When Princess Diana stepped out of her limo at the Vanity Fair Summer Party at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park on this very day 25 years ago, she seemed more confident, stunning and serene than she had ever done before.
Everyone there agreed she had never looked more sensational.
It was exactly the reaction she had planned, for that same evening 14million were watching her estranged husband Prince Charles admit to Jonathan Dimbleby on TV that after his marriage had irretrievably broken down he had committed adultery.
The following day Dimbleby confirmed that the prince ‘was unfaithful with someone who was a long-standing friend, that is Mrs Parker Bowles’.
When Princess Diana (pictured) stepped out of her limo at the Vanity Fair Summer Party at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park on this very day 25 years ago, she seemed more confident, stunning and serene than she had ever done before
For Diana, Charles’s admission was sheer vindication.
For years she had fought her demons – bulimia, her mother’s abandonment, what she perceived as her husband’s rejection, as well as accusations of her instability and paranoia.
She feared her children would be taken away from her – and had complained at a lack of understanding from the Royal Family, who she felt did not support her charity work and were envious of her stardom.
However, 25 years is a sufficient distance for us to look back and get a much more balanced view of the truth about her life, beginning with the fateful decision she made on that night.
Starting today in this special issue of Weekend magazine, and continuing all next week in the Daily Mail, we present a remarkable oral history of Diana’s life from those who came to know her best.
The therapists, healers, astrologers, personal trainers and fashion designers who helped her through her darkest times… the courtiers and household staff who experienced her every mood… these are the people Diana spent the most time with, who she confided in.
What they say in their own words about the multi-faceted princess paints a definitive portrait of this most complex and beguiling of women.
Prince Charles as he admits to Jonathan Dimbleby on TV that after his marriage had irretrievably broken down he had committed adultery
As early as 1985, just four years into Diana’s marriage, Tina Brown in Vanity Fair foresaw that Shy Di – the ‘Mouse Of Windsor’ – was already transforming into the ‘Mouse That Roared’. Heads were rolling at the Palace – 40 resigned – and Diana was accused of bullying Charles to the extent that she would beat him over the head with the Bible as he knelt in prayer after yet another of their screaming sessions. If the Royal Family had believed Diana was a nice English rose who could be moulded to their way of life, how wrong they were.
As she gained in confidence, Diana sought advice from an army of new-age therapists and emerged sleek and sophisticated, thrumming with charisma and looking for a purpose that would define her life. Ironically, it would be at a Vanity Fair party on this very day 25 years ago – the same night Charles confessed his adultery on TV – that Diana strode out in the dress that defined her new dawn…
Petronella Wyatt Writer
‘During the years before she died, I met Diana quite often and she seemed to have “settled”. She had become the toast of London. It was not only that she was the most famous woman in the world, but because she was polite, thoughtful and sang for her supper. She was fun to be around, unlike Princess Margaret, who kept reminding you how royal she was and was often very rude. Diana hated that kind of behaviour.
‘Even those who had disliked her started to come round. Caroline, the Duchess of Beaufort, my godmother, showed me a wonderful letter Diana had written to her after Caroline was diagnosed with cancer in 1994. She was tremendously touched. It was as if Diana had become a different person. Her marriage had made her toxic and once she was free of it, a lot of her histrionics just disappeared. Yes, she manipulated the Press, but she was essentially a benign person. She laughed a lot in those days; she was simply radiant.’
Diana at the Harbour Club in 1993. As she gained in confidence, Diana sought advice from an army of new-age therapists and emerged sleek and sophisticated, thrumming with charisma and looking for a purpose that would define her life
Jayne Fincher Photographer
‘In November 1980 I went to The Ritz to photograph Princess Margaret’s 50th birthday party. I’d been out of the country so I hadn’t been following stories about this Lady Di who was supposed to be Prince Charles’s new girlfriend. The photographers were all standing on the pavement when this girl came up behind us and said, “Excuse me.” We all let her through and she went inside. A few seconds later somebody said, “Do you know, I think that was Lady Diana.” We’d all missed her.
‘So I waited outside until the early hours to try and see her. Finally she came out with her sister, and she looked really unsophisticated with a funny old coat that she normally went shopping in over her dress, which looked like a dress she’d borrowed from her mum. I took about three frames. She went bright pink, held on to her coat tightly and looked really embarrassed. Even today that picture is a favourite, because it showed the innocence of this girl. I hadn’t got a clue who she was or what she was like, but she looked so young. I thought, “No, that can’t be Prince Charles’s girlfriend, she’s like a schoolgirl compared to some of his other girlfriends, it’s ridiculous.”
