perfectly
Diana was genuinely suffocated, in many ways a prisoner, accompanied everywhere
by a bodyguard, every visitor to her home logged and checked, telephones bugged
and so on. Her married life was so painful that her private secretary Patrick
Jephson described it once as "watching a slowly spreading pool of blood seeping
from under a locked door." The palace had the upper hand, with
the eternal threat that her children would be taken from her, and she was
terrified, but daring.
Therefore, Morton and O'Mara gave her deniability by using a go-between to
present her with questions, so that she could say she had never met Morton. Her
nickname for Morton was "Noah," a joke based on an American paper's pompous
reference to him as a "notable author and historian."
But no one knew all this at the time. "In 1992," Morton says angrily, "I was
called a liar." This is in some ways preferable to what he is called now, which
is essentially a profiteer from Princess Diana's death.
Two words sum up the reaction to Diana's death and the coverage of it:
hypocrisy and misogyny, he says. What you have to remember, he says accurately,
is that everyone had his own agenda during her life, and still does in the
aftermath. "I have been attacked most vociferously by those people who have
made the most money out of Diana's death: Newspapers, magazines, TV shows,
they've all operated by sleight of hand, claiming that they're doing something of
public service." But it is highly profitable public service, is it not?
Morton says the re-publication reflects the princess's belief in openness,
honesty and clarity. She resorted to subterfuge only because she was battling
venomous Palace courtiers in the only possible way. If indeed Prince Charles
does object to the book's publication, as has been reported - and Morton says
he has long since given up trying to assess the truthfulness of the Charles gang
-- then it is an odd stance for a man who publicly admitted he had never loved
his worried, young wife and had had three separate affairs with Parker-Bowles.
With every sympathy for couples like this one who cannot possibly live
together, surely Charles' indignation is off-balance.
After the first publication, the resentment at Morton's success in the tight-knit, intensely competitive world of royal-watchers on British newspapers
was profound. And now, "They're very good at pressing sour grapes," he says,
"but not very good at eating humble pie."
He points out the irony of being vilified by tabloids who paid huge sums to the
paparazzi who tormented her and who now sell newspapers by quoting her words in
his book. And he notes the class prejudice at work here, which is not apparent
to a Canadian audience. Morton was not a toff, but a grammar school boy from the north of England who attended a red-brick university. "I don't speak
with a plum in my mouth," he says. Translation: He didn't go to a fee-paying
upper-class school like Eton and then on to Oxford or Cambridge. So he is not
considered fit to question the mores of the Royal Family.
"Then you have the tabloids, who took a good kicking for having blood on their
hands in Diana's death." Their circulations tumbled in the weeks following, and
they tried to regain credibility by attacking Morton in terms "more
sanctimonious than thou."
Astonishingly, Rupert Murdoch, who owns a fine newspaper, the Times of London,
and two dreadful ones, the London Sun and the News of the World, was quoted as
saying the only thing wrong with the paparazzi photos was that his editors
overpaid for them. "I think you will see a great deal more restraint and a
better-policed code of ethics," Murdoch said, adding, "It would be a major
cost-saving if we can see this through."
Horribly insensitive, Morton agrees, but he points out that Diana's nemesis was
not the Murdoch papers but the Mirror, edited by a man called Piers Morgan,
which drove her out of public life by running a free number for the public to
listen in on taped royal phonecalls and secretly photographing her splayed on
an exercise machine. "And they've got the nerve to attack me," Morton says.
It's a tangled web working out the morality of how Diana was treated both
before and after her hideous death. Morton points out that the Di and Dodi
yacht photos, taken by a long lens and published in the Sunday Mirror
(increasing its circulation by 200,000) were reproduced in papers like The
Toronto Sun and viewed by many readers with enjoyment. The Fayeds profit in
social and legal terms from showing the Ritz video of Diana and Dodi's last moments of life. I
myself profit emotionally from evidence that Diana's last days were blissfully
happy; I profit professionally if this article pleases my editor. We all have
blood on our hands; the best of us feel guilty about it.
Then there are the extremes. The Daily Telegraph, which likes to think itself
socially superior, has actually produced a Diana "tribute" volume that includes
a photo of her clearly taken against her will in a private moment. The woman is
actually fleeing from the photographer. She was fleeing as she died. Does no
one call a halt ever?
Apparently not. An American woman who purchased several of Diana's ballgowns
has reported that she found a blond hair in the gown's beading. She's
auctioning the beads to raise money for charity; is she going to auction the
hair, too, or just frame it?
The massive donations to Princess Diana's charitable trust and the fuss over
the Red Cross refusing Morton's huge donation from book profits (next week, he
is indeed making a donation to a landmines charity) also have a way of
trivializing her, as though the woman were nothing more than a giant combine
harvester for charity fundraising. She was not a charitable institution, she
was not a saint, she was simply a very brave and good woman.
Ah, misogyny. Morton, who is married and has two daughters, says quite openly
that Britain is behind Canada and perhaps the United States in its treatment of
women. "Britain is a misogynistic, male-dominated society," he says simply.
"And Diana was a feminine feminist."
There was something about her gentleness and determination and, in fact, her
beauty that enraged people who are, as Earl Spencer put it so succinctly in his
funeral oration, "at the opposite end of the moral spectrum."
