A divorced Princess Diana could still have reigned supreme – but then Martin Bashir came along

TWO days after Princess Diana gave that Panorama interview, she flew to Argentina for an official visit.

Along with two other journalists from national newspapers, yours truly was dispatched to fly in the same First Class cabin (someone’s got to do it) in case she felt seized with the urge to give another tell-all interview at 30,000ft.


Unlikely, of course, but no news editor would want to take the risk of reading it in a rival publication.

When she boarded, she was in full Princess Diana mode, immaculately dressed and delightful with the cabin crew.

She even cracked a “fancy seeing you here” joke when she spotted Fleet Street’s, er, finest in close proximity.

But after removing her make-up and changing into a tracksuit, she pulled a blanket over her head and slept for several hours, waking just before landing to put on the full Princess Diana away kit to meet then Argentinian President Carlos Menem.

As a former royal correspondent, I encountered Diana many times and it is fair to say she was reliably mercurial, laughing and joking with the press one minute, sulkily ignoring or chastising us the next.

Fair enough. But we liked her and, for the most part, she liked us. Yet on that plane she was merely subdued, as if she already knew that giving such a revealing interview had been a mistake.

Indeed, this week, Patrick Jephson, her private secretary at the time, said that although she charmed the Argentinians and proved what a “priceless asset” she was to the monarchy, behind the scenes she was “unusually timid — even penitent — as the reality of what she had done to offend her in-laws, large sections of the establishment and the public sank in.”

It proved to be the last of her official tours. As we now know, she left The Firm and, as Jephson points out, “Would increasingly rely on billionaires for jets and bodyguards . . . ”

It’s all the more tragic that the outcome could have been avoided.

The latest series of The Crown is a mix of fact and a hell of a lot of artistic licence, but actress Emma Corrin has nailed the carefree, uncomplicated, and pre-marriage Diana to perfection.

She was just 19 when she walked down the aisle, watched by 750million people, and gradually the pressure of life in the royal goldfish bowl, not to mention sharing her husband with another woman, took its toll.

Prior to her Panorama interview, she had already confided in the BBC’s then royal correspondent, Jennie Bond, who reveals now that Diana told her: “I was not unbalanced. The trouble was, I was too sane for my environment.”

ASSET TO ROYAL FAMILY

It makes perfect sense. Paul Burrell, her former butler, put it more brutally this week when he described “her personality being dismantled behind the scenes by these people who don’t really care”, and adds: “They didn’t give her praise. She only got negativity. She became a victim.”

Then along came Martin Bashir.

Diana was a fantastic asset to the Royal Family and, divorced or not, might have remained so had that ill-advised TV interview not taken place.

As mother of the future King, she could have enjoyed the protection of a senior royal, remained a powerful force on the world stage and would no doubt have forged a close and loving friendship with her ex-husband.

Knowing her naughty streak, she might even have enjoyed some sweet revenge by becoming a thorn in Camilla’s side.

Des one of true greats

IN a modern world heavily populated by “celebrity” talent vacuums, Des O’Connor was the real deal.

I interviewed him many times over the years and he was always on time, humble and respectful, to everyone from the office junior to the CEO.

After I extolled his virtues on Radio 4 at the weekend, Trevor Phillips, former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, texted me to say that as a cub scout, he did a bob-a-job sweeping the floors of a North London studio where Des was rehearsing.

He says: “Even today, though I can barely remember anything about the job, I can recall how lovely he was. I think he even stopped his soft- shoe shuffle to let me push the broom across the stage.”

RIP Mr O’Connor. A true gent who will be sorely missed.

Double ‘duh’

FOLLOWING last week’s piece about “duh” moments, reader David Etherton emailed me about the time his parents stopped at a service station that straddled a dual carriageway.

On coming out, they couldn’t find the car and reported it stolen.
When the police arrived, they found the car on the other side of the road, where his deeply embarrassed parents had left it.

Having apologised profusely, they drove a few miles more, only to be stopped by police for driving a stolen car because the other officers hadn’t yet reported it as found.

That’s a double “duh”.

M for a honey-gloom

IF you’re thinking of getting married, when allowed, then you might want to aim for a honeymoon destination that doesn’t begin with the letter M.

For those who opt for the Maldives are the most likely to divorce, according to a new poll, followed by Marrakech in second place and, not far behind, Mauritius.

Tell me about it. We headed to Mauritius the day after our wedding in May, 2002 and it rained . . . and rained . . . and rained.

By day five, we’d had a massive argument and were both sitting at separate ends of the hotel trying to book different flights home.

But happily, the sun eventually showed its face, we made up, and it’s now been 18 years with- out, ahem, a cross word.

Covid obesity link

PROFESSOR Dame Sally Davies, England’s former chief medical officer, has blamed much of the country’s high Covid death toll on obesity and a “structural environment” that enables junk food manufacturers to encourage consumption.

In the same week, McDonald’s has created a huge Double Big Mac for Christmas – with a whopping 694 calorie count.

Just when you think things might change for the better . . . they don’t.

He is so Bolshoi . .

BOMB disposal experts were called to a top-security military base after an Amazon delivery driver left a parcel at the entrance.

It was blown up in a controlled explosion and found to contain post-workout protein powder ordered by a member of staff who wanted better body definition.

Oh dear.

Talking of mystery boxes, I find myself fixated by the contents of the one carried out of 10 Downing Street by the PM’s former adviser Dominic Cummings.

There are memes galore in circulation – including this glorious twist on the recent ad campaign suggesting that those in the creative arts should find something more useful to do, like IT.

But in the style of gory movie Se7en, does Dom’s box conceal the severed head of a civil servant?

Perhaps a staple gun used to pin hapless Cabinet ministers to the wall? An unread copy of How To Win Friends And Influence People? Or a giant magnifying glass for that poor eyesight of his?

Who knows? But I’m going to take a wild guess that, unlike that Amazon parcel, it’s not a protein powder related to bodybuilding.

Learn from the Germans

THE German government has issued a tongue-in-cheek ad campaign aimed at young people.

It shows an elderly man looking back on 2020 and how he and his friends were “called to action” to “fight an invisible danger”.

“We did the only thing we could,” he says. “Absolutely nothing.” It then shows a student slouching on a sofa, while he explains: “We were as lazy as skunks.

Our sofa was the front and our patience our weapon.”

Far better to appeal to personal responsibility than imprisoning them, UK-style, behind metal bars, don’t you think?

Visit ban so cruel

IT’S bad enough that so many of us can’t see family members who miss us (and we them) but understand that it’s a government edict we can do nothing about.

Yet imagine having a loved one, be it an elderly relative with dementia or a child with severe disability, whose mental capacity is so limited that they have no idea why their loved ones no longer visit?

It’s inhumane and has no place in a civilised country.

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