LONDON – Producers of a new documentary about Princess Diana say it offers insight. Critics say it’s nothing but exploitation. But a former bodyguard says Diana would have been pleased that candid recordings of her are being broadcast in Britain for the first time.
Friends of the late princess have slammed a British broadcaster’s decision to air private recordings in which she speaks frankly about her unhappy marriage to Prince Charles, commenting on their sex life, her fury at her husband’s mistress and her love for another man.
Yet Ken Wharfe, Diana’s protection officer between 1986 and 1993, says the princess who died in 1997 would appreciate the chance to be heard.
“She would love it,” Wharfe told a news agency in an interview Wednesday. “‘For the first time’, she would say, ‘people are actually listening to and hearing what I am saying.’”
Wharfe also serves as a commentator in the documentary.
Diana was a huge star in her lifetime — at once princess, style icon, charity worker and tabloid celebrity — and has rarely been out of the news since her shocking death in a Paris car crash 20 years ago this month. But she has usually been seen through the eyes and words of others.
“Diana: In Her Own Words,” which airs Sunday on Channel 4, includes portions of recordings made by Diana’s voice coach Peter Settelen in 1992 and 1993, just after Diana and Charles separated.
They divorced in 1996, and Charles married his longtime paramour Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005.
Portions of the tapes were broadcast by U.S. network NBC in 2004 but they have never been shown in Britain.
The tapes were made to help Diana practice public speaking as she struck out on her own in a career devoted to charity work. On camera, she seems relaxed and keen to tell her side of the story.
She recounts Charles’ awkward attempts to woo her — “He chatted me up like a bad rash” — and says of the couple’s sex life: “Once every three weeks and then it fizzled out.”
Diana discusses her battle with bulimia, saying: “I didn’t think I was good enough for this family, so I took it out on myself.”
Diana also talks about falling “deeply in love” in the 1980s with her bodyguard Barry Mannakee, who later died in a motorcycle accident.
“That was the biggest blow in my life,” Diana says.
She also describes confronting her husband and Parker Bowles at a party — a moment that Wharfe said marked “the real beginning of the end” of the royal marriage.
“She realized there was no chance of reconciliation,” he said. “There was only one direction and that was divorce.”
The intimacy of the conversations has drawn criticism from some people close to Diana. Her friend Rosa Monckton said the material “doesn’t belong in the public domain.”
“It is a betrayal of her privacy and of the family’s privacy,” she told The Guardian newspaper.
The office of Diana’s sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, has declined to comment on the program.
Channel 4 said the tapes are “important historical source” and the subjects covered “a matter of public record.”
The videotapes have had a twisting journey to public view. They were seized by British police during a 2001 raid on the home of Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, who was accused of stealing from the princess.
The case against Burrell was later abandoned. Diana’s family made a legal claim to the recordings but they were eventually returned to Settelen.
Wharfe — who has a book coming out next week on his time with the princess — says the documentary is a valuable reminder of Diana’s role in “the reshaping of the monarchy.”
Her death unleashed a public outpouring of grief in Britain and around the world. The royal family, whose stoic reserve suddenly seemed out of touch, has since softened its stiff upper lip.
William and Harry have both campaigned for more open discussion of mental health, and have spoken of their own struggles after their mother’s death when they were only 15 and 12.
“They are picking up exactly where their mother left off,” Wharfe said. “In my view, the queen — to this day — and other members of the royal family have a lot to thank Diana for.”