As I outlined the Princess of Wales’s itinerary for her forthcoming visit to Budapest, I sensed that the assembled journalists had something else on their minds. Before I’d even opened my mouth to ask if there were any questions, a hand had shot up.
Given the unusually large and enthusiastic Press presence in the room, I couldn’t help but think that it was. They certainly hadn’t turned up in their droves to hear details of Diana’s outing to a gala performance at the Budapest Opera House.
‘I know nothing about it,’ I told them truthfully.
‘But what do you think? Apparently it’s going to be quite explicit.’
I told them that I would get back to them after I had spoken to the Princess.
As we toured the Peto Institute in Budapest I managed to steal a private moment with Diana. I told her about the reporters’ questions, emphasising what seemed to be the widely held belief that she had co-operated with Andrew Morton.
‘What shall I tell them, Ma’am?’
At first, she seemed dismayed. Then her expression changed to one of defiance. She fixed me with a stern glare.
‘What book? Dickie, I am not collaborating on any book. I know as much about it as they do,’ she said, indicating the awaiting Press with a nod.
‘OK, Ma’am,’ I replied. ‘Then that’s what I shall tell them.’
My gut feeling was that she was being economical with the truth, but I wasn’t about to accuse her of lying. Instead, I relayed to the media our conversation, offering not a hint of my own thoughts on the matter. I’m quite sure no one believed me.
En route to one of them, a solo visit by the Princess to Egypt, the Queen’s Flight BAe 146 actually stopped to drop off her husband in Turkey, where he was going on holiday without her. Charles’s act was emblematic of the level of discord within the Waleses’ marriage at the time.
In May of that year, the couple went on an official trip to Seville together. It was painfully obvious that they didn’t want to be in each other’s company.
At every photo opportunity they would stand apart and cast their gazes outward — anything to avoid eye contact. It was painful to witness, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one watching the relationship unravel who wished that it could just be done with.
Soon it would all come to a head anyway. On their return from Seville the much-anticipated bombshell finally detonated when Andrew Morton’s forthcoming book, Diana: Her True Story, was serialised in a Sunday newspaper.
The Princess had succeeded brilliantly in covering up the fact that she had indeed collaborated with Morton. She even kept the secret from some who were prepared to speak on her behalf, including her brother-in-law, Sir Robert Fellowes, the Queen’s private secretary at the time.
Also left in the dark was Lord McGregor, then chairman of the Press Complaints Commission. Following the initial serialisation in the paper, he publicly rushed to Diana’s defence, lambasting the newspaper involved for ‘dabbling their fingers in the stuff of other people’s souls’.
We first heard the news of the serialisation on Saturday, June 6, the eve of its publication. Late that night, I made a trip to London’s Charing Cross Station to pick up the early editions. I braced myself for what I was about to read.
The next morning, the first call I received was not from a member of the Press, but from the Princess herself. I assumed that she, too, had sent out the night before for a first edition, and though she didn’t say so, I suspected that she’d passed a sleepless night reading and re-reading the extract.
‘There’s nothing you can do, Ma’am,’ I replied, curtly. ‘You’ve let the cat out of the bag. It’s done.’
‘Yes, but what should I do?’ she repeated.
‘All you can do, Ma’am, is batten down the hatches. Don’t talk to anyone — and I mean anyone. And while you’re at it,’ I added, hoping to lighten the moment, ‘why don’t you pour yourself a large Scotch and get drunk?’
‘Mmm,’ she said, distracted. ‘I might just have to do that.’
The book became a runaway bestseller, and the Princess could do nothing but keep her head down. She continued to maintain the line that she’d had nothing to do with the writing of it. I had my doubts, but it was entirely her prerogative.
As 1992 went on, there seemed to be no respite from the relentlessly salacious and often negative stores about the Royal Family.
In August, pictures emerged of financial adviser John Bryan sucking the toes of a topless Duchess of York in France. Next came the dredging up of the transcript of a two-year-old conversation between Diana and her longtime friend, James Gilbey.
Dubbed Squidgygate, the conversation actually read rather blandly. But it all helped add to our feeling that the year was shaping up to be a nightmare.
