30 June 2018

The death of a princess

Every year around this time I receive a spate of phone calls and emails from journalists researching articles, radio and TV programmes about my former friend and client Princess Diana. Not so much from British journalists, I hasten to add, but mainly from journalists in the US, Japan, Australia and so on. In Britain, Diana has been virtually erased from the public consciousness by a clever PR and "perception management" campaign.

Tomorrow, 1 July is Diana's birthday, and therefore a journalistic opportunity to write "commemorative" articles about her. Even all these years after her death, her photo on the front page of a newspaper or magazine guarantees increased sales.

There will be another spate of requests for interviews in August, the anniversary of her death.

It is Diana's death - and the circumstances in which she died - that journalists are mainly interested in talking and writing about, with the central question being whether it was an accident or she was assassinated.

Most of the journalists I've discussed Diana's death with are convinced that it was a tragic accident. Journalists are by and large a conservative bunch who tend to accept the least contentious versions of events; but that isn't going to stop them from writing articles questioning whether her death was an accident, and outlining what they themselves privately believe to be hair-brained conspiracy theories.

Of course, people don't buy newspapers to read stories with headings like: "Researcher claims Diana's death was an accident". But they do buy newspapers to read articles with sensational titles like: "Diana's death: Was it really an accident?" or: "New information reveals that Princess Diana may have been murdered!"

Or even: "Psychic claims princess Diana was murdered!" Hence the requests for an interview. Any new hook will do to hang an old story on.

When Diana was alive I received a constant stream of offers from British newspapers - and not only from the tabloids - to "spill the beans" about the princess. Notes were posted in my London letterbox (email hadn't arrived yet) with messages like: "Anything you can tell us will be very much appreciated..." with a phone number and the amount they were willing to pay me as a gesture of their "appreciation".

However, I'm a stickler for client confidentiality, and the only time I ever spoke about Diana to journalists was at her own request, to help her to get certain facts into the public domain. This was information that she wanted people to know about, but which would have been problematic for her to reveal herself (in particular, Prince Charles' involvement with Camilla Parker Bowles, which I was actually the first to reveal in a number of press articles). When the information was published, Diana was asked to comment on it, which gave her the opportunity to confirm it publicly. Or, in some cases, to decline to deny it, which journalists understood to be confirmation.

I was only too happy to help. Diana had been treated shabbily to say the least; and when she first came to me for advice she wasn't in "a good place", mentally, emotionally or in any other sense. She was caught, as she put it herself, "between a rock and a hard place". I advised her as best I could, though in reality our sessions were mainly an opportunity for her to talk freely about her situation - she always referred to her problem as "my situation" - to someone who was "out of the loop", and would give her honest and objective feedback.

It is one thing to ask for, and receive good advice; but it is quite another thing to act on that advice. Diana was constantly asking for advice, and she did recognize good advice when it was offered; but she was in the grip of powerful political forces, and her options were severely limited. From the moment she became pregnant with William - the future King of England - she became a hostage to the British Establishment, and to the shadowy forces which exist to protect it. She was never going to be allowed to disappear into the sunset with the heir to the throne. Nor, on the other hand, was she ever going to relinquish custody of her children. (Although she had joint custody of William and Harry with Prince Charles, her influence on them was far stronger than his.) Above all, she was never going to be allowed to marry and have children - step-siblings to the future king of England - by an Arab, least of all the son of Mohamed Al Fayed, a man who had been a thorn in the side of the British establishment for many years.

The media spotlight was on her twenty-four hours a day, and every move she made was closely scrutinized. And, even though she was immensely popular, she understood that this could and would change in an instant if she said or did anything that showed her in any other light than that of the adoring young wife of the prince. Diana was expected to play the role of the fairytale princess, and the people would continue to worship her - provided she did not deviate from that role.

The thing that many people didn't - and still don't - understand is that the Royal Family is pure theatre. It's a performance. Everything that happens is carefully plotted out, scripted and choreographed with an eye to public approval ratings, like a long-running TV show. And the characters are not allowed to deviate from the storyline - which is what Diana did.

What the public did not know was that her marriage had ended in disillusionment after only a few weeks, when it became apparent to her that her new husband was more interested in - and sneaking away to sleep with - another woman.

Diana's downfall was her sense of loyalty and commitment. Instead of walking away from what was clearly a disastrous situation that could only get worse - and this had always been my advice to her - she decided to fight for her marriage, in the romantic but hopelessly naive and misguided belief that everything would work out alright in the end, and that she, her husband, and their children would all live happily ever after.

It didn't happen like that, of course. Nor was there ever any chance that it would.

