The Queen & Di: The Untold Storyby Ingrid Seward
As the editor of Majesty magazine, Ingrid Seward has developed professional and personal relationships with the royal family. We discover a surprising portrait of the English monarch and the princess, contradicting what the press has previously reported: a fragile Diana battling an unfeeling mother-in-law. We learn that the Queen tried to welcome Diana into the royal… See more details below
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As the editor of Majesty magazine, Ingrid Seward has developed professional and personal relationships with the royal family. We discover a surprising portrait of the English monarch and the princess, contradicting what the press has previously reported: a fragile Diana battling an unfeeling mother-in-law. We learn that the Queen tried to welcome Diana into the royal family and that Di failed to grasp the hand of friendship. From the princess herself we hear details of what went on between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. And we glimpse much more about the inner workings of the extended royal family. Entertaining and factual, The Queen & Di stands apart and above the countless, often inaccurate, accounts published to date about Diana. Ingrid Seward reveals for the first time the true relationship between two important women of the 20th century.
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The death of Diana plunged the royal family into chaos, almost drove the Queen to drink, and reduced the Prince of Wales to tears.
It drew millions on to the streets, cutting right across the divisions within British society, and unleashed an outpouring of public anger against the Crown not seen this century.
In life, Diana had been troublesome and difficult. In death, she proved a force beyond control which threatened the stability of the Monarchy. Indeed, such was the rage directed at the ruling house that at one point they looked unlikely to survive.
The royal family, holidaying in their Highland fastness at Balmoral, had no inkling of the crisis about to overwhelm them when they received the news that Diana had been killed in a car crash. The confirmation came from the British embassy in Paris at 3.30 a.m. on the Sunday morning of 31 August 1997. Their first reaction was simply one of dazed bewilderment.
The Prince of Wales was overcome with grief: his shoulders shook, his face crumpled and in the days to come his eyes were often red-rimmed from crying. Sometimes he would maunder dolefully across the surrounding hills. Other times he was to be observed sitting silently in a chair, staring vacantly into space, lost and alone, thinking of what might have been, what should have been, what could never be.
The Queen was equally stunned, and in the trauma of the following week was seen to drink far more Martinis than was advisable. She had grown increasinglyexasperated by Diana's behaviour, but she was the only one who had recognized the potential in her daughter-in-law, and she saw her loss for the terrible waste it was. Now she was about to find out just how potent a symbol Diana had become, and she was shocked by the discovery.
She had been woken by her page at 2 a.m. and was the first to be told that the Princess had been involved in a crash. Pulling on her old-fashioned dressing gown, she had gone out into the first-floor corridor where she met Charles coming out of his own bedroom three doors away.
The first information coming in from Paris was that Dodi Fayed was dead but that Diana had miraculously survived. The Queen asked of her son. `What is she up to now?'
The Queen (who normally only shows affection for horses and dogs) and Prince Charles (brought up to keep his emotions under a tight rein) hugged each other; mother and son seeking rare solace in each other's affection.
By now the whole castle had been stirred from its slumbers. Sir Robin Janvrin, the Queen's deputy private secretary who was in attendance that weekend, had taken up his position in the equerries' room on the ground floor, and was liaising with the Paris embassy. Footmen and staff had been roused and the Balmoral switchboard, through which all calls are made, was fully manned.
Charles went into his sitting room, next to the Queen's dressing room, to take the calls now coming in, some through the switchboard, others on his mobile telephone. The Queen ordered tea, which was brought up from the kitchen downstairs in a silver teapot, and then ignored it as mother and son, now joined by Prince Philip, paced up and down the lavender-scented, tartan-carpeted corridor anxiously asking each other what was to be done.
It was a question which the royal family, confused and racked with indecision, found themselves incapable of answering in the week to come.
Their first concern, however, was to discover just how badly injured Diana was. Not too badly, they were told first reports were that she had walked away from the twisted wreckage of the Mercedes, virtually unscathed.
