On Sunday 6th August, Channel 4 will air a series of frank and revealing interviews with Diana, Princess of Wales.
The tapes, recorded by actor and voice coach Peter Settelen in several sessions at Kensington Palace in 1992 and 1993, will form a key part of the broadcaster’s documentary Diana: In Her Own Words.
Not only have the recordings been wildly controversial since news of their existence was first revealed, Channel 4’s decision to be the first UK broadcaster to air the material has also come in for criticism.
But Princess Diana’s former personal private secretary, Patrick Jephson – a close friend and admirer of the Princess – has backed the broadcaster.
And he says that he believes the tapes will open up a debate about the British monarchy and encourage comparisons between the two women Prince Charles married – Diana and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
Jephson, who was Diana’s Equerry and private secretary between 1988 and 1996, said at a press screening that the tapes show his former boss in unguarded moments that demonstrate “her spontaneity and sense of fun”
“What was underestimated then and now is Diana’s strength. She had a backbone of steel and if you pushed her into a corner… and if you made her feel she was unjustly treated, there was a defiance in her. And it was sometimes reckless and I must say as her private secretary it sometimes caused me some problems.
“But it wasn’t manufactured, it wasn’t nicely packaged and homogenised, it wasn’t produced by a spin doctor… that was real.
“One of the issues raised by this film is what sort of monarchy do we want? Is it a monarchy created by spin doctors or is it the real thing? What we have here is the real Diana.”
Jephson also spoke of what he called “a sustained Clarence House campaign to promote Camilla’s suitability to be queen” that he said was ongoing.
He added: “There was nothing spun about Diana. She was wonderfully unpredictable and that element of spontaneity and anything’s possible is a very important element in the monarchy’s future viability.”
Asked about Camilla’s suitability for the role of queen, Jephson said: “That’s not for me to say but I think it’s a legitimate area of discussion not least since Clarence House is understandably keen to present Camila as every inch a suitable future Queen. There is this issue of authenticity … with the monarchy. Whether it’s something we can believe in or what the royal news managers, PR experts think will play well or what they can get away with.”
He said that he believed Camilla’s popularity owed much to a “sustained, campaign involving the finest PR people that money can buy”.
“And like a lot of sometime unscrupulous PR operators they make their client look good by making the opposition look bad. And if there is one thing that motivates me it is because this popularity has been built on trying to portray Diana as inadequate, as unsuitable, as unworthy. People tend to see through spin, not at once perhaps, but eventually.”
He added that this was why he agreed to appear in the programme alongside the controversial so-called “Settelen tapes” which have been the subject of lengthy legal battles and bitter accusations over the years.
The tapes of Diana’s recorded sessions were found in 2001 during a police raid at the home of Paul Burrell, the former royal butler. Settelen is understood to own seven sets of 12 tapes amounting to around six hours while the whereabouts of the other five are unknown.
The Spencer family insisted that the footage belonged to them but the tapes were returned to Settelen in 2004 after a protracted legal dispute, headed by Earl Spencer, Diana’s brother. Settelen is understood to have gained a fee for their use in the Channel 4 programme but he declined to appear in the documentary.
Their content was regarded as so sensitive that the prosecution agreed not to use them in Burrell’s Old Bailey trial which collapsed in 2002.
They have never been shown in the UK but excerpts of the footage were licensed to US network NBC and broadcast in America and shown as part of a two-part documentary in 2004.
The BBC shelved plans to use them in a documentary, also called Diana: In Her Own Words, that was due to mark the tenth anniversary of her death in 2007 amid claims that it was in poor taste. Freelance producer and director Kevin Sim, who oversaw the BBC film, was commissioned by Channel 4 to make the new film.
Much of the material includes voice exercises and speaking practice but there are frequent moments when the princess talks candidly about her private life, the infidelity of her husband and even his lustful conduct when they first met.
“He was all over me like a bad rash,” she says of the Prince of Wales’ early courtship technique. She also speaks disparagingly about the Queen, saying that she did not help her when she went and discussed the state of her marriage.
Here is a clip of her former Royal Protection Officer Ken Wharfe talking in the Channel 4 programme:
Diana is also frank about her bulimia and the emotional cruelty of her husband. “I was brought up [to believe] that if you got engaged to someone you loved them,” she says archly. She also talks about her close relationship with her royal protection officer Barry Mannakee who has since died.
She says: “I was quite happy to give all this up … Just to go off and live with him. Can you believe it? And he kept saying he thought it was a good idea.”
Diana: In her Own Words will air on Channel 4 on Sunday August 6