From high windows at Kensington Palace, Prince William can just about look out on the patch of grass where he and Harry played as boys. It’s different these days — a screen of shrubs and a hedge protect the privacy of his children, who play on the same lawns.
But it was the memory of his childhood days that was uppermost in William’s mind as he sat at his desk late on Thursday evening, head bent over notes and a flickering screen on which he had read Lord Dyson’s damning 127-page report into the deceptions and trickery that lured his mother into her notorious Panorama interview.
For all the happy occasions — and there were many — he and Harry shared with Princess Diana, there were moments of great sadness, troubling even for a young teenager. As the elder son, he often found himself consoling the Princess, pushing tissues under the bathroom door when he heard her sobs and soothing her in times of anger.
For all the happy occasions — and there were many — Prince William and Harry shared with Princess Diana, there were moments of great sadness, troubling even for a young teenager. As the elder son, he often found himself consoling the Princess, pushing tissues under the bathroom door when he heard her sobs and soothing her in times of anger
Prince William today put on a brave face amid more turmoil caused by his ‘erratic’ brother Prince Harry who dropped another nuclear ‘truth bomb’ on the Royal Family to millions of people on TV
Martin Bashir, pictured, used devious methods to secure the controversial interview with Princess Diana
No gesture was more profound than his reassurance after she lost her royal title following her divorce from Prince Charles. ‘Don’t worry,’ he told her. ‘I don’t mind what you’re called — you’re Mummy.’
Diana would often open her eyes wide in wonder at the son who looked so like her and remark: ‘He’s wise that one, beyond his years.’
So when William began composing his response to the Dyson investigation, he applied himself with the same maturity he displayed all those years ago. This was to be a thoughtful, measured reaction. He had a clear vision of what he should say.
More from Richard Kay for the Daily Mail…
It was no less devastating for that. It was also desperately moving. Putting aside his royal persona — a role that means William can come across as cautious, unadventurous even, in public — he revealed a side to him we rarely see.
There was one more element to arrange. This was to be no formal statement, issued like a standard Palace communique, but a personal declaration, spoken from his own lips.
Darkness was falling by the time he was satisfied the words were right. He’d had help in marshalling his thoughts but the sentiments and the emotion with which he imbued them were his and his alone.
Then, when he stood before a single ITV camera — the footage shared with all broadcasters — he spoke with a raw honesty and controlled passion.
Ever since last November, when this newspaper began piecing together the events that led Diana into the arms of the BBC and Martin Bashir, William has followed every development, checking details with his mother’s family and trawling through his own recollections. It was our publication of his uncle Earl Spencer’s devastating dossier containing Bashir’s outrageous allegations about members of the Royal Family, courtiers and those friends and staff in Diana’s circle who were said to be betraying her that so alarmed him.
There was one allegation in particular, that would have been laughable were it not so sinister, that had seized his attention. This was the claim that drew William himself into the heart of the conspiracy.
According to Earl Spencer, Bashir had suggested that the prince, then aged just 13, had been given a wristwatch that contained a listening device so he could unwittingly record his mother’s private conversations when they were together.
William, I understand, was outraged that he was somehow implicated in what he saw as a despicable action, however far-fetched it may have been.
With the benefit of hindsight, he came to realise that this miasma of lies — or, as Earl Spencer put it, ‘web of deceit’ — had trapped his mother so completely that she felt she had no alternative but to speak out, not just for her physical safety — she had come to believe her life was in danger — but for her mental wellbeing too.
It goes to the heart of the most crucial passage in William’s statement, when he talked about the ‘lurid and false claims about the Royal Family which played on her fears and paranoia’.
But he was also mindful of the irreparable harm done to friends and loyal servants whose trust was so undermined, among them the two most senior aides to his parents, private secretaries Patrick Jephson and Richard Aylard, who were accused of receiving money from the security services to spy on the Princess.
And then there is perhaps the most defenceless of all the victims drawn into the vortex of the Bashir lies: royal nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke.
William, I understand, was outraged that he was somehow implicated in what he saw as a despicable action, however far-fetched it may have been
According to Earl Spencer, Bashir had suggested that the prince, then aged just 13, had been given a wristwatch that contained a listening device so he could unwittingly record his mother’s private conversations when they were together
Among the documents Earl Spencer had accumulated was a fax from the reporter in which he had hinted at a relationship between Prince Charles and the nanny who looked after William and Harry as children.
Many believe it was this that led directly to Diana’s catastrophic confrontation with Tiggy at a staff Christmas party in which she appeared to sympathise over the loss of a baby, the implication being that Charles was the father.
It was Tiggy whom William had in mind when he spoke of the ‘hurt’ done to ‘countless others’ by the documentary.
Perhaps the most significant unnamed figure in his statement is the Prince of Wales. The interview, William said, was ‘a major contribution to making my parents’ relationship worse’.