‘To begin with she was incredibly shy, it was impossible to get her to put her head up. She told me later that she knew where we were when she heard the photographers’ aluminium ladders rattling, and she knew not to look up. But she became a more confident woman, you could see that in her clothes and her body language. She grew up basically, she became very confident, she knew how to stand and pose and look down the lens. It was a totally different person later on but that took time to come.
‘She had the most wonderful legs and I was always incredibly jealous of them. As she got out of the car that night at the Serpentine she had that very tight-fitting black dress on with her endless legs showing and she looked really radiant, she looked on a high. She must have been a bloomin’ good actress because she knew what was going on [with Charles’s interview with Jonathan Dimbleby going out on TV].’
Dr James Colthurst Diana’s close confidant and old friend
‘That day she was mightily fed up because she’d had criticism from what she called the “Grey Men”, I think to do with one of her successful speeches. There was a lot of jealousy in Prince Charles’s camp, and she’d had criticism for something she thought she’d done well. She often felt she was doing her bit for The Firm, as she called it, and she wasn’t appreciated. The day before the Vanity Fair party she was saying, “Oh for goodness sake, here we go again!” So I told her, “You’ve got to show defiance; put something on that really swings the heads.” In the end she chose that dress.’
Diana leaving the Ritz Hotel in London after attending Princess Margaret’s 50th birthday party in November 1980
Dickie Arbiter Former press secretary to Charles and Diana
‘With Charles and the documentary interview with Dimbleby in 1994, the original plan was to do something for the 25th anniversary of his investiture as the Prince of Wales. It was going to be quite bland – what a jolly fine fellow Charles is. Then the goalposts were moved between the private secretary and Jonathan Dimbleby. They thought it would be too bland, so they decided that instead of a one-hour programme they would do two-and-a-half hours which would be warts and all, and it was. I said, “If you’re going to do this, you can’t hold anything back” and I was told they were prepared for that. I didn’t know Charles was going to confess to his affair. We had a pretty good idea it would come out, though.’
Jonathan Dimbleby On that interview with Charles the day after it was broadcast
‘It was a Catch-22 for him, wasn’t it? On the one hand, for months, indeed years, people had been speculating in the tabloid press about this, most of them insulting and asserting that he had been indifferent to his wife from the start, that he was unfaithful with Camilla Parker Bowles from the very beginning. And on the basis of that a lot of people were very shocked. What he said on the programme was that he had tried, as the Princess of Wales had tried, to make that marriage work.
A stylish Diana, pictured leaving London’s Hale Clinic in 1996
‘When it collapsed, which was at some stage in the second half of the 80s, he then ceased to be faithful to his wife. It seems to me to be intrusive and not the task of a television interviewer to say, “When was that, what were the circumstances?” The point is the marriage collapsed and he then continued a close relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles. What matters was that he said, “I was unfaithful.” You may want to know when, how and where – the question is where it established the truth. He told me off-camera in a private conversation that it was in the latter half of the 80s that he had been unfaithful. It was at that point he ceased to be faithful to his wife. He was unfaithful with someone who was a long-standing friend.’
Carolan Brown Former personal trainer
‘We talked a lot about posture and I told her to remember those cameras. Keep your boobs out, lean back and look lovely. I advised her that she can’t stop photographers taking pictures so they might as well take good ones of her looking her best. I urged her not to fight it, but be confident and go with it. She had a laugh about that but did agree with me. I tried to instill some personal confidence about looking great.’
Nish Joshi Holistic health practitioner
‘I first started to treat Diana’s spine in 1993. She had driven out of Kensington Palace and a taxi had gone into her car and she’d suffered a mild whiplash. She had some old injuries from horse riding too, which is why she was afraid of horses. I believe Diana had scoliosis, curvature of the spine. This was noticeable in her deportment because she tended to walk with her shoulders hunched; exacerbated by her trying to avert her gaze from the paparazzi and also because she was self-conscious of how tall she was. She was concerned William and Harry may have inherited this.
‘We were working with Pilates to reclaim her self-confidence and get her body looking great. Her posture changed a lot. The night she wore that black chiffon off-the-shoulder dress at the Serpentine Gallery she looked transformed and stunning. She stood tall and looked beautiful.
‘She heard about me from the dancers at the English National Ballet – she was patron. The dancers performed these exercises to strengthen joints and improve posture. Diana was keen on exercises that strengthened her spine. I encouraged her to stand tall and not be ashamed of her height. I persuaded her to celebrate it and not bow her head and stoop or round her shoulders.’
