Harry and Meghan aren’t the only former royals to cause a crisis at Buckingham Palace. Back in the ’90s, Princess Diana gave an interview that was ten times more explosive than her son’s. But even as Di peeled back the curtain on her unhappy marriage to Prince Charles, there was one crucial detail that the public never found out. Apparently, you see, she’d wanted Charles to make an extraordinary sacrifice for their son – one that could have changed the face of the royal family.
Of course, the scandal was made worse because, at the time of the interview in 1995, Diana and Charles were still married. They certainly weren’t together, though, having separated a few years earlier. In the intervening years, the princess had found herself at the center of a royal scandal. But it was Charles who had caused the ruckus. Do you remember those private telephone conversations between the prince and Camilla Parker Bowles? The ones that were splashed across the front pages of the British tabloid press? Well, as it transpired, they were merely the final straw.
When The Daily Mirror newspaper published a full transcript of the salacious conversation in 1993, Charles and Diana were already separated. But the telephone calls had been secretly recorded in 1989 when they were supposedly happily married. Eventually, the scandal would also lead to the prince’s mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles, filing for divorce from her husband. Before then, though, Charles conducted a television interview in 1994 that publicly confirmed his infidelity for the first time.
Reportedly, Diana’s hurt following Charles’ TV appearance led to her decision to sit down for that now-infamous interview in 1995. What she had to say certainly shocked the world at the time. Amazingly, though, in 2020 Max Hastings – once the editor of The Daily Telegraph newspaper – claimed that he’d spoken to the princess three months before her televised conversation. And he alleged that what she had told him would have been too incendiary to publish at the time, because not only did it involve the prince, but also their eldest son.
Of course, if we’re being totally honest, Charles and Diana’s relationship didn’t exactly begin in the most conventional way. You see, they first crossed paths in 1977 when the future princess was just 16 years old. The then-29-year-old prince was casually dating her older sister Lady Sarah Spencer and was at the family home in Althorp, England, for a grouse hunt. But it was the young Diana who reportedly told all her school friends about meeting the heir to the throne and dancing with him.
Over the next couple of years, Charles and Diana met a few times, and she was even a guest at his 30th birthday party. But in 1980 the relationship became romantic when they met up at the home of Philip de Pass, a friend of Diana’s. Years later, the princess would be recorded telling her voice coach, Peter Settelen, about how Charles made his move…
“The next minute he leapt on me, practically,” said Diana. “It was strange. I thought, ‘This isn’t very cool.’ But I had nothing to go by because I’d never had a boyfriend.” In February 1981 they were engaged. The princess remarked on the recording, “We met 13 times, and we got married.” Any outsider could have been forgiven for believing it was true love.
However, it seems the truth may not be so rose-tinted after all. You see, it has been claimed that Charles felt pressure from his father, Prince Philip, to propose to Diana. Royal writer Robert Jobson alleged in his book King Charles: The Man, the Monarch, and the Future of Britain that the prince had, in fact, confessed his reticence to a friend. He supposedly said, “To have withdrawn, as you can no doubt imagine, would have been cataclysmic. Hence, I was permanently between the devil and the deep blue sea.” Not much romance on show there.
Whatever the true nature of their early attachment may have been, Charles and Diana married in July 1981. And less than 12 months later their first son, William, was born, with Harry then following in 1984. Before the youngest prince was even two years old, though, rumors started emerging that Charles had rekindled a relationship with his old flame Camilla Parker Bowles. They’d dated the previous decade, but broken up when he’d joined the navy in 1973. Camilla, for her part, went on to marry Andrew Parker Bowles that same year.
It seems that Charles and Camilla’s affection for each other never fully went away, though, and Diana was painfully aware of the affair while it was happening. In the end, Charles and the princess announced they were separating in 1992. The New York Times wrote that year, “Buckingham Palace wrote the unhappy ending today to a storybook marriage gone badly wrong.”
Then, of course, in 1994 Charles used a TV interview to confess his secret – an extremely rare move for a senior royal. At the time, he and Diana remained legally married, though it was public knowledge that they had separated two years earlier. But when interviewer Jonathan Dimbleby asked whether Charles had tried to be faithful in marriage, the prince’s answer still managed to shock the world.
Initially, Charles replied, “Yes. Absolutely.” But then Dimbleby pressed further with, “And you were?” The prince answered, “Yes. Until it became irretrievably broken down – us both having tried.” And the jaws of a nation dropped. This public admission of marital infidelity was unprecedented for a member of the royal family, and it reportedly infuriated Charles’ father, Prince Philip.
