Exclusive to CFP:
Diana's secret tapes
By Gordon Thomas
Wednesday, October 4, 2006
(Editor's note: When it comes to the late Princess Diana, Gordon Thomas, the author of 40 books with total sales exceeding 50 million copies, knows of which he speaks. Gordom's screenplay, Underpass, which received the Best Adaption Prize at the 1998 Mipcom Film Festival at Cannes, is currently slated to be an MGM release as a feature film that deals with the intelligence mystery round the death of Princess Diana).
There are seven tapes. Each is the length of a Hollywood blockbuster. But no movie could have the impact of the cassettes Princess Diana made before her death.
For the voice of Diana on those tapes is proof there is no revenge colder than that served from beyond the grave.
On one of seven long tapes, she speaks of a "powerful circle of gays" within the Household from which she was excluded.
On another tape she talks of how "I entered into a relationship with James (Hewitt). Charles knew about it and didn't care. He said it gave him the freedom to run his own life".
The tape also reveals Diana's deep sense of betrayal over Hewitt's subsequent behaviour. She speaks of "will I ever be lucky in love".
She describes what the alleged victim of the rape by a fellow Royal footman told her about the incident.
She reveals her "growing concern" about Prince Charles relationship with Michael Fawcett -- and how she believed it contributed to the end of her marriage. Fawcett has now left Charles' service, but remains close to the prince.
She reveals what Charles told her about the Duke of Edinburgh's relationship with the actress Pat Kirkwood.
She deals with relationships other members of the Royal Family have had outside marriage -- accusing them of "calling the pot black when they have plenty in their kettle to answer for".
Those words are the recollection of the former BBC cameraman who Diana used to secretly make the tapes.
While it is not clear what Diana intended to do with the tapes, any plans were ended with her death a few months later.
The tapes have no connection with the ones which former actor Peter Settelen claimed he also made secretly with Diana to help her "become a more confident public speaker". The Settelen tapes are believed to have been made prior to Diana's 1995 Panorama interview.
By then, whatever benefits she had obtained from Settelen's coaching had been shown in her Panorama interview and in scores of public speeches two years previous to making her secret video diary.
"By the time she asked me to film her, Diana was a confident speaker -- well up to professional broadcast standards," said the cameraman who now lives in the United States.
Last week in a determination to "put the record straight over claims about this other set of recordings", the cameraman revealed he had kept a diary of that momentous month in March 1997, when he secretly filmed Diana.
Through an intermediary with impeccable credentials, the cameraman provided two extracts from his diary. He insisted it should be made clear he was not paid for this. He was doing it to "set right the historical record".
The first diary entry is for March 7, 1997:
"Arrived at KP (Kensington Palace) 7.45pm as prearranged. Taxi waved through by duty policeman. Diana waiting in drawing room as previous. Chatted while I set up. She sat in armchair, hands on lap. Asked me to frame only head and shoulders. She would signal with her hand when she wanted a break."
The first tape contained Diana's version of the break-up of her marriage. The role Camilla Parker-Bowles played in it. Charles' relationship with Fawcett.
The cameraman's diary goes on:
"She said she knew on her honeymoon that she was the odd one out in a triangle -- Charles, Camilla and Fawcett. He called Charles every day on honeymoon. Charles took the calls in a separate room. When Diana asked, she was told it was all to do with work. Diana says she had little or no idea what was involved in Charles' working life. But she says she soon became aware that in his personal feelings towards her there was no real husbandly emotions."
Diana spoke in ten-minute takes. In between she sipped mineral water.
On that first tape the cameraman recorded how Diana listened in to secret calls Charles made to Camilla. How Fawcett acted as a go-between for Charles to keep secret assignations with Camilla.
The diary of that first day's filming ends with Diana's claims that:
"She caught Charles and Camilla de flagrante after listening in to his phone calls. She described how she came to listen to their phone calls. In one, Charles was sitting on the toilet seat when she caught him."
The second excerpt of the diary is for March 9, 1997:
"Arrived 8.30pm. Stayed 2hrs. Session mostly about her shock at discovering the extent of Charles' dependence on Fawcett and others she did not approve of around him. She said ‚Ạ̈there is a group of powerful gays around Charles who have huge influence. Some are in the QM's (Queen Mother's) office. Others are over at BP (Buckingham Palace)'."
On the tape, Diana is said to have given a vivid account of the group "flouncing and tip-toeing" around Charles and how he "enjoys their open adulation".
There are some suggestions she planned to use them as a bargaining tool. Others suggest she planned for them to be stored to secure her place in history.