Charles, Diana, William and Harry putting their family faces forward on Christmas Day 1994, six months after her appearance at the Serpentine on the night of Charles’s TV interview. This was to be Diana’s last Christmas at Sandringham
Penny Junor Journalist and biographer
‘As time went on she discovered her sexuality and the power she had over men. One of those she enchanted was my father Sir John Junor, then editor of the Sunday Express, but who latterly wrote for the Mail On Sunday. She invited him to lunch several times, confided in him, flattered him, and he became a devotee. He wrote glowingly about her, and during the War of the Waleses he shamelessly took sides. The Mail On Sunday offices were across the road from Kensington Palace and she would sometimes spot him in the street as she was driving by and stop the car for a chat. He grew 6ft taller every time. I met her one day when I was with him at The Landmark hotel in London. The actor David Hasselhoff was there too, and my father and I were talking to Mr Baywatch when Diana joined us. She delivered a masterclass in flirtation. I might not have existed.’
Jayne Fincher Photographer
‘She was a real flirt. If you went to the Gulf there would be all these restrictions about what you could and couldn’t wear. But wow did she flirt with those Arabian dignitaries – they were fluttering round her like little schoolboys. Before we went to Saudi Arabia in 1986 the few women going were told we had to have our arms and neck covered, and we ended up all looking like big sacks of potatoes. Then she got off the plane with this dress on. All right it was below her knee, but she had the tightest belt round her waist and she’d had her hair cut really short and she had her neck exposed. She got away with it because she was fluttering her eyelashes at them – they were all mesmerised.’
Patrick Jephson Diana’s former private secretary
Last-minute decision that proved to be a knockout
Diana stepped out at the Serpentine Gallery that night in this sexy strapless cocktail dress – choosing it over a Valentino creation at the last minute – hoping it would overshadow Charles’s TV interview and have every man in the country thinking, ‘How could he have given her up?’
Author of Diana: Her True Story
‘On the day of the Vanity Fair party Diana was due to wear a Valentino dress, she wasn’t due to wear the Revenge Dress. But she got highly irritated when Valentino sent out a press release beforehand saying she was going to wear their dress, because she thought it was presumptuous.
‘It so happened that James Colthurst, who was the intermediary between Diana and me for my book, was on the phone to her that day. Now, James’s fashion sense is, shall we say, country tweed, he has absolutely no clue about fashion. She said to him she was so annoyed with Valentino, and he said, “Well, I don’t know, look, wear something else, something sexy.” She said, “I probably will,” and she picked out the Christina Stambolian dress.
Diana talking to Christina Stambolian at the auction preview in 1997
‘The Revenge Dress was key because one thing Diana was good at was that she understood that a picture tells a thousand words, or 10,000 words in her case. She was all jittery that day, I remember. She overreacted to the Valentino dress because she was nervous about what Prince Charles was going to say on TV in the Jonathan Dimbleby interview, what he would say about her and the children and so on. So on the morning of the Serpentine Gallery function she was twitchy, she was nervous, she was out of sorts. By wearing the Revenge Dress and the attention it brought her, I’m sure she thought she had dodged a bullet. Also, Charles admitting his adultery on TV gave Diana “permission” to speak about her own relationship with James Hewitt in the Martin Bashir TV interview the following year.’
Greek fashion designer who created that dress
‘I first met Diana in the loos at Italian restaurant San Lorenzo. She was lovely and blushing. San Lorenzo was next to my shop in Beauchamp Place and one warm September day in 1991 she walked in with her brother.
‘She was interested in a cocktail dress: she didn’t say for a specific event, she just said she wanted something special. We were joking, because she loved to laugh, and we started sketching what to make for her. Diana didn’t have any input – she was one of those people who’d just believe in the designer. We were talking about colours and decided on black in the end. She asked her brother what he thought and he said, “You can do exactly what you like.”
‘She thought the dress was daring but then she decided, “OK, I’d love to have it.” I felt very good about it, very happy and proud. But then I was disappointed as time went by and I didn’t see her wearing it. We were seeing her in newspapers and magazines every day, but I didn’t see that dress. I guess it was a bit too much for her at the time. Then I forgot all about it. I only found out she had worn it to the Serpentine the following day when I saw her picture in the newspapers. I was happy because she looked very sexy and feminine. I was very pleased and decided I’d better enjoy all the attention. She was unhappy in her marriage. Everyone knew that, so with that dress people were on her side. It was a revenge everyone would agree with.
