q: Can you describe how the Sunday Times was perhaps one of the first serious
papers if you want to call them that to take the Royal Family seriously? I
mean in what way did they sort of break the mold of non-serious broad sheet
journalism about them?
a: I was commissioned to write a series of articles on the Monarchy in the
winter of 1990. I mean it was the first time I think probably in a decade that
any of the broadsheets had actually looked in any kind of analytical or
critical way at the way the Monarchy was both in its relations to the
church, to the media, its wealth and the whole meaning of Monarchy to modern
Britain, and at the time it helped circulation. So they were delighted and
they wanted more of it and so from that time onwards the Sunday Times took a
great deal of interest in the Royal Family. They serialized some of my books.
They serialized other books and they saw that circulation went up because they
came very belatedly to the fact that even people who read broad sheet
newspapers are also interested in the Royal Family and also the House of
Windsor but they need to be treated in a different way.
q: What do you think the impact of pieces that you did in the Sunday Times
were on the decision that was made by Diana's friends to help with your
a: There was a sense in Diana's mind of absolute despair. She was living this
lie inside the Royal Family. She saw that the Royal Family were riding the
crest of this wave being that she was supposed to be living in this fairy tale
marriage and she knew what the reality was. And somehow or other she wanted to
get the story out. She'd made various oblique references to on casual meetings
with photographers and journalists but nobody had really got any kind of sense
of the overall feelings that she had about her place inside the Royal Family.
So, when I started writing articles for the Sunday Times and they seemed to be
hitting the mark in relation to her relation to Prince Charles and more
specifically when there was a series of stories about her, their tenth wedding
anniversary and her thirtieth birthday and how Prince Charles had offered her a
party at Highgrove and she'd turned it down. And there was a sense there that
there was a real duel going on and so I took Princess Diana's side.
q: But you had embarked upon another book about her by 1991?
a: Yes the information that I was gleaning from this lifestyle book showed to
me that there was more to the Diana story than met the eye and what intrigued
me wasn't just the marriage. I was intrigued about what kind of person was
Diana growing up and going into this family? What's it like to go from being a
commoner, albeit a well-born commoner, into this bizarre goldfish bowl that we
call the Royal Family?
Everybody likes to think that Diana, Her True Story came about by some group
of Diana's friends getting together in a smoke-filled room and calling me up
and saying We'll tell you the whole story. It wasn't like that at all. It was
very much happenstance, accident. I happened to have a contact and several
contacts who were friendly with Diana. They were pointing out to her well
actually Morton's writing some decent stuff about you. Over a period of time,
over a few drinks, over a few meals, trust was beginning to be built up and
that's the whole basis of any kind of investigation. You've got to build up
trust with the people that you're dealing with and that's, what happened.
And so they trusted me not to spill the beans on little stories to newspapers
because I was looking at the longer view. Diana was beginning to trust the
fact that I was batting for her, one of the few journalists that were, and
trying to understand what she was doing, and so information was coming through.
I got the first story for example that Prince Charles had sacked his Private
Secretary and the reasons for it. So it was an anti-Charles story. Well,
knowing now what we know, Diana was doing cartwheels. She was delighted. I
was giving the inside story of what was really going on from Diana's
perspective of why her birthday bash at Highgrove had been canceled. So and
then I was also writing stories for other newspapers like the Sun about how
Camilla had gone to Italy and Prince Charles had gone to Italy at the same
time. I wasn't saying that they were having an affair but I was just pointing
it out to the general public. So for the first time Diana had a voice and she
could see that somebody in the media was actually speaking on her behalf.
q: But at what point did the friends suggest that you could turn all this
insight into a book?
a: There came a point where I had a long conversation with someone who knew
Diana very well and over a plate of bacon and eggs in a transport caff in
North Ruislip in, in North London, well away from prying eyes, we just chatted
about Diana's life and the real despair and despondency she felt and how some
of her friends really felt that she was on the verge of committing suicide and
they mentioned how she'd suffered from this eating disorder, bulimia; how she
was in a bad way mentally; how she was really finding it hard to cope; how she
would run out of the room when Prince Charles arrived in the room; how she
would just couldn't really get to grips with being an international super
star on the one hand in the public eye and being treated in such a poor way by
both the Royal Family and particularly by Prince Charles and of course the
thing which really riled her most of all was that she was living a lie in terms
of her marriage, that Camilla Parker-Bowles was effectively the mistress of
Highgrove and the mistress of Prince Charles and that was driving her to
despair. She's a jealous woman. She's an obsessive woman and it was breaking
q: But do you still how could you a tabloid journalist help the Princess of
Wales solve her private problems?