In 2020, though, Max Hastings made an interesting claim about Charles’ interview. As part of the Diana: The Truth Behind the Interview documentary on Channel 4, he alleged Charles was talked into admitting he had strayed by an advisor. This was why extra footage had to be shot for the interview, as Charles initially conducted it without revealing anything.
Hastings said, “Somebody convinced him, ‘Look, sir, this is going to come out sooner or later, wouldn’t it be better if it comes out in a sympathetic form – in sympathetic hands.’ And he fell for it.” In the end, many commentators claimed that the interview forever altered public perception of Charles and the royals.
But how did William and Harry’s mom feel about the scandal? Well, in the documentary The Diana Interview: Revenge of a Princess, her close friend Dr. James Colthurst claimed she was furious about her treatment within the royal family. He said, “I remember she was becoming more and more incensed by what was going on and the fact that the whole organization – as she saw it – was helping to support the relationship between Camilla and Prince Charles.”
As we mentioned earlier, many observers believe that Charles’ bombshell interview was what pushed Diana to reveal her side of the story. She appeared on Panorama a year later, giving a stunningly candid interview to Martin Bashir in which she laid out a series of revelations of her own. Reportedly, an incredible 23 million people watched the interview. And the BBC claimed it was the scoop of a generation.
In a shocking admission, Diana confirmed that she had known about Charles and Camilla’s affair. And the princess gave the now famous quote, “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” Astonishingly, though, she also confessed to having her own affair with James Hewitt – a former cavalry officer in the British Army.
But Diana had more revelations for Martin Bashir. On top of skewering her marriage, she also detailed the mental toll that came with being a member of the royal family. In fact, the princess admitted she had suffered from postnatal depression and experienced bulimia for several years. Although she spoke openly about these personal struggles, according to Max Hastings the princess failed to mention one key event in her marriage.
Later, when asked if she ever saw herself becoming Queen, she replied, “I’d like to be a queen of people’s hearts, in people’s hearts, but I don’t see myself being Queen of this country.” In the wake of the interview, Diana’s place in the royal family was compromised. The Guardian wrote, the royals “knew nothing of the interview in advance – leaving her isolated from any palace support.”
This inclination to reveal personal details to strangers was not unusual for Diana, according to royal journalist Ingrid Seward. She told The Telegraph in October 2020, “The most extraordinary thing about [Diana] was her habit of telling people she hardly knew the most intimate secrets about her life. I think she enjoyed seeing what effect it would have on them.”
Seward continued, “When I watched her explosive interview with Martin Bashir, I realized she was doing what I’d seen her do before: sharing intimate secrets with someone she didn’t really know. Only this time, those secrets were on national television. It’s hard to overestimate how shocking it was for her to speak so candidly about her marriage.”
Jumping forward, in October 2020 Diana: The Truth Behind the Interview aired on Channel 4 in the U.K. The documentary purported to reveal what really happened in the lead up to Diana’s infamous 1995 Panorama interview with Martin Bashir. But that was not all. Max Hastings also appeared in the program – armed with details of a secret conversation he’d allegedly had with the princess months before the interview.
In a new twist, Hastings claimed that Diana had personally driven to Berkshire to meet with him, and she hadn’t tried to avoid the extremely personal details of her marriage. The former newspaper editor said that he first told her how flattered he was that she had chosen to talk to him. And he claimed her response was that she was anxious for her side of the story to be told.
“I spent the best part of a couple of hours with Diana and she put on a wonderful show,” Hastings said. “It was absolutely gripping stuff.” And the journalist claimed that Diana’s feelings about her husband were immediately apparent. He said, “It became clear first of all how much she hated Charles. Yes, she did hate Charles.”
Hastings claimed he asked Diana if she had ever experienced happiness in the marriage. Allegedly she’d responded, “No, the marriage was hell from day one.” Apparently Hastings was taken aback by this, mainly because he wasn’t expecting the princess to be so honest with him. The former editor said, “I was amazed by the frankness and the directness with which she said that.”
But it was the princess’ next revelation that shocked Hastings even more. He alleged, “[Diana] said that all she cared about was William’s succession to the throne and she said to me, quite explicitly, ‘I don’t think Charles can do it.’” Hastings then claimed that Diana wanted the Prince of Wales to make an incredible sacrifice. She wanted him to withdraw from the line of succession altogether.
“The outcome she wanted to see was for Charles to stand aside as heir… and for William to occupy the throne,” Hastings claimed. “This was pretty dynamic stuff.” You have to remember that, at the time, Hastings was a newspaper editor. Under normal circumstances, he would surely have been rushing these quotes to press. Why then did he choose not to publish any of the alleged conversation?