‘She was more sophisticated by 1994. When she was young she’d wear anything. She was becoming prettier as she was maturing. She had this aura and everyone adored her.
‘I can’t think of any other person who had so much charisma. She was very beautiful, tall and lovely – and her taste in clothes was just getting better and better. My most vivid memory of Diana is her smile. She had an innate sense of humour. When I saw her a few years later at Christie’s in London in 1997 [a preview of the auction of her dresses for charity], she bent down in her beaded Jacques Azagury dress and told me, “I had to squeeze into yours that night!”’
‘She was eating a prawn sandwich and one disappeared down her cleavage. I said, “Poor prawn”, and she corrected me, “Bloody lucky prawn!” It was just a funny exchange, but since her husband didn’t appear to take pleasure from her attractiveness, and since in order to do her job she had to maintain a certain standard of confidence and self-assurance, working closely with someone like that I’d quite often say, “You’re looking good.” How she looked mattered. She was aware how high people’s expectations were of her. There was nobody in the morning to say, “Gosh darling, you look wonderful, go out and knock them dead” and nobody in the evening to say, “Darling, you did a great job today. Sit down and let me pour you a drink.”
‘To maintain her morale for her to do her job properly, at times it was necessary to say, “You’re looking good.” Since normal human kindness and consideration wasn’t forthcoming from her husband or in-laws, somebody had to make up the deficit.’
Catherine Walker The late fashion designer
‘Over time, her reaction to my clothes changed from “Yes please” to “It’s different” and later, when her understanding of clothes became more European, “It’s smart”. Later still, when she started dressing more sexily, it was “Eat your heart out, Brazil!”’
Petronella Wyatt Writer
‘The late Charles Churchill, a distant cousin of Diana’s, told a very good friend of mine that the Queen was coming to visit Charles and Diana at Highgrove. Charles’s car was parked at the front of the house. He needed to move it so the Queen’s car could draw up at the entrance. He went to fetch his keys, but the keys were missing.
‘The whole house was turned upside down looking for them. Everybody was asked. Diana swore she hadn’t seen them. The staff all said the same thing. Then came the moment when the Queen’s car was just arriving. Diana leant out of a top window and shouted, “There are your lousy f***ing keys” and threw them out onto the drive. She had them all the time and was just trying to irritate Charles and the Queen.’
Winston Churchill The late former Conservative MP
‘Within a month of Charles and Diana’s wedding, her father Johnnie Spencer said, “Why don’t you come and have lunch with us at Althorp? I’d love to show you the private apartments.” So we had lunch, and he said, proud as a little turkey cock, “I must show you the guest room that I had completely redone for the return from honeymoon of Charles and Diana.” He’d had new green silk wallpaper, and the four-poster bed had been completely redone. He opened the door and he said, “I’m afraid it’s a bit of a shambles now.” And clearly there had been a battle royal: there were water stains on the green silk wallpaper; there was a Chippendale chair that was broken; there was a mirror cracked.
‘At the time, my then wife and I put it down to a lovers’ tiff. But now, with the benefit of hindsight, one can see that the marital discord started right at the beginning. And I suspect it was when he told her of his affair with Camilla before they were married. This seemed to drive her ballistic, and from that moment everything went downhill rapidly. She became very sick, mentally, in terms of the bulimia and all the rest of it.’
Penny Thornton Astrologer
‘I first met Prince Andrew through mutual friends, photographer Gene Nocon and his wife Liz. Gene was Andrew’s photographic mentor. One evening in 1986 at dinner at their home, Andrew said to me, “My sister-in-law would love to have her chart done.” For a minute I thought he meant Anne. I said, “I’m very surprised, I didn’t think she’d be interested in astrology.” And then I realised, “Oh, he means Diana.” I said, “I’d be very happy to do that.” After my first visit with Diana, Liz Nocon rang me straight after. Sarah Ferguson had rung her and said, “Please tell Penny how grateful we all are, her bags were packed. Charles is extremely grateful.” She was going to bolt and she didn’t. That Christmas I had a card signed by Charles. He certainly knew of my first visit and approved it. He wanted a solution.’
Debbie Frank Astrologer
‘Diana was fascinated by her astrological chart. She knew it would give her insight into who was around her and what was going on. She consulted me for literally everything. All the intimate details of her life, whether it was the President of the United States, her friends, Charles and Camilla, her children or what she was going through. The chart is about giving somebody the tools to manage their feelings. She was going through a big process of transformation and the chart helped her to manage each stage of that process. What was so remarkable was that by the end of her life she had vanquished so many of her issues and she was glowing and radiant.’