a: Commonsense and sensible advice.
q: That you relayed to her by her friends?
q: Naturally. So why did you decide to turn all this into a book? Why did they
say Why don't you do a book about this?
a: No, I mean at that time I was no longer a tabloid journalist.
q: Sorry, working on the Sunday Times.
a: My career had gone from being a tabloid journalist to being a freelance
journalist and to writing books. So I was writing books basically full-time
from 1987 onwards and doing pieces for newspapers and this enabled me to
build up a number of contacts independent of newspapers, independent of
television and who could trust me and I could trust them.
q: In fact I think in her Panorama interview she actually said that she was
asked the question Did you allow your friends to help Andrew Morton? And she
said Yes, I did.
a: Yes she did but it wasn't all her friends. I mean people, somebody like for
example James Hewitt said no and obviously because I would have got more on
that side of the story but I didn't. And it was very much a patchwork quilt
of trying to get as many people as possible to say yes and, when you've
actually got them to say yes, to break the habits of a lifetime to actually
give you an interview. There was a sense amongst those when you're actually
doing a biography of anyone you get a sense of who is really close to that
person and those who are really close really understood the despair, the sense
of isolation, the loneliness of this woman and they could see no way out for
They'd felt and they thought, they'd sat on their hands for a number of years
and thought right, things can only get better but they weren't getting better
for her. Several of them were concerned that she might even take her own life.
So their own decisions to speak to me were not just impelled by the fact that
Diana had given them the go-ahead but the fact that they did feel that by
actually talking about the reality of her life they would help her to improve
q: Did you imagine that Diana's friends must have been talking to her about
the kind of stuff they were giving you? I mean it was so intimate, so personal
and so extraordinary. Would you be horrified if your great mate didn't tell
you what they were telling the biographer about?
a: I think the key to understand Diana and also actually the Spencer family
really is that they're a very impetuous bunch and once they've actually decided
to do something they will go for it and Diana is not a great person for
long-term thinking. She doesn't actually work out the consequences of what
she's doing and what she's, and what she's saying. So there's no great
long-term strategy behind this on her part. It was all very much I'm in this
awful position. Things can only get better. And there was no great sense that
--and remember you're talking about individual interviews with one aspect of
the story and the overall jigsaw puzzle, as it were, was put together by
So she wasn't seeing that. She was just seeing individuals saying--' can I
speak to you' about the things which were quite apparent then to those in her
circle - her bulimia, the fact that Camilla was on the scene, the fact that
she'd tried to commit suicide was known to a few of her friends. All these
central building blocks of Diana, Her True Story were known to those people.
They'd lived with that for ten years or five years or whatever. They were aware
of it. It would, it had become the commonplace of their conversations. So in a
curious kind of way it wasn't dynamite to them. It was just ordinary. Like
today people look back and say and we all know about it now. But at the time
it was, it was very dramatic.
q: When other journalists and other newspapers heard about your book their
editors were obviously very intrigued and interested and they obviously wanted
to find out whether she'd helped you with it because that was what the rumor
was. Kent Gavin of the Daily Mirror asked her in Egypt whether she had
co-operated with the Morton book and she said no she hadn't. She subsequently
three years or whatever it was later in the Panorama interview said she' yes
she had asked people to help you with your book. How much do we therefore
believe her about anything?
a: I think that's very unfair to the Princess of Wales. The unspoken
agreement in this whole enterprise was that Diana would have total and utter
deniability of any involvement at all with this book, that the burden of
criticism would land on my shoulders, that some of her friends would stand by
what they had said and as a result of which Diana could say with a clear
conscience to the Queen or the Prime Minister or Prince Charles that she had
nothing to do with the book.
q: Well what was the line of people round the Palace about your book?