Were they included in that catch-all letter Diana's former butler, Paul Burrel, wrote to Prince William? Did the butler convey the contents of the tapes to the Queen when they met in the privacy of her Buckingham office for an unprecedented three hours? Was it a fear that the revelations on the tapes would surface during Burrel's trial at the Old Bailey for stealing Diana's personal belongings, which forced the Queen to publicly intervene in the butler's trial? Burrel was subsequently acquitted and the prosecution case collapsed.
The tapes' revelations, delivered in the same little-girl voice which was Diana's carefully cultivated stock-in-trade to convey something sensational, go to the heart of what she saw as wrong in the House of Windsor.
The story of those tapes is complex and revealing -- and casts new light on Diana's mindset in the months before she died in 1997.
The very existence of the tapes had been a closely-guarded secret until the collapse of the Paul Burrel trial. Then rumours began to emerge that the Queen's intervention was because she had become aware of the tapes. There were unconfirmed reports they had been removed from the attic of Burrel's home by the Scotland Yard team who had also taken from the house a large number of gifts Diana had given him.
What happened to the tapes when they were later studied by Scotland Yard is not known.
The story of the seven tapes -- with a total running time of 12 hours -- is one of the most intriguing in the history of Diana's relationship with the Royal Family.
The tapes have been variously described as her "last will and testament" and the "lonely voice of a wronged woman".
More certain is that the story behind how the tapes came to be made is as intriguing as any plot for a blockbuster.
It began on a cold January day in 1997. For months Diana had been telling friends of her dissatisfaction with her now notorious Panorama "three in a bed" interview, in which she had revealed her own adultery with James Hewitt.
In part, her view on the film was coloured by reports that Martin Bashir, who interviewed her, was saying he would like to sleep with Diana. (Bashir has subsequently denied this.)
Within the implacably hostile Royal Family, she had managed to maintain one friendship. That was with Prince Edward. He was developing his own film company, planning to make documentaries about the Royal Family. There was talk that Diana herself might become involved.
Edward, so insiders said at the time, had fuelled Diana's anger over the Panorama film and Bashir.
In January, 1997, Diana asked Edward if he knew of a good TV cameraman. He had to be trustworthy.
Perhaps used to his sister-in-law's by now well-developed paranoia -- on the Panorama film she had spoken about being a victim of the security services spying on her -- Edward seems not to have asked why she wanted a cameraman.
At the time Edward was associated with BBC broadcaster, Desmond Wilcox, the late husband of Esther Rantzen, a British TV presenter.
Wilcox was running a documentary company, Man Alive Productions in Hammersmith, London. Colleagues from those days say Wilcox was keen to foster links with the Royals.
Wilcox had worked at the BBC before leaving to continue a successful career as an independent film maker.
"When Edward consulted Desmond for a suitable cameraman, he did what Dessie always did, produced his contact book and came up with a name", recalled a senior executive who had worked with Wilcox.
The cameraman Wilcox had suggested was described to Edward as "old BBC. A veteran of many documentaries, the man had left the BBC to set up on his own".
Michael Latham, a former senior BBC producer, who had worked with the cameraman, describes him as "not a public man. He never talked about where he had been or what he was doing. If he knew something he did not let on that he did".
At some point in February, 1997, the cameraman was invited to Kensington Palace to meet Diana.
At their first meeting, Diana close questioned the cameraman. At this stage, she did not tell him what she planned. That he did not ask undoubtedly impressed her. Other meetings followed. They all took place in the elegant drawing room where the Panorama programme had been filmed. Finally, in early March 1997, Diana told the cameraman what she wanted.
She wanted him to film a set of videos in which she would speak directly to the camera. There would be no "cutaways", or what are know in TV as "bridging shots". It would be just her talking into the camera. She did not know, then, how many videos she would make. But after each one was completed it would be handed to her. There would be no other copy made. The schedule for filming would depend on her other engagements.
A fee of ¬£5,000 was accepted for the assignment. It would be paid in cash. Clearly, Diana wanted to avoid any trace of any contact between her and the cameraman. She asked for his cell phone number.
The cameraman made a suggestion. Given what she had said about surveillance on the Panorama programme, it would be risky for her to call him on one of her own phones.
He suggested that he would purchase two cell phones; one for her, one for him. They would be used exclusively for their communications.
THE VIDEO FILMING:
The first video filming took place in early March, in the late evening. All subsequent six sessions followed the same pattern.
As instructed by Diana, the cameraman arrived by taxi at Kensington Palace. He was shown up into the drawing room where their previous discussions had taken place.
The cameraman unpacked his holdall. It contained a standard VHS camera and tripod. There were also several blank tapes.
Paid in full, the cameraman never saw Diana again. But it was only after her death in Paris, in August 1997, killed in a road crash with Dodi al-Fayed, that the cameraman spoke to one person about his ultra-secret assignment -- and the momentous revelations on the tapes.
That person was Desmond Wilcox. He was sworn to tell no one -- an undertaking Wilcox kept even from his own wife.