“I felt that my job was to try and help them keep a lid on the worst of this, rather than to lift it off,” Hastings said in the documentary. But perhaps the decision not to go public was helped along by the fact that Diana had also made some claims he felt were outlandish…
“Diana said a lot of stuff on several occasions which I thought [was] for the fairies,” said Hastings. “She asked me what I knew about a conspiracy to sort of have her put down. I said it sounded absolutely crazy to me.” Regardless of his opinion, though, the journalist claimed that the princess honestly believed there were people out there plotting to kill her.
Hastings went on, “But she, I think, did believe this sort of stuff, and it was one of many, many things that made one feel so desperately sorry for her… this sense of vulnerability. You may be a very streetwise, brilliant enchantress, but you can also be not very bright.” After this strange comment on Diana’s intelligence, he then claimed that her advisors had dropped the ball.
“If you’ve got nobody sensible to advise you, or if you have [but] you won’t take their advice, you’re in a pretty bad place,” Hastings continued. Interestingly, his claim that Diana believed dark forces were conspiring against her has been corroborated by other sources over the years. And royal writer Lady Colin Campbell – who worked closely with Diana on an unauthorized biography – was one of those sources.
Lady Campbell told news website The Daily Beast in November 2020 that Martin Bashir knowingly manipulated this aspect of Diana’s personality. She said, “Bashir deliberately played upon her extremely suspicious nature and the fact she was well known to be a fragile personality, who was very susceptible to believing all sorts of extravagant things which to most people would have seemed unrealistic.” And the writer proceeded to claim that Diana’s paranoia had roots in a personal tragedy.
You see, in 1987 Barry Mannakee – Diana’s former bodyguard – died in a motorcycle accident. He was seated on the back of a friend’s bike when it smashed into a Ford Fiesta in Essex, England. The friend survived, but Mannakee was thrown from the vehicle and died almost instantly. This tragic accident held significance for Diana though, as she and the bodyguard had allegedly engaged in a secret affair.
The 2017 documentary entitled Diana: In Her Own Words featured recordings of the princess seemingly confirming this relationship. She is heard saying, “When I was 24 or 25, I was deeply in love with someone who worked in this environment. But then he was chucked out and he was killed.” Despite not naming Mannakee, Diana’s next revelation effectively confirmed the identity of her love.
Diana said, “Eventually he had to go and then three weeks after he left, he was killed in a motorbike accident. He was the greatest love I’ve ever had, and that was a real killer.” Seemingly, this aligns with the real-life path of Mannakee, who was reassigned from Kensington Palace to London’s Diplomatic Protection Group before his untimely death.
In 2017 Andrew Morton – author of Diana: Her True Story – alleged in The Sunday Times Magazine that Diana never believed Mannakee’s death was purely accidental. He said, “The princess suspected that he had been killed in an establishment plot and asked me to find out if her ideas had any credibility.” Morton even claimed that Diana had gone to see a clairvoyant about her suspicions.
Perhaps, then, it was this experience that set Diana on a path of paranoia. As Hastings said, the princess believed her life was in danger in the years before her own death. But he wasn’t the only one she shared her concerns with. In 2003 her former butler Paul Burrell included a section in his book A Royal Duty about a mysterious letter Diana had allegedly written to him ten months before she died. And he claimed it had even predicted the method of her demise.
The letter, Burrell claimed, was written two months after Diana and Charles’ divorce. It apparently read, “This particular phase in my life is the most dangerous – my husband is planning an ‘accident’ in my car, brake failure and serious head injury in order to make the path clear for him to marry Tiggy.” Bizarrely, the letter stated that Charles wanted to marry Tiggy Legge-Bourke – his children’s nanny – and not Camilla.
Of course, the conspiracy theorists then ran amok when Diana died in a car crash in Paris in 1997. And numerous claims have abound regarding her death. But even with Diana’s own alleged paranoia, there has never been any evidence that forces within the royal family or the British state were conspiring to kill her. The most likely conclusion is that it was a tragic accident.
It’s certainly tempting to wonder whether the paranoid-but-forthright Diana would have ever publicly voiced her desire for William to succeed the Queen. Perhaps her non-answer to Martin Bashir asking that very question in ’95 lends credence to Max Hastings’ claim, though. The princess said, “Well, then you have to see that William’s very young at the moment, so do you want a burden like that to be put on his shoulders at such a young age? So, I can’t answer that question.”