Diana’s former equerry defends broadcasting of controversial tapes

The Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer after announcing their engagement in February 1981
The Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer after announcing their engagement in February 1981

Princess Diana’s former equerry has defended the decision by Channel 4 to broadcast candid video tapes discussing her troubled marriage.

The broadcaster has come under fierce criticism over Diana: In Her Own Words, a documentary to be aired ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Princess’s death.

Patrick Jephson, equerry and private secretary to the princess for eight years until 1996, told Radio Times magazine that he had “better reason than most to know that the princess could be a mercurial and impulsive figure, in whom the flame of an angry fire could sometimes burn uncomfortably hot”.

“On a bad day – and luckily they were few – you’d think Boudicea with a headache might be an easier boss,” he said.

But Jephson said that the tapes were “legitimate additions to the historical record” showing a “princess finding her voice”.

Dickie Arbiter, a former spokesman for the Queen, called the documentary “shameful”, while Rosa Monckton, one of the princess’s closest friends, described the broadcast as “a betrayal of her privacy and of the family’s privacy”.

But the former equerry, who has contributed to the documentary, said: “She had every reason to be angry, trapped with the knowledge that her husband loved another woman.

“And she had reason to be angry too when the sympathy and guidance she needed ... seemed to arrive in very small measures”.

He said the tapes show the princess at “a time when, with good reason, Diana felt herself to be under attack from advisers and friends of her estranged husband, who had chosen as their main weapon the accusation that she was mentally ill”, adding: “Classy.”

He told the magazine: “At a time when, to their great credit, both her children are encouraging us to remember their mother in a positive light, this film is a well-timed, well-made and well-intentioned addition to the standard anniversary menu. And if it takes a little longer to digest, at least it won’t have you reaching for the sick bag.”

Channel 4 has defended the tapes, never before broadcast on British TV, describing the material as an “important historical source”.

It said that “the subjects covered are a matter of public record and provide a unique insight into the preparations Diana undertook to gain a public voice and tell her own personal story”.

The videotapes, captured at the princess’s private residence in Kensington Palace, were shot by Diana’s speech coach Peter Settelen during their practice sessions.

They feature the Royal speaking candidly and informally about her upbringing, her courtship with the Prince of Wales, her troubled marriage and her public life.

Excerpts of the tapes were broadcast in the US in 2004.