Here, William got to the heart of the matter. But for all the lies, Diana might have given a more considered interview — certainly one that was less emotional.
It might have been in the style Charles himself had adopted a year earlier in his TV inquisition at the hands of Jonathan Dimbleby. Sad, of course, but conversational and not nearly so desperate.
During the interview, which was broadcast on the BBC, Princess Diana admitted there had been three people in her marriage to Prince Charles
For William, this was the legacy of the Bashir interview. It poisoned what remained of the relationship between his parents and clouded his own memories so much that, as he put it, it was ‘her fear, paranoia and isolation that I remember from those final years with her’.
In fact, it was William’s reaction to the interview which came to persuade Diana that parts of it had been a mistake. She never regretted the collaboration as a whole, only elements of it.
Admitting to an affair with army officer James Hewitt was one. So, too, was her decision to cast doubt on Charles’s suitability to be king.
Ahead of the broadcast, Diana had driven to Eton to tell William personally that she had made the TV programme. What she failed to factor in, she later told me, was how distressing it was for a boy of 13 to hear his mother admit to being unfaithful — and to know that this was also being heard by 23 million other people.
The mockery this would trigger from the classmates of a boy in his first term at senior school had simply not occurred to her. Even then, when he was already used to masking his feelings as a defence mechanism, he did not conceal from her how upset he was.
And while his mother remained loyal to Bashir, William did not hide his contempt. As I reported yesterday, he told his mother he thought he was a ‘sly creep’.
Hasnat Khan, the Pakistan-born heart surgeon with whom Diana was having a relationship during the time she knew Bashir, recalls the prince telling his mother: ‘Mummy, he’s not a good person’.
Might this explain why nowhere in his statement does Prince William dignify Bashir by referring to him by name, instead using the label of ‘a rogue reporter’?
It has always been tempting to believe that, with their cosseted royal lives, wraparound security and domestic support, William and Harry were buffered from the effects of their parents’ brutal and public marriage breakdown. Prince and Princess were often apart and when they were together they tried not to row in their sons’ hearing.
Earl Spencer, pictured, believes the interview and the way it had been secured contributed to his sister’s death
Even before Charles and Diana’s official separation, the boys had grown used to spending weekdays in London at Kensington Palace and weekends at Highgrove, their father’s country home. In many ways it was not unlike the arrangements experienced by many of their schoolfriends.
But there was one difference. While their friends travelled with their parents to two addresses, William and Harry had only one parent in each home.
A few years ago, the brothers —then still on close terms — invited a handful of their mother’s friends to Kensington Palace. Ostensibly it was to outline their plans for a statue to Diana, due to be unveiled by the pair of them this summer. But it was also an opportunity to ask the friends to share their recollections of their mother.
‘I remember Harry in particular saying he had no idea what was going on his mother’s life, that he had no real memory of things,’ recalls one of those invited to meet them at Harry’s then home, Nottingham Cottage.
Another told me: ‘William was keen to know if I had any pictures of her he might not have seen before. It was touching but also incredibly sad.’
In the weeks and months after the Princess’s death, the brothers were not only dealing with the loss of their mother — something both boys took years to come to terms with — but also domestic upheaval. They never slept another night at Kensington Palace. Instead, their beds, clothes and all their familiar possessions were packed up and moved across London to St James’s Palace, where they then lived with their father.
OLD friends of their mother were not encouraged to keep in touch, letters went unanswered and telephone calls, if they were returned at all, came from staff, not the princes.
The strategy was not deliberately heartless but, by cocooning them in their royal world, the boys were removed from the more democratic outlook Diana had provided.
As adults they came to realise that, for all its good intentions, this approach meant they lost touch with people who might have kept their mother’s memory more vibrant.
Former BBC Director General Lord Hall, pictured, had previously praised Bashir’s journalism
The Diana I and her other friends knew was not the vengeful, bitter figure to emerge from the Panorama interview. ‘Bashir caught her at her worst, not her best,’ one friend told me last night, ‘and for that I will never forgive him.’
Yet as William’s statement poignantly makes clear, his memory of his mother is clouded with sadness — a sadness caused not only by her loss but by the impact the interview had on the life the Princess led in the barely two years she had left after the Bashir interview.
Whenever the boys were with their mother, there was always drama. Only on holidays far from London were things anything like normal.
As he entered his teens, William, in particular, craved the peace and quiet he found on Royal Family country estates where the ever-present paparazzi could not reach him.
As for Diana, her frustration was evident. She resented how things had turned out.
While there were undoubtedly stressful intrusions into her life, William has argued that there was another powerful factor: his mother’s increasingly paranoid state of mind. And for that, he very clearly points the finger of blame at the BBC.
The BBC yesterday announced that all the prizes won by the interview – including this BAFTA – will be handed back