Dr Lily Hua YU Acupuncturist and herbalist
‘Diana confided in me a lot. I remember her telling me on more than one occasion, “Men don’t like neurotic women.” She felt this was the reason her marriage did not work. She told me she would burst into tears and lose her temper if she had a problem, but since seeing me she felt better about herself and more confident to face her problems without being so neurotic.’
Carolan Brown Former personal trainer
‘I introduced her to Peter Settelen, who was voice-coaching me for my fitness videos, in 1992. I told Diana how my voice sounded like a little girl’s, and she said, “I have that problem too and don’t know how to come across with conviction.” I said Peter helps you not just change your voice but build your confidence as he believes the voice comes from within, and if you’re happy in yourself your delivery will be better. She said, “That’s what I need.”’
Dr Lily Hua yu Acupuncturist and herbalist
‘She was interested in the Chinese signs of the zodiac and each time she came she would buy a book on Chinese medicine. She would always ask questions and she even diagnosed Prince Charles’s problems. She told me he was losing his hair and constantly opens windows and always feels hot at night. She said, “I think he has kidney yin deficiency,” which made me laugh. She felt Nelson Mandela should see me too. She was close to Mandela and she had diagnosed that he had water retention, yang deficiency and arthritis.’
Diana at the AcuMedic centre in London, specialists in Chinese medicine. Jan Cisek, a Feng shui consultant, said: ‘Diana invited me to Kensington Palace in May 1994 [the month before her appearance at the Serpentine Gallery] and said she wanted me to make her home healthy and happy’
Jan Cisek Feng shui consultant
‘Diana invited me to Kensington Palace in May 1994 [the month before her appearance at the Serpentine Gallery] and said she wanted me to make her home healthy and happy. The boys were at boarding school but she wanted me to do the whole home including their bedrooms. The bedroom is the most important space.
Everything relies on power points such as the position of the bed as it can determine how you feel – if you have a commanding view you will have good energy flow. I told her that the position of the bed is key to sleep – you need to be in the “power position”, with a wall behind the headboard and the door diagonally opposite, so you can see who is coming in. Sleeping with your back to the window isn’t good either, it doesn’t give you protection. She asked lots of questions and was fascinated about the subject. She really understood that whatever you do in your home will affect you. It made complete sense to her at a time when people were suspicious of feng shui.’
Andrew Morton Author of Diana: Her True Story
‘Diana started to realise that she needed to take steps to escape the prison she considered herself to be in – a bitterly unhappy marriage coupled with a royal system ruled by “men in grey suits” as she used to call them. She had a humanitarian vision for herself and wanted to explain her story to the people – what she saw as her people – so everyone could understand who she really was before it was too late. I don’t think she did my book for revenge. I think she felt she was a prisoner trapped inside the system. She felt voiceless. She felt that the image we had of this kind of fairytale princess was a grotesque lie and she wanted to let people know what was really going on in her life. She felt utterly trapped. The first tape we did was like a prisoner gabbling out her story before the guards came back.’
The shy Di she left behind: A timid kindergarten teacher with a passion for Barbara Cartland novels, Lady Diana Spencer’s world was about to turn upside down
Diana startled when she stalls her car outside her flat in 1980
When we were first introduced to Lady Diana Spencer she was Shy Di, peeping out from under her fringe, good with children and hamsters (but she had failed all her O-levels twice), the girl from a broken home who ‘kept herself tidy’ in the hope of being rescued by a prince – just like in her favourite Barbara Cartland novels.
But was Di really shy? Her friends deny it. She tormented her childhood nannies, and one courtier who had a daughter at the same prep school took steps to remove his offspring from Diana’s bad influence.
She goaded her stepmother Raine with poison-pen letters and silent phone calls, a tactic she would use later in life. Shy Di was conscious of her status too.
When her father inherited the earldom, she ran down the corridor at school shouting, ‘I’m a Lady, I’m Lady Diana now.’
Penny Junor Journalist and biographer
‘Although I hadn’t seen Diana in the flesh before I had seen plenty of her on television, and what shocked me on her first tour in 1981 was how much she had changed in the space of a year. When the Press first realised Charles was seeing Diana she was round-faced and unworldly: a typical Sloane Ranger in unremarkable clothes and flat shoes who worked at a nursery school. One of the most iconic photos from that time was taken in the garden of that school, where her skirt became transparent and we had our first glimpse of those amazing legs. Charles was said to have teased her, “I knew your legs were good, but I didn’t realise they were that spectacular.”