Their next worry was her sons, asleep in their nursery suite at the end of the corridor. Should Prince William and Prince Harry, each asleep in their own rooms next door to Prince Charles's suite, be woken up and told of their mother's accident? Their father ruled against it. Charles telephoned his deputy private secretary, Mark Bolland, in London, and asked him what had caused the crash, who had been driving, and `what the dickens' Diana had been doing in Paris in the first place. After the umpteenth telephone consultation with Bolland, Charles resolved to travel immediately to France to be at her side. It was as a flight was being arranged that Janvrin took the call informing him that the Princess was dead. Instantly he called the Prince and said, `Sir, I am very sorry to have to tell you that I've just had the Ambassador on the phone. The Princess died a short time ago.'
Charles's composure collapsed and the tears which the public never saw started to flow. There had been times when Diana's behaviour had driven him to such distraction that he had declared her to be `utterly mad'. Confronted with the finality of her demise, however, the residue of bitterness was torn away, exposing the sensitivity which Diana had once found so attractive. The barriers of his self-containment had been breached and even his Eastern sense of fatalism, acquired by listening to such aged gurus as Sir Laurens van der Post, provided no spiritual consolation.
When his close friend Major Hugh Lindsay was killed in a skiing accident in Klosters in 1988, Charles had put his own survival down to what he described in a letter to a friend as the `wonders of our existence'. He displayed no such stoicism at Balmoral, and in a reversion to the philosophical traditions of his Christian upbringing, was to spend the next few days plaintively pondering what wrongs had been committed that could possibly warrant such savage retribution. He kept asking, over and over again, `What have we done to deserve this?'
Diana's supporters were to have their own answer to the question. In their view it was the royal family, the Prince in particular, rather than a drunken hotel chauffeur in the employ of the Ritz, who had driven her to her death. As disbelief later gave way to anger, the royal family found itself caught in the startling rip of public rancour. The Queen was bewildered and frightened by the virulence of the reaction, but even she was to be caught up by the mood of suspicion which had given rise to it. Her first comment, on being told of Diana's death, had not been to ask, as has been suggested, if she was wearing the royal jewels. What actually she said was: `Someone must have greased the brakes.'
It was a remark which echoed the fears Diana herself had once held, albeit for different reasons. The Princess was convinced that the Establishment `my enemies', as she called them which she both disliked and feared, wanted her out of the way. The Queen's thoughts were more rational. It occurred to her, as it would to others, that one of Harrods owner Mohamed al Fayed's many sworn enemies and they were dangerously real had contrived the killing of his eldest son and the princess he was bullying him to marry. Her own security advisers would look into the circumstances of her death and rule that the cause of the crash was misadventure. But in the shadows cast over Balmoral's wooded hills on that first sad dawn the sinister seemed distinctly possible and the Queen's reaction was an indication of just how shaken she was by the news coming in from France.
The Queen was not the only one to be shaken. The whole royal apparatus was thrown into disorder. The initial call from the embassy had been taken by Sir Robin Janvrin, who was staying ten minutes' walk away at Craigowan, the house where, ironically, the Prince and Princess of Wales had spent part of their honeymoon and where the fault lines in their relationship had first been exposed. He had immediately phoned through to the Queen and Charles, asleep in the castle. He had then informed the Prince's assistant private secretary Nick Archer, who was staying in another house on the estate. Calls were subsequently put through to both Mark Bolland and the Prince's private secretary Stephen Lamport, who were in London. The rows started almost at once.
Viewed through the opaque window of deference which protects the royal family from the scrutiny of outsiders, the Royal Household appears a dull but smoothly run business which compensates for its lack of imagination with the security of routine. Schedules are prepared months, sometimes years, in advance, and there is not a day when the senior members of the family do not know where they should be or what they are supposed to be doing right up to and including the moment of death. The courtiers who keep these gilded wheels turning reflect the system they serve. They form the only branch of government service in Britain whose members are appointed not by competitive selection, but on personal whim, and who tend to be of a singular type stolid, reliable, upper-class, and brought up in the public school ethos of team spirit, namely `playing the game' and letting convention do the thinking for them. It is an antiquated, undemocratic organization based on patronage and on the whole it works reasonably well. But it is heavily reliant on precedents which make no allowance for the unforeseen and the unexpected. This flaw and it soon proved to be a disastrous one was ruthlessly exposed by Diana's death. Before first light on that fateful Sunday morning, the wheels of royal state were starting to rattle loose.
