by Heather Mallick The Toronto Sun, October 19, 1997 The transcripts of Princess Diana's words are moving and honest. Morton's book is written in the same spirit of candor she approved of. It's good journalism and I like it.

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 loathed.

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 way.

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 dead."

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 meticulously tracked.

"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 was."

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 things up."

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 were.

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 accurate.

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 people.

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 Ritz Hotel.

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 to judge?

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 not recover.

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.

why defend morton? Andrew Morton has become something of a scapegoat for the flood of exploitation and bad taste that has appeared in the seven weeks since Princess Diana's death. If it appears strange to readers that I back Morton wholeheartedly, I have my own reasons.

I think women still need defenders. The strange thing is, the more beautiful a woman is, the more young, the more successful, the more it seems she needs defending. I interviewed Morton several years ago when Princess Diana was only emerging into the sunshine; he struck me as a nice man and the kind of person Diana typically would have on her side.

There is an ugly strand of woman-bullying that runs through today's deteriorating journalism. I do hope it's gone by the time my little nieces grow up. This meanness is so widespread that when I found out about Diana's death, I refused to risk reading about it or watching television, because I knew what was coming. I just took my flowers to the Princess of Wales Theatre and stayed out of it.

Anyone has the right to be indifferent to her death - many of my friends felt this way - but no one has the right to be vicious. Sure enough, there have been floods of Diana corpse jokes, columns suggesting that she was asking for it, and a strange mockery of perfectly kind, well-meaning people who felt genuine grief

and pity at her death. Three days after the funeral, I managed to make myself watch the ceremony on tape, and will always be grateful to Peter Mansbridge for having the decency to just respectfully shut up.

The transcripts of Princess Diana's words are moving and honest. Morton's book is written in the same spirit of candor she approved of. It's good journalism and I like it.

Reprinted with permission from the Toronto Sun, a division of Sun Media Corporation.

home .  join the discussion .  pictures .  bbc interview .  interviews .  readings
morton book controversy .  press & the royal family .  links .  press reaction .  tapes & transcripts

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

pbs online