The first picture
John Minihan, former Evening Standard photographer:
‘I was having a coffee in South Kensington in September 1980 when I read Nigel Dempster’s column in the Daily Mail, saying Prince Charles had lost interest in Lady Sarah Spencer and was now dating her sister Lady Diana, who was a teacher at the Young England Kindergarten in Pimlico.
I had my cameras, so I drove round there and knocked on the door. I met the headmistress and asked if I could photograph Lady Diana. She was very helpful, and despite the fact that parents were arriving in droves with their children she brought me to her.
‘There was a garden at the back and I asked Diana to pose with two children. She explained she would have to get the permission of the parents and went off to do that. It was early in the morning and the sun was shining at an angle in the back garden.
Diana working as a nursery teacher in 1980, taken by John Minihan , former Evening Standard photographer
Diana was very bubbly and a bit overawed by all the fuss. I asked her to pose with the sun behind her, and her legs were illuminated through her long skirt. I immediately knew I had something special. I came out of that school with a little bit of history. She was clearly in love with Charles, very human and vulnerable. She was incredibly natural and liked being in front of the camera.
‘Within hours the school was under siege, as well as her flat in Coleherne Court. I felt sorry for her and about ten days later, on an impulse, I bought a dozen red roses and went round to her flat.
As I knocked on the door I saw her looking out from an upstairs window. She recognised me and came down. Despite the fact I had my cameras, I didn’t try to photograph her. She apologised for being silly trying to avoid the photographers and reporters. She was very young but a lovely girl.’
‘A year later, the duckling had turned into a swan, but she had lost a terrifying amount of weight – because, as we later learned, she was in the grip of a devastating eating disorder.’
Elizabeth Emanuel Fashion designer
‘I think her waist went down to 23in before the wedding, which is very small – she was like a large 10 to a 12, and not fat at all. She didn’t look like she had any weight to lose and she was only 19, but you could actually see the bones in her face. She looked wonderful and in fact for the pre-wedding ball in July 1981 we did a dress designed to look very sexy and emphasise how small her waist was.’
Ken Lennox Photographer
‘Diana was very good with the photographers in the early days and as a naturally polite young woman she would co-operate with us. One evening I was talking to her outside her flat. She knew my family were still up in Scotland and she said, “Are you going to get home for Christmas?” I said, “I doubt it”, and when she asked why I said it was because we needed some good close-ups of her in case an engagement might be announced. She said, “If you get those will you be able to go home for Christmas?”
When I said yes, she said, “Right, tomorrow morning come to the flat at 7 o’clock and if there’s no one else there I’ll come down and sit in the car and you can do some close-up pictures.” So I turned up at seven and she came down, didn’t say a word, went straight to her car, sat inside, rolled the window down and just smiled at me. I shot a whole film – they were great, with lots of different expressions. It gave her an out, in that it didn’t look like they were posed, it looked like they were photos taken on the run.’
Jayne Fincher Photographer
‘We’d have funny chats about my colleagues, it was a bit like talking to someone you went to school with. We’d observe things, saying, “Look at that awful dress”, or, “That photographer’s quite good-looking.” She used to bite her nails, as did I, and we used to compare them. It was nice, non-threatening.’
Dr James Colthurst Diana’s confidant and old friend
‘I first got to know Diana when she was 16 on a ski trip in France with her family. She discovered our group was there and she knew some of them, so she just swung in to join us. She was one of only two girls who came to dinner at my flat and then did the washing up. That was typical of her, she was happy to muddle in.
‘When she was first dating Charles she stood me up for dinner at her flat. When I got there her flatmates were there but Diana said, “I’m afraid I can’t do dinner, I’ve got to go out.” She pulled me out of the door and across the street to get some food for supper and brought it back, told the girls what they were to prepare and then disappeared. She came back at 10.15pm, saying, “It’s just crazy; they’re working him far too hard.” Everybody just nodded slowly, realising what was starting to happen.’
They think I’m ‘suitable’ for Charles. My sister wasn’t: Diana said she ‘didn’t have a background’ when she spoke to neighbour Danae Brook in her first ever interview. But she was a blue-blooded Spencer – what could she mean? The truth is just one of the astonishing revelations she made that day…
Diana lived in a flat in the same London mansion block as journalist Danae Brook, and agreed to speak to her – the first interview with the future princess that anyone would read.