Those who have worked with Wilcox at the BBC confirm that, for all his gregariousness, he was a good keeper of secrets.
But before he died, Wilcox did tell one other person about what the cameraman had revealed. That person is still alive -- as is the cameraman.
The reason the cameraman originally told Wilcox -- and may also be the same reason the broadcaster shared the secret with a second person -- is that both Wilcox and the cameraman had been questioned in the aftermath of Diana's death by MI5 security officers about the existence of the tapes.
Neither had been able to throw any light as to their whereabouts.
Then, confirmation of their existence surfaced in another way. In her short-lived summer romance with Dodi al-Fayed in 1997, she told her lover -- the son of Harrod's owner Mohammed al-Fayed -- about the tapes.
Those references later formed part of the 1051 pages of transcripts relating to Diana that the National Security Agency, America's spy in the sky agency, subsequently confirmed they hold.
The US Justice Department maintain that the transcripts contain matters of "national security". Mohammed al-Fayed continues to fight a US court battle to obtain the transcripts.
The tapes cover the last weeks of Diana's life -- a time when she repeatedly said she was being watched by the CIA, MI5 and MI6.
Shortly after her death, the cameraman who had filmed the seven videos left Britain. He first went to New York. Then to Vancouver. Today he lives on the West Coast of America.
Last week, under a guarantee of confidentiality, the cameraman's one remaining link with Britain spoke about the contents of the videos.
"They are Diana's video diaries of her marriage. In a sense they are an oral history of the Royal Family. She deals with each member in detail", he said.
The videos reserve her most stringent criticism for Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles.
"She describes how she caught Charles and Camilla de flagrente. She reveals how she listened in on their phone sex talk. She says that Camilla was the raunchier of the two. She gives examples", said the source.
He said that on one tape, Diana talks of the "sexual treachery" of her husband. Of how he would make late night calls to Camilla of "a sexual nature".
"Diana paints a portrait of how she pleaded with him for the sake of the children to give up Camilla. She says that she turned to Anne (Princess Anne) and Andrew (Prince Andrew) for help. Both, she says, refused to lift a finger", said the source.
According to what the cameraman told the source in a telephone call on Thursday evening to the West Coast, Diana was "highly upset" about Charles' relationship with Fawcett.
"She has described how she came across them whispering to each other in the Palace corridors. She said there was something of the night about Fawcett. Diana reveals on one tape that she didn't like the way he seemed to dominate Charles, not just in a physical way, but mentally also."
The cameraman who filmed these revelations admits that he cannot "quote chapter and verse in fine detail", but he is adamant that on the videos Diana claims:
A member of Charles' staff told her about sexual misconduct within the Royal Household staff -- and that Charles "tolerated it".
She describes a Royal staff party that was like "something out of Caligula".
She describes how Charles and other members of the Royal Family -- the Queen excepted -- used to store expensive gifts in bin-liners.
"On one video Diana describes how there was a right old panic when a member of the Saudi Royal Family came visiting and his wedding gift had been binned. Staff spent hours going through the bags looking for a set of gold goblets", the cameraman said last week to the source.
Towards the end, the videos seem to have captured the mood swings of Diana -- and her restless search for a man to share her life.
According to the cameraman's recall, there was also "a terrible anger" at the way she was being treated by the Royal Family -- especially Prince Philip.
"She talks about how his welcome into the Family had turned to cold hostility once the marriage had broken up. On one video she quotes from letters he had sent her. On another letter she attacks her brother for refusing to give her a home on his estate."
Undoubtedly, the most revealing part of her video diaries is how Diana saw her future.
"She makes it clear that she would do everything possible to make sure Charles never became King. She wanted William to succeed to the Throne when the Queen died. Diana clearly saw her role as the power behind William. She had this somewhat romantic idea of being a king-maker -- the mother behind the monarch", said the source.
He explained that the cameraman had told him last week that his abiding memory from the videos was of a very determined princess that nothing would stand in her way.
Ironically, short of money at the time she had made the videos, they are today worth untold £millions.
But what has happened to them is still a mystery. With Diana dead, the copyright in the videos could be claimed by William and Harry.
But almost certainly they would not wish to view such an unflattering portrait of their father and his mistress by their mother.
The Spencer family would no doubt like to retrieve the tapes -- but probably not to put on display in the Althorp museum along with other Diana bric-a-brac. Her criticism of Earl Spencer, her brother, would stop that.
There is an intriguing possibility that the tapes have discreetly been handed over to the Queen. If so, they would almost certainly have been destroyed. That would bring genuine relief within Royal circles.
© Gordon Thomas 2006
Gordon Thomas, is the author of Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad, the new edition of which was published in January 2007. He specialises in international intelligence matters.
He can be reached at: Letters@canadafreepress.com