‘Ah,’ said Princess Diana as we shook hands at our first encounter in 1996 when I was running a national newspaper, ‘the man who knows me so well.’
The sarcasm dripped from her regal lips.
‘Thank you, ma’am, I like to think so,’ I laughed.
‘Honestly,’ she continued, ‘you editors always think you know everything about me when we haven’t even met.’
‘Well, now’s your chance to enlighten me, your royal highness,’ I suggested.
‘Hmm…’ she replied, ‘I don’t have the time, I’m afraid…’
Then she giggled. ‘… Or the inclination, come to that!’
And with that, she glided off to meet other guests at the charity event in London.
I thought of that exchange again today as Diana’s memorial statue was finally unveiled in the sunken garden of Kensington Palace, on her 60th birthday.
Piers Morgan today paid tribute to the ‘charismatic, smart and beautiful’ Princess Diana (above together in 1996) on what would have been her 60th birthday
Prince William and Prince Harry arrive for the unveiling of a statue of their late mother in the Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace, London
A gazillion words will be written and said about the event and, in particular, about the interactions and body language between Diana’s two sons Prince William and Prince Harry.
But very few of those giving their expert views actually know what’s really going on between those two.
Yes, they smiled for the cameras and put on an apparently warm display of unity, and that was good to see.
But the two men have had decades to practice hiding their real feelings from the public, and trust me, it’s easy.
Susanna Reid and I once presented a whole three-hour episode of Good Morning Britain together without exchanging a single civil word on or off camera after a blazing row, but the viewers barely noticed thanks to our fixed cheesy grins and cheery chats with guests.
The two men have had decades to practice hiding their real feelings from the public, and trust me, it’s easy, writes PIERS MORGAN
And in Godfather 2, Michael Corleone warmly embraced and kissed his brother Fredo at a New Year’s Eve party before whispering ‘I know it was you, you broke my heart’ and later having him shot.
So, appearances can be deceptive.
I’m assured that the division between the brothers runs very deep and very furiously.
How could it not – given how viciously Harry and his wife Meghan have publicly trashed the Royal Family on global television this year?
If one of my brothers suddenly went rogue and appeared on TV with his wife to spray-gun the rest of the Morgans as a bunch of nasty uncaring racists, he wouldn’t be getting a Christmas card any time soon.
But the one thing that may bring them back together, and it would be the same in my family, is their mother.
Princess Diana could be fabulous but difficult, mischievous but sensitive, compassionate but unforgiving, kind but stubborn, hilarious but contrary, loyal but uncompromising, vulnerable but manipulative.
That, in a sense, was her magic.
She was an unpredictable, high-energy whirlwind of radiantly beautiful, hugely charismatic drama.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 24 years since that horrific night in Paris when Diana and her lover Dodi Fayed died at the hands of a drunken, speeding French driver, pursued by the paparazzi with whom she had such a love-hate relationship.
It’s also hard to imagine what such an iconic beauty would have been like as an older lady entering her seventh decade. I think she’d have loathed the ageing process.
But it’s not so hard to guess what she would have wanted most for her big birthday: peace and harmony between her sons.
William and Harry’s feud would have broken Diana’s heart.
William and Harry’s (above today) feud would have broken Diana’s heart, writes PIERS MORGAN
Charles and Diana with their sons Prince William and Prince Harry on a cycling trip on the Isles of Scilly in June 1989
She lived for those boys and showered them in constant love and affection, and she’d have been devastated to see them shower each other in vitriol and hatred these past few years.
I’m sure she would have stopped it had she still been alive.
But she’s not.
So, it’s left to them to sort it out between themselves.
As one of three brothers, we used to resolve things in my family by fighting until someone begged for mercy.
And I was informed by an impeccable royal source this week that at one point before Megxit William and Harry did indeed revert to a physical method of argument during their bitter, ugly falling-out.
But now they live on separate continents, scrapping out their differences isn’t really an option.
Instead, they’re going to have to find it in themselves to do what their mother found so very hard to do herself – back down and show forgiveness.