‘Mesmerised by her periwinkle blue eyes, I could hardly believe what I was hearing as we stood talking in her hallway. She said that unlike her sister Sarah, a former girlfriend of Charles, she was considered “suitable” for the future king.
‘The main reason, she thought, was because she didn’t have what she called “a background” – or, to put it more frankly, she hadn’t had several boyfriends.’
Here, for the first time, is the full story behind the edited version of her piece that appeared in the Daily Mail about her encounter with the young, innocent aristocrat all those years ago…
When I first met her, Diana Spencer was running up the stairs in the building we both lived in, Coleherne Court. It was 1980 and she was 19. She was long-legged, athletic, as though she had just come off the netball field, a pretty young woman but nothing startling, apart from her eyes. What I remember most was the eyes. Periwinkle blue. Almost as purple as Elizabeth Taylor’s in National Velvet. Mesmerising. If she caught your eye, caught you looking at her, it was like being in the headlights of a car.
Diana spotted inside her apartment in 1981. Diana lived in a flat in the same London mansion block as journalist Danae Brook, and agreed to speak to her – the first interview with the future princess that anyone would read
But she had no idea back then, when she was working in a children’s nursery in Pimlico, of the power of that gaze. When I later interviewed her, this was obvious from her constant apologies. It turned out I would be the first print journalist to interview Diana, long before the famous TV interview with Martin Bashir when she rolled her kohl-rimmed eyes, saying, ‘There are three of us in this marriage.’
She and I became neighbours at least a year before the marriage, weeks before the engagement was announced. She was just beginning to date the Prince of Wales, barely out of knee socks, when she came to live in Coleherne Court, an Earl’s Court Victorian mansion block. Few people knew he was taking an interest in her. Diana-mania was a distant bubble on a far horizon.
She was an ordinary upper-class girl, coming to London from her country estate for the first time. When she moved in, her relationship with Charles was so hush-hush I had no idea there was one. He had a reputation as a young blade about town. She had no reputation at all, as she was quick to point out when she decided to talk to me on the record. But whispers were starting and Fleet Street diarists like Nigel Dempster were starting to pick up on the new girl in Prince Charles’s life.
Our home was one floor above hers. I raised three children there and Diana Spencer shared hers with three girlfriends. We began to get clues as to what was going on – The Three Degrees (one of Charles’s favourite groups) were played at full blast, flowers were left outside their door.
Diana was painfully shy and self-deprecating, with no self-confidence. After work she would slip into the lift carrying an orange and a Crunchie bar with the Evening Standard tucked under her arm. She wore little make-up, and seemed to want to be invisible. ‘She likes Crunchies,’ said my youngest. ‘She got us one each!’ It turned out my two youngest, sweet, naughty boys of eight and nine, Orion and Liam, were friendly enough with her for her to buy them an occasional treat at the shop. She introduced herself to them as ‘Diana’, not even ‘Lady Diana’.
When a stunning photo of Diana, looking about 15 with the sun streaming through her skirt, appeared on the front pages announcing her presence in Prince Charles’s life, my sons saw it on the breakfast table. ‘We know her,’ they squealed. ‘She lives here. She likes oranges, we see her in Mr Barnsley’s shop.’
I was astonished. Diana was the Prince-About-Town’s new squeeze. I could not believe the shy nursery school teacher was the future wife of a future king. One week on I needed no more convincing. Not only Diana, but the whole building was under siege. Day and night people would ring the bells madly, hoping to speak to Prince Charles’s new girlfriend.
I watched as she became more and more stressed. Every morning when she tried to jump into her red Mini, photographers would race her to the first set of traffic lights, hoping she would be stopped long enough for them to get a shot or, worse, that they would cause a little accident, which would give a more dramatic shot.
We’d sometimes go up in the lift together or walk up the road with the children and she’d tell me about her work and ask where my children would go to school next. Nothing intimate, just neighbours getting to know each other. Then things became more immediate, more dramatic, as the roar of the motorbikes chasing her became more threatening.
Everything was skewed by a sense of the pressure she was under. So when she became more and more upset with Charles for giving her no assistance with the Press, I wasn’t surprised when she decided she should make a statement. She knew I wrote for a newspaper and wrote books. I left her a note explaining this when, at the urging of a trusted colleague, I asked her to consider telling the story in her own words. Several times in passing she had expressed her annoyance at being quoted when she’d not given a quote. ‘I need to say what I feel,’ she said. ‘Not what somebody else thinks I feel.’