The first disagreements came when Prince Charles announced his intention of flying to Paris. While the Queen and her heir paced up and down a corridor decorated in off-white wallpaper and embossed with Queen Victoria's cypher discussing what was to be done, their respective staff were on the telephone elsewhere in the castle arguing about the protocols.
From the mid-1980s onwards, the royal family has been divided into two separate, sometimes antagonistic, bureaucratic camps. While the Queen continues to rely on courtiers of the old school, Prince Charles has surrounded himself with younger, less hidebound, but also less experienced, advisers drawn from beyond the traditional pale. Many of these are state-educated, a number are homosexuals. Given the divergence of views on what the style and role of the Monarchy should be, and with each side working to its own set of priorities, frequent clashes would occur. In the turmoil of that night, they were inevitable.
When Mark Bolland asked for a plane to take the Prince to France, Janvrin replied that only the Queen could authorize an aeroplane of the Queen's Flight and that in the circumstances such permission was unlikely to be forthcoming. Bolland irritably replied that the Prince would therefore travel by scheduled flight.
The argument was abruptly ended by the announcement that the Princess had died. There was now no question but that a plane of the Queen's Flight would be made available to the Prince.
Charles expressed the wish to bring Diana's body back on the same plane. The Queen's private secretary Sir Robert Fellowes, on the telephone from his home in Norfolk, was vehemently against the notion. He pointed out in his clipped, plummy drawl that Diana was no longer a member of the royal family, that she was a private citizen, and that therefore it would be wrong and, that increasingly ominous word, `unprecedented' to afford her the royal privileges she had specifically renounced. The Queen initially sided with Fellowes.
It was an unseenly quarrel, demeaning to the memory of the Princess, and taking absolutely no account of the enormous affection in which she was held. It proved to be a harbinger of much worse to come, but on this occasion the issue was resolved in Diana's favour. It was Janvrin who settled it when he asked the Queen: `What would you rather, Ma'am that she came back in a Harrods van?'
By now the Queen was in a state of some agitation. `What are we to do?' she kept asking. One of her staff, with an independence of speech that came with many years of service, drily suggested: `Go to Buckingham Palace in sackcloth and ashes, Ma'am.'
The comment seemed to jerk the Sovereign out of her indecision. It had to be business as usual, she decreed, and she asked that everyone go to church at nearby Crathie that morning. The only people excepted from the royal command were Princes William and Harry. Given the enormity of what had happened, the Queen felt that it was up to them whether or not they attended morning service and faced the inevitable battalions of press photographers converging on Balmoral. After a brief discussion between themselves, both boys decided to go.
The princes had been allowed to sleep through the drama of the night and were not told of their mother's death until the morning. It was their father who broke the news, put a loving arm around them, and offered what words of encouragement he could. They in turn comforted their tearful father. They spent much of the days to come walking on the estate, sometimes together, often with their cousin and peer model, Princess Anne's son Peter Phillips, who flew straight up to be with them. Peter Phillips, everyone who was there that weekend agreed, was `an absolute brick'.
It was a sorrow-torn period for Diana's sons. Yet the staff noted that both William and Harry showed remarkable resilience in the face of the tragedy. Both boys behaved very much as Diana might have predicted. Harry, always matter of fact, appeared to take the loss in his young stride, while William, on the verge of manhood and very much aware of his royal destiny, made the demanding effort of keeping his emotions to himself.
