Channel 5 has shown a rather good programme about the life of Diana, Princess of Wales as revealed by her public speeches and interviews. Here is the link – it no doubt will fade away from the Internet soon.
I was interviewed for this and for a companion programme on the speeches and public words of HM The Queen – that one appears on the evening on 18 July. The interview took place in my living-room, with the equipment sent to me to set up amidst high #lockdown. The camera angle suggests I’m talking to an interviewer in the room, who is not in fact there.
You never know when doing these (long!) interviews how much of what you say might end up being used, and how far the programme is looking for words from you to advance their own long-decided ‘narrative’. But in this case I was pleased with the result and the fact that I came across as making some solid points, both on public speaking technique and the wider issues arising from her words.
‘Royal’ speeches are (I’ve found) the hardest to draft. If you’re not in the immediate royal household you get no chance to discuss the substance and tone with the speaker. Does that matter?
Any audience for a royal speech is typically pleased to be there and any rather bland platitudinous stiltedness in words or delivery may in fact come across as part of general Royal Glory. The slightest nuance of the unexpected or the ‘controversial’ in a royal speech will be seized upon by the media, regardless of the way the words are presented.
Yet watching the Diana speeches (especially her earlier ones as she emerged into full public life), I was struck by how the speechwriters or her office had not helped her: overlong and over-elaborate sentences might look suitably ‘royal-speechy’ on the page, but they were not easy to speak. She sounded nervous and unnatural, to a degree greater than was necessary.
Anyway, watch the programme while it is still around. Many points of subtle interest, perhaps above all the contribution of Patrick Jephson who worked with Diana from 1988-96 and so was right at the heart of her unfolding rise and ensuing disaster. See eg this about the speech she delivered on stepping back from royal life:
Speaking to Channel 5 documentary ‘Diana, In Her Own Words,’ Mr Jephson said: “I knew this two or three months beforehand when she said ‘I want to make this speech, I want to take a step back.’
“I thought, ‘No, you don’t. You love this job. This is how you measure your worth, not as a princess but as a human being. You take that away, what have you got?’
“In the several weeks that were to elapse before she was due to give the speech, I was able to persuade her to take out many of its more suicidal elements.
“I knew that once she had made her speech she would, in due course, want to return to some form of structured royal life. So my priority was to make sure she didn’t shut any doors on that.”
Yes! A good Private Secretary deftly steers a senior person away from their own unwisdom. The programme reveals how Diana alas was evasive if not dishonest in some of her dealings with Patrick Jephson, to the point where he decided to resign as his wider professional credibility risked being ruined.
By then she had run out of people she could trust and so did not find (or want?) a suitable replacement, and this (I think) led to her disastrous final few weeks. Read between the lines of my own account of her ill-fated Bosnia visit just three weeks before her fatal car-crash in Paris, and you can see what I mean:
It is now clear why Diana had had her thoughts elsewhere at that final lunch – she knew that an explosion of media interest was looming, and that that could overwhelm positive coverage of any humanitarian work she was doing. Here’s what looks like a pretty accurate account of the sequence of events.
Fascinating though all that scandal might be to the planet, we in Bosnia in those halcyon pre-Internet days pressed on with our busy peace-building work. But I thought that it would be a good idea at some point to let London have some personal senior thoughts on how the visit had gone, and the difficulties we had had in setting it all up without any proper ‘private secretary’ person working with Diana to smooth things along: this might help any other embassy faced with such drastic protocol and security issues at impossibly short notice…
Here is a long YouTube playlist of Diana speeches as they now recede into history. On to HM The Queen and her public words.