Diana outside her flat in 1981. The future-princess said she ‘didn’t have a background’ when she spoke to neighbour Danae Brook in her first ever interview
I offered to clear the air, to give her a voice. We agreed a time to meet and she invited me to her flat. It was teatime, November grey and raining outside. When I pressed the doorbell, she opened the door to the flat with its elegant floor-length curtains and mahogany furniture. We stood in the hall, where Barbour mackintoshes and wellington boots were squashed next to an umbrella stand. It was like being in a rambling country house. She was in blue jeans and a twin-set with pearls, which she fingered constantly.
As I walked into the flat, Diana’s shoulders were bowed as though standing straight would draw too much attention. Her skin was transparent and she blushed continuously, especially when talking about Charles. ‘It’s absolutely maddening to see things written about me, and him, when I haven’t said anything.’ She paused. ‘But I don’t know what the future holds.’
I asked if anyone was advising her on how to handle the situation. ‘No!’ she said, shocked. ‘I don’t think the Royal Family is aware of what is happening here. At least we didn’t talk about it when we were in Norfolk.’
Apparently she’d crept away at night the previous weekend to stay at Sandringham, managing to evade reporters. I wondered aloud if she’d wound sheets together to climb out of the window. She laughed. ‘No, I got a very fast driver and we shot off in a puff of smoke. I had my new car delivered somewhere else where I stayed the night, then shot off to Norfolk.’ It was Prince Charles’s 32nd birthday party. ‘Unfortunately,’ she added, ‘somebody found out I had a new car and even though I parked it miles away they found it.’
So the siege went on. ‘I’ve no idea why the whole thing has built up to such a peak,’ she shrugged. ‘I think it’s because everything happens for the Royal Family in November. Princess Anne married and had a baby in November. It’s the Queen and Prince Philip’s anniversary. And of course it’s Charles’s birthday and everyone is dying for him to get married, and I was the one who was around this time.’
Diana is pictured outside her flat in Coleherne Court, Kensington, London, in 1980 – a year before her wedding to Charles
A little disingenuous perhaps. Not every pretty young woman is asked to stay at Sandringham for these highly personal events.Then she changed the subject, apologising for what a nuisance all the attention must be for other people in our building. ‘It must be so bloody for everyone who lives here,’ she said. ‘I feel so awful about it.’ I assured her we were taking it in our collective stride.
I knew she wanted me to write what she said, although she was afraid to say much. She thought she was ‘suitable’ for a future king, only because she did not ‘sleep around’. It was clear she thought herself second best to her older sister, who had been Prince Charles’s girlfriend for almost a year but had been crossed off the eligibility list. Not for lack of blue blood – the Spencer blood was probably bluer than the Windsors’ – but for reportedly telling journalists she’d had ‘thousands of boyfriends’. Diana strongly implied she was a virgin, and she obviously felt that was the only reason ‘The Family’ had approved her as a future bride, although I did not write that in my interview. ‘I don’t really know why they like me,’ was what I wrote. ‘You see my sister Sarah was going out with Charles last year and she talked about it to the Press but she talked too much and they murdered her.
‘I’m OK because I haven’t got a background.’ I looked surprised. No background? Daughter of the 8th Earl Spencer, distantly related to the Royal Family, directly related to the Churchills? No, it turned out she meant a background of leaping in and out of bed with people. ‘That’s what everyone else seems to have. I mean I haven’t had a chance to have that kind of background, I’m still only 19!’ She looked shocked and embarrassed. ‘But people are longing to dig something up about me.’ She looked at me sideways. ‘It’s like the story about me meeting him on the Royal Train in the middle of the night.’
She was referring to reports, denied by the Palace, that she’d had an assignation with the prince when the train was in sidings in Wiltshire. ‘I simply couldn’t believe it,’ she exploded. ‘I’ve never been near the train, let alone in the middle of the night!’ I was told later, by a reliable source, that the woman on board was Camilla.
I was very sympathetic, but as I turned to go, realising a cup of tea was not on the cards, she apologised again for the disruption she’d caused to others in our building. ‘I am so, so sorry for interrupting the lives of the people who live here,’ she said.
She told me when she was finally allowed a bodyguard, a woman dressed in black who shadowed her like a, well, shadow, a very dark one, but effective. I could see the top of the woman’s head as I slipped down the stairs behind Diana, neither of us waiting for the old Victorian lift. None of the other members of the Press spotted her, that’s for sure. Diana, soon to be HRH Princess of Wales, was learning her lesson.