What are the Diana Tapes and why are they so controversial?

Private recordings of the Princess are to be broadcast in a new Channel 4 documentary – here’s why they’ve been a point of contention

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What are the Diana tapes?

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In a bid to burnish her public presentation skills, Diana, Princess of Wales engaged in a series of tutorials with actor and voice coach Peter Settelen at Kensington Palace in 1992 and 1993. The tapes of her recorded sessions were found in 2001 during a police raid at the home of Paul Burrell, Diana’s former butler, who had been charged with theft.

Who owns them?

Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, insisted that the footage belonged to his family, but after a protracted legal battle, six disputed tapes were returned to Settelen in 2004; others thought to exist are missing. Fifteen minutes of footage from the tapes feature in the Channel 4 documentary shown this week. Settelen is understood to have been paid a fee for their use, though he declined to appear in it.

What is contained in them?

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 his behaviour towards her when they first met. “He was all over me like a bad rash,” she says of the Prince of Wales’s courtship. She also talks about her close relationship with her royal protection officer Barry Mannakee.

Why are they so controversial?

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 as part of a documentary in 2004.

The right to broadcast a few minutes of the intimate footage was bought by the BBC in 2007, and formed the basis of a documentary that was due to mark the tenth anniversary of her death. But the project was shelved 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 this new film.

What is Channel 4’s justification in broadcasting them?

Ralph Lee, Channel 4’s head of factual, tells RadioTimes.com: “I don’t think people will say those are private exchanges. I think they will say that’s a public figure sitting down and being interviewed, which is a familiar process. She is very clearly talking to someone in front of a camera, there’s nothing surreptitious. The word that has been used is that this is ghoulish… but no one could see this and say the content is ghoulish. I simply don’t agree with that.” 

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Diana: In Her Own Words is on Sunday 6th August at 8pm on Channel 4