Diana knew perfectly well she was disliked by the right wing ("Oh, Conservatives," she said tiredly, after her Angolan landmines trip led a
leading Tory to call her a loose cannon). Robert Harris of the Sunday Times
called the Diana haters "big bottoms." These were well-off nasties, horribly
out of tune with the times, Morton says, which Diana emphatically was not.
In the '80s, she was the glamorous Diana, he says, a persona she grew to
dislike, along with the "dark years" that accompanied them.
It was only in the '90s that she came into her own. "She was an intuitive,
instinctive, individual," Morton says, very much attuned to the "spiritual
undercurrent in our society," the spirit of the times. The mass media is
rational and logical, he explains. It is "atomistic" while she was "holistic."
To use an analogy, Morton says, "When she saw a flower, she would note its
blueness; they would be counting the petals."
Most people are so powerless, Morton says, in political life, in the
workplace, in the culture. "Diana reached out to the margins, talking to people
on the bottom rung. She did things I couldn't do, like visiting the dying." By
talking freely for Morton's book, she was reaching out over the heads of the
Establishment - the Palace and the mass media - and communicating with ordinary
She was, as British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in his funeral oration, "of
the people." This was anathema to the big bottom types, the uglies, the haters,
and especially to people like British newspaper editors, who Morton says have
become rich and remote. "They drive around in limos, talk to their cronies on
mobile phones and are removed from reality." The media should be the
weathervane of what people are feeling, but often they are the last to know.
Morton offers several examples of how what the people want is consistently
misread by the powerful. When Windsor Castle burned down, the media took it for
granted that the government would pay for its restoration, until it became
extremely clear that taxpayers wouldn't stand for it. Margaret Thatcher was
slavishly supported by the media on the poll tax, but people power was
against her. People made it clear that the Royal Family's treatment of Diana in death
was as cold and cruel as it was in life. However anxious commentators are to
slurp sugar over the Queen's attempt to make amends, it seems very clear that
the damage may never be repaired.
When Morton wrote Diana, Her True Story in 1991, he prepared himself for three
questions about Diana: "What did Diana hope to gain from this book, why did she
co-operate with me, and how did the mechanics of the story occur?"
These were all central questions. But in his British interviews, he was never
once asked about Diana. "It was all, 'How dare you write about this?' and 'How
much money are you making?' The questions were never about the story, they were
about the periphery of the story. They lost sight of the first rule of
journalism, which is to tell a story."
As for Dodi Fayed and his family, Morton's take is tinged with suspicion. He
agrees that attacks on the Egyptian-born Fayed do have an element of racism,
but points out there was genuine concern about the fact that the Fayeds got
their money through arms-dealing. (Dodi's uncle on his mother's side is
Adnan Khashoggi, the world's most notorious arms dealer.) And the Fayed family were
associated with a scandal in which MPs accepted cash to ask questions in
Parliament, as well as an old dispute over the means they used to purchase the
Harrods department store. "Diana did show a certain naivete," Morton says.
He points out that the romance with Dodi Fayed may well have been nothing more
than a summer fling, which would have been fine. "They are now united forever
because of their deaths," which he finds unfortunate.
He emphasizes Dodi Fayed's failure to care for the princess, but obviously
agrees that Prince Charles consistently failed to care for her too. Morton's
grief is obvious: She spent 16 years being pursued by the paparazzi, he says,
yet she knew Dodi Fayed for a few weeks, and she was dead. She should have had
an official bodyguard but she had decided to do without them; the royal
security detail, Morton points out acidly, does not employ drunks as does the
This assessment strikes me as dubious. Morton's scenario, that a drunken Henri
Paul was pathetically anxious to carry out Dodi Fayed's scheme to outrun the
paparazzi, is perfectly plausible, but then anything is plausible now that the
participants are all in their graves.
Morton plain does not like the idea of Dodi Fayed; I cannot see how Dodi was a
step down from Prince Charles in any way. In an echo of a similar situation
decades ago, was Aristotle Onassis really a worse choice than the philandering
John F. Kennedy? Had Jacqueline Kennedy fallen in love with a Jewish diamond
dealer, as she did in her later, happy years, and died in a crash fleeing the
paparazzi she hated - and successfully sued - would the reaction to her
choice of companion have been the same? Probably.
Those who cared about the life and death of Princess Diana are in a
heartbreaking moral conundrum that can never be resolved. We will never know.
Who is moral and who is not? Who made the right choices? Who has the right
We are once again back to the fact that on every level, her death was a tragic
waste, an event from which her children - and others who loved her - may well
It is eerie to read in the transcripts the comment from Princess Diana about
wanting to spend a weekend in Paris. "I see myself one day living abroad. I
don't know why I think that and I think of either Italy or France. Last August
a friend said to me that I'm going to marry somebody who's foreign, or who has
got a lot of foreign blood in them."
As a CNN commentator said an hour after her life had ended, "She would have
said it was not in her stars."
I wish that were true. I wish everything was fated and not within our control.
But that is nonsense. I watch those tapes and wish she had not left that hotel,
had not gotten into that car with that driver in those circumstances, but she
did and it was awful and it's over and it is irretrievably sad.
Say not the struggle naught availeth, we tell ourselves, but it's hard.