I had travelled to Seoul ahead of the couple to carry out my usual pre-visit recce, and was on hand at the airport the day of their arrival. As the door to the aircraft opened, I turned to the protection officer and said: ‘We’ve lost this one.’
The Prince and the Princess were the epitome of Mr and Mrs Glum — her expression pinched and pale, his rigid and morose. Their body language was so hostile it was as if they could have killed each other with a single glance.
The dark cloud hanging over them would remain throughout the tour.
One courtier’s poor choice of words definitely didn’t help matters.
‘How are the Prince and Princess coping with all this?’ a reporter asked the tour’s private secretary. ‘Is the marriage OK?’
‘All marriages have their problems,’ replied the private secretary, testily.
It was an attempt to deflect the question, but he pretty much gave credence to all the rumours that we had spent months trying to quash. If we hadn’t lost the tour upon arrival, we had undoubtedly lost it now.
Indeed, less than a month after Their Royal Highnesses returned to Britain, the then Prime Minister, John Major, announced to the Commons that the Prince and Princess of Wales had agreed to separate. The public’s perception of Charles could now not have been worse.
He was increasingly portrayed as the villain, while Diana — thanks largely to the Morton memoir (which she continued to deny having had anything to do with) — was generally viewed as the victim.
Charles could do nothing but keep his head down and continue with his public duties as heir to the throne.
In 1993, he agreed to do a TV documentary outlining the various achievements of his charity, The Prince’s Trust.
I thought the programme would be an ideal way to shift the focus away from his personal life back to more worthy matters. But as so often happens with best-laid schemes, things quickly went awry.
What was supposed to be a straightforward, strictly work-related interview turned into something much more personal as Charles was coaxed into baring his soul on the issue of his failed marriage to Diana.
Filmed in part in the choir stalls of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the interview proved excruciating at times, as the Prince openly confessed to his extramarital affair with Camilla Parker Bowles.
Perhaps equally damaging was his contention that, while he was not considering divorce at the time, he did not believe that it would present a barrier to his becoming King. Once he ascended the throne, Charles would serve as Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith. This was at a time when divorce was still a highly contentious issue in many religious quarters.
I have no doubt that Richard Aylard, the Prince’s private secretary, had persuaded Charles to answer the questions. The interviewer, Jonathan Dimbleby, would have certainly provided additional influence.
Whatever the case, the piece aired in June 1994, just shy of the 25th anniversary of his investiture as Prince of Wales. Charles was met with a firestorm of commentary from armchair pundits and faced criticism across the board.
Regrettably, nearly all mention of The Prince’s Trust — a fine institution, and the overriding subject of the documentary as it was originally proposed — was lost in the scandal.
Combustible as the Morton book and Dimbleby interview had been, down in the press office we couldn’t help but believe that all of Charles and Diana’s ‘dirty laundry’ had finally been aired, and that some sense of normality could one again be established within the Royal Household. We could not have been more wrong.
As was the Princess’s intention, neither the press office nor the Royal Household knew anything about the interview prior to its airing. Only Patrick Jephson, Diana’s private secretary, had been given any hint.
The Princess had indicated to him that she had done the interview, but revealed nothing about its contents, telling him: ‘Don’t worry, everything will be all right.’
The BBC was positively covert in keeping the programme under wraps, which served only to ensure a vast viewing audience. Not even Lord Hussey, the chairman of the BBC’s governors, whose wife Susan served as a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, knew anything about the interview beforehand.
Bracing ourselves for the worst, we in the press office crowded around the TV in Charles Anson’s office to watch the broadcast. With the exception of the occasional sharp intake of breath, we watched the interview unfold with silent, rapt attention.
Diana withheld nothing. ‘There were three of us in this marriage,’ she told Bashir, ‘so it was a bit crowded.’ She went on to admit that she’d been in love with James Hewitt, and confirmed that she had been unfaithful to the Prince.
Diana would later confide to friends that she regretted doing the interview.
Admittedly, I too was displeased by Diana’s actions, believing that in many respects it reflected a monumental lack of judgment. I was also dismayed that people who perhaps didn’t have her best interests at heart had managed to talk her into doing something so damning.