It would be unwise and terribly unfair to read too much into their apparent detachment. There is no doubt that both were deeply affected by the death of a mother who had poured so much of her emotional energy into their welfare and made herself so central to their young lives. They were now of an age, however, when they were able to see their mother's weaknesses as well as her strengths, and fifteen-year-old William in particular had become increasingly concerned at the direction her life appeared to be heading in. The boys had spent several days that summer with her in the south of France as guests of the Fayeds, and William had hated almost every minute. Mohamed al Fayed had pulled out all the stops, laying on helicopters, yachts and speedboats, and even opening a discotheque especially for them in the effort to impress. But it was certainly not the way to impress the princes: it was all too lavish, too embarrassing, too over-the-top, too `foreign' (their word, not mine) for young men brought up to believe in the virtue of discreet understatement. Diana was lured by the meretricious glamour. Her sons, more royal than she realized, were not.
In her determination to ensure that they should enjoy as normal an upbringing as possible, Diana sometimes inadvertently led them in directions which went against their natural inclinations. William, for instance, much preferred the hills of Scotland to the beaches of the Riviera, shooting to water-skiing, the companionship of his schoolfriends to the company of international playboys like Dodi Fayed, and he was starting to find the programme of entertainments his mother insisted on organizing for him increasingly irksome. The prospect of spending the next few years in Mohamed's jet stream did not appeal in the least.
There was no chance of that happening now that the disruptive contradictions in their lives had been removed so abruptly. And while that had been achieved by the most tragic of events, it nonetheless enabled the princes to see their royal futures with a clarity which hitherto had been denied them.
That is not to insinuate that William and Harry were anything other than distraught. (Indeed, it would have been unnatural if they had not been.) What it may in part explain, though, is why they were able to deal with the tragedy with a maturity which drew such respectful comment from the castle staff. In the chaotic aftermath of Diana's death, it was William and Harry who managed to maintain their emotional equilibrium while so many others around them were losing theirs.
On Sunday morning after church, Charles flew to Paris aboard a BAe 146 of the Queen's Flight accompanied by Diana's sisters, Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes, Sir Robert's wife, together with Sir Robert's press secretary, Sandy Henney. Charles had ruled that it would be better if the princes did not accompany him on this mournful mission, and they remained at Balmoral in the care of the Queen and under the watchful eye of Peter Phillips, who arrived later that day, and their father's old nanny, Mabel Anderson. It was just as well they did.
Once in Paris the royal party was driven to the hospital where Diana had died, and taken to the first-floor room where her body now lay. Her butler Paul Burrell had flown out earlier in the day and dressed his royal mistress in one of her favourite Catherine Walker frocks and carefully combed her hair. `I considered it my duty, and it was right and fitting that I should do that,' he told me.
The Princess had been embalmed, but no amount of cosmetic dressing could hide the damage her body had suffered. The Prince and Diana's sisters were profoundly upset by what they saw. How right it was, Charles said, that the final sight her sons had of their mother should not be this one.
On the flight back from Paris yet another row had erupted when Charles learnt that arrangements had been made, most probably by Sir Robert Fellowes, for Diana's body to be taken to the public mortuary in Fulham, West London. The Prince, furious and again close to tears, immediately countermanded the instruction and ordered Sandy Henney to arrange for his ex-wife's remains be taken straight to the Chapel Royal at St James's Palace.
It was a travel-worn and distraught prince who arrived back at Balmoral that evening. He slept fitfully that night, only to find his mother in sour mood when he awoke.
In her forty-seven years on the throne the Queen had dealt with ten prime ministers, starting with Sir Winston Churchill. She had got on well with some, less well with others and the current occupant of Number 10 Downing Street fell firmly into the latter catagory. `Too much too quickly', was her unguarded summary of her new prime minister's policies.
Tony Blair had been at Northolt military airfield in West London to meet the plane bearing Diana's coffin draped in the Royal Standard. On the Sunday he had issued a statement which sounded more American than British in its wording. It read in part: `We are a nation in a state of shock, in mourning, in grief ... She was a wonderful and warm human being.'