a: Oh the line at the Palace was that we don't comment on it. We're not going
to dignify it with any comment and I think they were quite, they gave a dusty
answer when it came to whether the Princess of Wales was involved in it. But
certainly I think the general impression was that her friends had, but she
hadn't. But then came this famous meeting between Caroline Bartholomew her
friend, and Diana a few days after the serialization in the Sunday Times
which was, as far as the public was concerned, clear evidence that Diana gave
support to those friends who had helped me.
q: Why did Diana's person tip off Kenny Lennox to go to Caroline Bartholomew's
a: Why did that happen? Well the reason why that there was a tip-off given
to newspapers about Diana's arrival at Caroline Bartholomew's house was very
simple - to show the world that Diana gave support to those friends who'd
stuck their neck out to speak to me. It was absolute, there was no two ways
about it, absolutely.
q: And what was your reaction to those pictures when you saw them? What did you
a: Well I thought that given the intensity of the opposition it really stopped
the media and the Establishment juggernaut in its path. But then, of course,
Diana the following day burst into tears when she went to Liverpool and that
put us back on the back foot again. But she said in the morning of that day
that she was going to burst into tears anyway because, just as a way of getting
criticism off her.
q: The Palace was obsessed about the extent of Diana's collaboration with
the book because this was obviously if it was true this was an extraordinary
thing for a member of the Royal Family to have done. I mean-- the days when
they would never speak to anybody really except if they were Lord Rothermere
or whatever, except in the most blandest of terms. And, obviously, it had
implications for the Institution if she had helped with your book. So they
were absolutely obsessed with it around her and you allude to that in your book
about how they were always asking her and so on and so forth. News
International was also very anxious as you said to authenticate the book and
they were very anxious to demonstrate to the Palace that they weren't some
republican-owned, muck-raking Monarchy-destroying organization. They wanted to
impress upon the Palace the seriousness of the way they'd gone about this and
the fact that this was a very genuine book. They appear to have alluded to
the tapes that you had of the conversations and even the possibility of a tape
of Diana herself talking to someone, not you, about the book. Do you remember
a: Yes, I think there's a confusion here between the different tapes. I think
there was the tape which has come to be known as squidgygate tape. This is
Diana talking to James Gilbey about their liaison, their relationship that
they had, that was in the safe of the Sun newspaper and I think when Andrew
Knight wrote a piece for the Spectator he may or may not have been alluding
to that. Then there were the tapes that I had of these legitimate conversations
and interviews with Diana's friends, which would be used as a last resort to
authenticate the contents of the book.
q: That's right and there was talk around the Palace of those tapes not, there
were some other tapes as you say and they were as confused as everybody else
was about which tapes they were talking about but they thought that there was a
tape of Diana talking as well not the Gilbey tape but an, a tape of her
talking in connection with your book, nothing to do with James Gilbey. That was
their conviction at the time.
a: Oh there were loads of rumors at the time and at the time they thought that
the Sunday Times had a tape of her talking to me, being
interviewed by me her talking to somebody else, Diana talking to somebody else
and as far as I'm concerned none of those are true. The
tapes that they had there was a tape in the Sun newspaper of Diana talking as
it turned out to James Gilbey and then a tape and then the tapes that I had of
the interviews with her, with her friends.
q: Now you mentioned the James Gilbey tape.
a: I was phoned up by Lloyd Turner, who was then the Editor, the Deputy Editor
of the Today newspaper, saying that there was this rumor going round that there
was a tape of Diana talking to somebody and that was I think in July 1992 and
so that was the first I'd heard of it. And anybody reading Diana, Her True
Story will see that there are two areas where I have not explored very well -
James Gilbey's relationship with Diana and Diana's relationship with James
Hewitt. And in both areas I didn't have the information.
q: The in fact the tape squidgytape had turned up in the offices of the Sun in
1990 and there were the Sun , the Sun had done an awful amount of work in
trying to authenticate that tape, consulting lots of journalists and friends
and there were a lot of people who recognized her voice and so on. You know
they really toiled very hard but no news of this had reached you despite your
links with other journalists? Who may have been asked to listen to the
a: I knew Stuart Higgins well, who is now the Editor of the Sun, Richard Kay
on the Daily Mail, who also had a copy of the tape. But their inquiries I
think had been done surreptitiously and, whilst there had been rumors of this
nobody had actually pinned it down. And at that time I was doing my best
certainly in 1992 to keep away from journalists and not answering the telephone
for the simple reason that they were always asking me questions about what was
in the Diana book.