And it wasn’t just she who had been affected. The institution of the monarchy, her extended family and, most important, her children, were also made to answer for the Princess’s transgressions.
Indeed, as one reporter put it, her interview had, ‘plunged the monarchy into the greatest crisis since the Abdication’.
I was also deeply saddened by what I saw and heard in the Panorama piece. I knew from my own split from my first wife in 1977 how difficult a crumbling marriage could be. It is something I can’t imagine having to endure under a global spotlight.
Granted, Diana delivered a masterful performance, but I also couldn’t help but be moved by the authentic vulnerability and pain exhibited throughout the interview.
At the end of the day, the woman who had sat down with Martin Bashir was a devoted young mother who had suffered the prolonged and heartbreaking disintegration of her marriage, and who now seemed to be above all lonely.
I had always had my doubts that Prince Andrew’s marriage was going to last, but the breakdown of the Waleses’ union upset me greatly. I knew with certainty that at one point there had not only been a strong connection between the two, but genuine love and adoration.
More than once, Diana told me that she had never wanted a divorce. She had, after all, been a child of divorce herself. Unfortunately, their marriage was insatiable scrutiny from day one.
No doubt this contributed to its very public ‘he said/she said’ deterioration which sadly forced them to call an end to their marriage once and for all.
Age difference aside, in the end I believe Charles and Diana simply inhabited two different worlds.
‘I’ll do the washing up,’ insisted the Queen after our rain-soaked picnic
I had been in my new job for just under a month when an unexpected invitation came my way: to meet the Queen at her Scottish retreat, Balmoral Castle.
As Head of State, she was ultimately my boss, but as my duties didn’t relate to her specifically it had never occurred to me that I might be invited for any sort of audience.
But three weeks later I duly caught a flight from Heathrow to Aberdeen, carrying everything I thought that I might conceivably need: my dinner jacket, some casual clothes, some appropriate footwear and my trusty Barbour jacket.
It was just as well I brought the Barbour. As we descended into Aberdeen, the low charcoal skies performed entirely to expectation, dumping biblical quantities of rain.
I knew the daily routine at Balmoral was outdoorsy and informal, but even that didn’t prepare me for what the footman, whose job it was to greet and brief me, told me upon arrival.
‘If you’d like to get changed, Sir, and make your way back down within half an hour, I believe you’re going on a picnic.’ The footman read the incredulous look on my face. If a picnic in the pouring rain was a surprise, it was nothing compared to the one that would greet me half an hour later.
As I waited in the entrance hall, now duly clothed for the occasion, I became aware of a 5ft 4in whirlwind who flashed past me, carried on through the open front door and barked: ‘Come along, then, get in!’
By the time I had obeyed orders and opened the passenger door, the Queen was already in the car, behind the wheel, with the engine running. We set off at quite a lick, arriving at the picnic spot, a small wooden lodge, about 15 minutes later. I was similarly instructed to get out.
The whole scene was surreal. I can’t remember a single thing we had to eat. What I do remember was the incredible informality of it all. Our group included the Queen and me, Prince Philip and Mary Morrison, a lady-in-waiting.
The Queen served lunch out of Tupperware, not fine china, and the conversation flowed as readily as the rain. It was wonderful, free of pomp and ceremony, and it felt like the most natural thing in the world to start clearing the table at the end of the meal.
The Queen joined me in the kitchen inside the wooden lodge. I had already run water and added a squirt of washing-up liquid. With my hands immersed in the suds, I quipped, ‘I’ll wash, you dry.’
‘No,’ she said in a quiet but firm voice. ‘I’ll wash, you dry.’
Picking up a tea towel, I did as I was told.
To read Part 1, click HERE
Extracted from On Duty With The Queen: My Time As A Buckingham Palace Press Officer by Dickie Arbiter, to be published by Blink on October 1, £19.99. © Dickie Arbiter and Lynne Barrett-Lee 2014.
To order a copy for £15.99 go to mailbookshop.co.uk or call 0808 272 0808 (p&p free for a limited time only). The discount is available until Thursday.
Culled From: DailyMail UK