It was the sound bite in the last sentence which caught the nation's attention. Diana, the Prime Minister declared, was `the People's Princess'.
This was the headline carried by most of the newspapers delivered to the castle on Monday morning and the phrase struck a resounding chord in the hearts of millions who had never met her, knew little about her other than what they read in the newspapers they professed to disbelieve, and yet had come to see her as one of their own.
The Queen was not amused, to put it mildly. She disliked the title `People's Princess' and the implicit challenge it posed to her position as the Queen of all her people. A traditionalist to the core, she quickly came to the conclusion that New Labour was no friend of the Monarchy or the values she believes it embodies. She distrusted New Labour's plans for the reform of the House of Lords and its decision to accommodate homeless people in Admiralty Arch at the opposite end of the Mall to Buckingham Palace (she called it `a publicity stunt'). After her regular Tuesday meetings at the Palace with Blair, she would often emerge stony faced. On this morning and in the days to come her irritation became more sharply focused by her belief that the government was trying to expropriate Diana for its own political ends.
It soon became abundantly clear, however, that it was the government, and not the family Diana had once been a member of, which knew best how to deal with the Princess of Wales in death. The Blair administration in London, having been borne to power by the biggest electoral victory in history, could sense and see what the royal family, out of touch in Scotland, could not, namely the mass hysteria Diana's demise was causing. Flowers were left at the gates of Buckingham Palace and on the lawns in front of Kensington Palace where she had lived. They grew into fields, then into vast savannahs. Trees and lamp-posts were ringed with candles. Notes, teddy bears, gifts, photographs and handwritten verses of poetry were pinned to railings. Churches which had stood all but empty for years were filled with people on their knees praying for her soul. It was a spectacle artless in its intensity and decidedly un-British. In its spontaneous desire to honour a woman who had died at the side of her playboy lover, a nation which had always prided itself on its self-control and its reserve threw off its restraints and allowed itself to be swept up in a frenzy of lamentation.
The royal family demanded the right to be left to grieve for one of their own in privacy. They could not have it both ways. In the mind of the public at large it was the royal family who had rejected Diana, isolated her and stripped her of Her Royal Highness, leaving her the title of princess, not in her own right but under sufferance, for as long as she remained unmarried. But the harder they had tried to push her into the shadows, the more potent her appeal became. The royal family were dealing with a real person. The public was captivated by an emotional icon, and it was the illusion which won. In death Diana was posthumously crowned.
The family gathered in the ivory tower of Balmoral simply did not understand what was taking place six hundred miles to the south. More damagingly, nor did their senior advisers, certainly not at first. The politics of the street was something they regarded with well-bred disdain: they ignored the ever-more frantic messages they were receiving from London and instead sought refuge in the battered redoubt of precedent.
The funeral, the Queen decided, should be a small, family affair at Windsor, followed by a burial in the graveyard at Frogmore where successive generations of the royal family, with the exception of reigning monarchs and their consorts, are laid to rest (since Queen Victoria's time kings and queens have been buried at St George's Chapel, Windsor). Sir Robert Fellowes agreed.
The situation was being wrenched from their control, however. In London the crowds of mourners were perilously close to turning into a mob. Their growing wrath was palpable. They wanted to know why no flag was flying at half mast over Buckingham Palace, why no royal tributes to the Princess had been forthcoming and, above all else, why the royal family had chosen to remain in Scotland instead of returning to the capital to join in the nation's mourning.
In fact, there was nothing unusual or pernicious in their decision to remain where they were. The royal family traditionally does its grieving in private and in a more devout age their wish to keep their sorrow to themselves would have been respected. There had been no complaints when the family had gone into retreat at Balmoral following the deaths of the Duke of Kent in 1942, of the Queen's glamorous cousin Prince William of Gloucester in 1972, or of Prince Charles's beloved great-uncle Earl Mountbatten of Burma in 1979. By ironic coincidence all had died violently, Kent and Gloucester in plane crashes, Mountbatten at the hands of the IRA.
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