In the end, Diana decided - in fact she felt she had no other option - to go public about the circumstances of her marriage. She knew that she would be criticized for taking this route (even in modern Britain, one doesn't air one's dirty laundry in public, least of all if one happens to be the wife of the future King). However, she had reached a point where she felt that she had no other choice but to get it all "out in the open". She was also, it is not generally realized, fearful for her own personal safety, and she saw "going public" as a kind of insurance policy against "something bad" happening to her.

Diana was convinced that, having served her purpose (by providing Charles with two healthy male heirs - "an heir and a spare", as she put it), and having become a liability and potential threat to the public image of the Royal Family, she would be targeted for assassination by "the powers that be" and the "dark forces of the state".

At the time, her fears were dismissed by some as paranoia (and are still dismissed as such today by many). But in fact Diana had been warned on at least two separate occasions by secret service agents concerned for her safety, that she would be wise to "keep her head down", as there was a real possibility that "certain elements" in the British intelligence community might deem it "expedient" to take her "out of the picture".

Diana had also been aware for some time of a "second level of surveillance", by which she meant secret service agents - she referred to them as "spooks" - who were not part of the official Royal protection team. What she understood was that there were agents whose job it was to protect members of the Royal Family, and then there were agents whose job it was to protect the interests of the institution itself.

As time passed, and particularly after her divorce from Prince Charles was finalized, Diana became increasingly concerned for her own safety, and for the safety of her children. She knew that it would be she, and not they, who would be targeted, but her fear was that they might somehow be caught up in any attempt to assassinate her; and she did not, in any event, want her children to be left without their mother. She understood that the danger level had risen substantially now that she was completely independent and beyond the control of the Royal Family and its many faceless minders. In theory she was free to go anywhere and do whatever she liked, but in reality she was kept under constant and close surveillance by British intelligence agents.

The expectation may have been that she would fade into the background after her divorce from Charles. Instead, her popularity acually increased, and she was regarded by many as the most important and relevant member of the Royal Family - even though she was no longer a member of it. People continued to refer to her as "Princess Diana", despite the fact that she had been officially stripped of that title.

"I'm convinced they're planning on doing away with me," she told me one day. "They can't poison me or shoot me, so it will have to look like an accident. A car crash would be the easiest thing to arrange, I expect."

Diana voiced these fears to a number of other people, including Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon, who recorded the details of his conversation with Diana in a note whose contents he kept secret until after her death. Sir Paul - whose tone suggests that he was highly sceptical of the Princess's suspicions - dutifully made a note of her belief that "efforts would be made if not to get rid of her (be it by some accident in her car such as pre-prepared brake failure or whatever)... to see that she was so injured or damaged as to be declared 'unbalanced'." That was in 1995. A year later, after her divorce was finalized, the plan, if there was one, to have Diana declared "unbalanced" became redundant. A more permanent solution would be required.

And, in my opinion, a more permanent solution was provisionally agreed and approved around that time.

I have never had the slightest doubt in my mind that Princess Diana was murdered in a hastily-planned operation by secret service agents who had been closely monitoring her movements for years, gauging her level of threat to certain interests within the British establishment on an ongoing basis, and seizing the opportunity to assassinate her in a foreign country at a time when they deemed her level of threat to have risen too high. (Under the Intelligence Services Act of 1994, British intelligence agents are immune from prosecution in Britain for criminal offences carried out overseas; but in any event the blame for any apparent lapses in security would automatically be apportioned to Al Fayed.)

The various official investigations into Princess Diana's death have been nothing but blatant cover-ups, not least the British inquest, in which the presiding judge, Lord Justice Scott Baker, specifically instructed the inquest jury to reject the possibility that the Princess had been deliberately murdered. They were practically ordered to return a verdict of accidental death. Despite this instruction, however, they decided that Diana had been unlawfully killed "by a person or persons unknown".

This was not the verdict the Royal Family or the British government wanted. And so the mainstream British media were "encouraged" to interpret this verdict to mean that the jury believed that Diana's death had resulted from a combination of reckless driving by Henri Paul, who was alleged to have been drunk behind the wheel of the Mercedes, and the posse of paparazzi photographers who were following the car. This "spinning" of the verdict was so successful that, to this day, most people - and even most journalists - are under the impression that "death by accident" was the official verdict.

Diana's fears for her own safety were, of course, well-founded. Her instincts were good. The danger was real. She wasn't "imagining things". She was a threat to the British Establishment, and the agents of that establishment took her out of the picture when, to put it bluntly, she was found, through surveillance, to be having unprotected sex with Dodi Fayed, which carried a high risk of her becoming pregnant by him - something that could not be allowed to happen.