q: Did you know that Stuart Higgins himself went to Lennox Gardens to
confront James Gilbey with the fact that he was, they had this telephone
a: Yes. Yes I subsequently learned the whole story and spoke to both Stuart
and James about it.
q: And what did James Gilbey say about his encounter with Stuart Higgins in the
a: Well he, after, when I spoke to him he didn't remember the conversation in
the same way that Stuart did.
q: How did he remember it?
a: Well what he hadn't confirmed that he was the voice behind the tapes and
that which I think was his question and had basically got into his car and
q: The squidgey tape -how anxious was she about that tape coming out?
a: Well at the time, you didn't know about the tape and at the time possibly
not because there were so many other things that she could, that she could
have been anxious about coming out. Her relationship with James Hewitt for
example which we now know to have been far more profound and long-lasting than
her relationship with James Gilbey. Her relationship with other men that have
subsequently come out. So in many respects it wasn't just the James Gilbey
skeleton in the cupboard, there was a whole ward waiting there rattling
around waiting to come out.
q: Did you feel there was any sense in which you had been ever so slightly
used as a way of preventing any of these other things -- proceeding her own
version of her one?
a: That presupposes that Diana has the kind of Machiavellian instincts of a
rather subtle political chess player which she hasn't. Strategy is not part of
her game plan really and I think really the impulse that really provoked most
of those people that I spoke to was this sense that Diana's life was awful
inside the Royal Family and that's the day-to-day reality.
The fact that she couldn't stand to be in the room with Prince Charles. The
fact that she felt sick when she went out on a Royal engagement. The fact that
she suffered from bulimia when she went to Balmoral or to Sandringham. The
fact that they felt that one day they, she was just going to throw herself
downstairs or to kill herself and that would be the end of that. There was no
sense, certainly at the start and all, most of the way through the research
for this book, that Diana was thinking or her friends were thinking anymore
than trying to help her to get out of this hell that she found herself in. And
so from my point of view I was giving the truth from her perspective, not the
whole truth but the truth as she saw it, her life inside the Royal Family and
her life, her married life to Prince Charles.
q: And also as much of the truth as she wanted to come out at that stage.
a: Absolutely and I didn't know about James Hewitt. I've contacted him and
in with hindsight if I'd have known about that relationship with Diana I would
have pursued it further. All I knew is that he was a good friend to her, a
shoulder to cry on, not a lover. And remember I was doing this in conditions of
absolute secrecy because if you, if Charles's side had got wind of it then
Diana would have been lent on by the Palace. There were all kinds of things
which had to be juggled. We had to get pictures of Diana as a child not just
to illustrate the book but also to underpin the authenticity of the book. Now
that was a delicate negotiation which took some time. There were all kinds of
negotiations about trying to interview people, to try and interview sources.
How would they help if it was general knowledge that I was doing this book?
So there was a great juggling act going on to try and get as much information
as possible before the balloon went up because you've got to remember that the
whole essence of the relationship between Charles and Diana certainly in the
last days was a war, that there was her side, there was his side and there was
no middle ground and so you had, as a journalist, as somebody who was trying to
write about it you had to choose sides and I chose Diana's side, simple as
q: How did you persuade her brother to give you her photograph album?
a: It was her father agreed to actually give me an interview and then he
died the week that it was due to take place and her brother agreed to speak
to me specifically about the early childhood, about the early days at Althorpe
House and my publisher, who'd done, Michael O'Mara who'd done books with
Lord Spencer in the past negotiated a financial deal with Earl Spencer for
q: Can you see how your book might have precipitated some kind of beginnings of
a resolution if you like?
a: I think the publication of Diana, Her True Story forced both the Prince
and Princess of Wales to address the significant problems in their marriage
very seriously but at the same time both the Duchess of York and the Princess
of Wales had discussed on endless occasions a pact about leaving the Royal
Family and in fact as we know the Duchess of York was separated from Prince
Andrew in February 1992. My book came out in June 1992. Maybe Diana's departure
from the Royal Family would have been delayed but nonetheless the conflict, the
conversation, would have been held at some stage irrespective of whether my
book had been published or not.