Diana could be ruthlessly brutal when she felt let down by someone, even family.
Sarah, Duchess of York, broke down crying to me in a restaurant two months before Diana died as she revealed how her sister-in-law, once her closest friend, had cut her out of her life for after taking offence over what she’d written in her autobiography (Fergie had called Charles ‘an extraordinary man’ and said she caught veruccas after borrowing Diana’s shoes).
‘She won’t talk to me,’ she sobbed. ‘She won’t take my calls or reply to my letters. And worst of all, she won’t even let me see the boys, which is so upsetting. I loved seeing William and Harry, and so did my girls. It’s just not fair that they can’t see their cousins. I have tried everything, but she can be so obstinate. I’ve said how sorry I am, but she won’t listen.’
The brothers arrive for the unveiling of a statue they commissioned of their mother Diana, Princess of Wales, in the Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace
She lived for those boys and showered them in constant love and affection, and she’d have been devastated to see them shower each other in vitriol and hatred these past few years
Many others, including Sir Elton John, have similar stories to tell about incurring the wrath of Diana and being summarily ostracised.
In their joint statement at the statue unveiling, the Princes said: ‘Today, on what would have been our Mother’s 60th birthday, we remember her love, strength and character – qualities that made her a force for good around the world, changing countless lives for the better’.
That’s true – and her sons have both inherited a lot of their mother’s good qualities.
But they’ve also inherited some of her other less appealing traits, like implacable stubbornness and a refusal to give an inch in an argument.
Ironically, given how our first meeting went, I actually got to know Princess Diana quite well in the last fateful 18 months of her life.
We had a long private lunch with William at Kensington Palace, and after that, spoke quite often on the phone.
She could be unbelievably charming but also utterly impossible and infuriating.
On one occasion, Diana gave me an hour-long taped off-the-record interview about a visit to a clinic for women with eating disorders.
She went through every word of my copy and signed off on the whole text.
Then the next morning, she issued a statement angrily condemning the ‘intrusive’ revelations.
I rang her private secretary Michael Gibbins to furiously complain, raging: ‘It’s a bloody joke! She went through every word with me, laughing and joking throughout. What will she do when I release the tape and reveal my source?’
The Princess of Wales is pictured arriving at the Serpentine Gallery in London in June 1995
There was a brief pause – and I heard a muttered conversation going on.
‘Oh,’ he eventually replied, ‘the Princess doesn’t think you will do anything like that now you are getting on so well.’
I had to laugh.
That was Diana all over – but in a way, I loved her for it.
I also saw the very best of her.
At the Royal Brompton hospital, I stood with world famous heart surgeon Magdi Yacoub as she walked slowly from bed to bed, hugging and cuddling very sick kids in a way that made them hug and cuddle her back.
‘Look at Diana,’ Yacoub whispered to me, ‘she’s like a living saint, isn’t she?’ And to these kids she was, no question.
Just as she was to AIDS patients, lepers, the homeless, land-mine victims and so many people suffering in the world.
Diana knew there was no escape from her gigantic global fame.
‘I’ve thought about emigrating,’ she told me during our lunch, ‘but somebody would find me wherever I went.’
That’s true, and very few people can truly understand that level of celebrity.
One who did was her friend Michael Jackson who when I interviewed him after she died, wept as he said: ‘She felt hunted in the way I’ve felt hunted. Trapped, if you like.
You can’t talk about that to your neighbour, because how would they ever understand? No normal person could possibly understand, could they?’
No, they couldn’t.
William and Harry are two of the world’s most famous and scrutinised people, and that brings with it uniquely difficult pressures and strains.
Frankly, it’s not surprising that this simmering cauldron finally spilled over into an almighty bust-up between them, especially after all the turmoil following their mum’s death.
But as they stood there together today, unveiling her statue, and allowing themselves a few grins and laughs, I detected the first real glimmers of a possible rapprochement.
And somewhere, Diana was cheering them on.