q: When people like Max Hastings criticized your book and said it shouldn't
have been published and so on and so forth -- can you see how they might have
been making life difficult for people in the Palace who strongly suspected that
Diana had actually collaborated with the book and they were drawing attention
to her, the fact of her collaboration basically which they had a strong feeling
a: Well people like Max Hastings were talking about things in relation to
their hatred of the Sunday Times and Murdoch -- than to the machinations inside
the Palace. So what was happening was that those who were closest to the story
were suspecting that Diana was behind it. Those who were further away thought
it was just some journalist like myself and a few indiscreet friends who had
let the side down. So there were two viewpoints existing at the same time.
All the time the pressure was intense on the Palace to come out with some kind
of statement saying that the Princess of Wales had nothing to do with this book
and so, then pull the rug effectively from under the book and then it would
just be discarded as so much scurrilous journalist gossip. That didn't
happen. Diana refused to allow that statement to go out because she would have
let down her friends, but even so at that time the suspicions were that Diana
had co-operated with me for the book.
q: Which were in fact true?
a: Which were true.
q: Now when your book was published what you were criticized a lot by some
people for sort of breaking a fairy tale and so on and so forth but what was
the effect on her of what was in your book, on her standing, ordinary people's
if you like perceptions of her do you think?
a: I find it fascinating that her standing in parts of the world where women's
rights are more greatly adhered to - notably North America, Canada, America -
she is a heroine figure as is the Duchess of York. In countries like Britain,
where women are still very largely second-class citizens and where the class
systems still exist and people should never explain, never complain, then she
is far more vilified, nonetheless popular.
q: Why has she remained so popular do you think?
a: Diana has this curious androgynous, androgynous sex appeal. She's rather
like Michael Jackson in that regard. She has this seeming empathy with
everyone. She has this aspect of her which is a caring side. She has this
wonderfully photogenic commodity and she has got, rather like Ronald Reagan
had during his heyday, a teflon quality that any kind of criticism just slides
off her and I think a lot of it's down to physiognomy, that somebody like the
Duchess of York who is not as appealing physically or Camilla Parker-Bowles,
she will never have her case listened to in any kind of length or with any
kind of sympathy. Diana, because she has this universal appeal, she can almost
get away with murder.
q: What do you mean by that?
a: Well that she can get away with doing all kinds of things, making
anonymous phone calls to people, being unpleasant to the boys' nanny, the
way that she co-operated with the Diana book, she can be forgiven for an awful
lot. So her behavior and her real persona can be excused because her public
persona is so appealing.
q: So you can, this sort of is an opportunity for some kind of great global
point if you like about how the media if you like, which is the main way
obviously that she doesn't meet that many people in person, the media which
has projected her image has empowered her in a way?
a: Diana during the 1980s--what she called the dark days--she got sustenance,
emotional sustenance from the newspapers. She really defined herself in their
terms. If they were nice to her she felt good. If they were nasty to her she
hurt because her life at the Palace was such where she feel that she was a
figure of any kind of consequence. In the eighties the media built her up and
she believed that. In the nineties it's the same thing.
During the 1980s her sense of self-worth was defined by the mass media, not by
the Palace. She felt that she was a figure of no consequence inside Buckingham
Palace. She felt that she was ignored by Prince Charles and she, any sense of
self-esteem that she had was by reading newspapers, looking at photographs of
herself. She was defined and defined herself during her critical early adult
years by the media. So during the 1990s that's been refined to an even greater
She's empowered herself by consorting with other journalists, by discussing
her problems with newspaper editors, by ringing them up and trying to stop
stories, various stories going in. I'll be intrigued to see what will happen
to her the day that the photographers are no longer interested in taking her
q: Why is that?
a: I remember on one occasion when Koo Stark, who used to be the girlfriend of
Prince Andrew, appeared at a film premiere and because she'd been so appalling
to various photographers as a man they refused to take her picture. She went
inside. She was puzzled and then for the next few days she was in tears with
her friends because she'd never, she wasn't, she was no longer the center of
attention. I wonder whether psychologically the days that the camera stops
clicking on Diana will be the day that Diana dies inside.