Joined: 13 Feb 2006
|Posted: Mon Jun 26, 2006 4:44 pm Post subject: Diana: Her tears and her courage
|Diana: Her tears and her courage
Daily Express Weekend
24 June 2006
HOW DIANA HID HER TEARS FROM THE WORLD
By Patrick Jephson
INSIDE a royal aeroplane there’s a special kind of excitement as the doors are about to open. If it’s for the start of a big foreign tour – if there is a president waiting at the bottom of the steps and the world’s press penned on the Tarmac – then the excitement verges on the hyper.
If you could bottle that kind of energy, you’d be a billionaire. In my eight years with Princess Diana, organising tours all over the world, I sometimes thought we were addicted to the stuff.
Once, when Diana was flying to Egypt for a high-profile official visit, I almost had an overdose. It had been a difficult flight. We had landed in Turkey en route to deliver Prince Charles for a private holiday with a group we all knew to include Camilla Parker Bowles. As Diana flew east, into the gathering darkness and all the uncertainties that lay ahead in the ancient desert kingdom, I looked at the unhappy Princess and saw that she was crying. Whatever her part in the state her marriage had reached, she was paying a cruel price for it now.
But as we descended towards Cairo she dried her eyes and went to the royal loo. A few minutes later she emerged a changed woman. Cold water, fresh make-up, smart hair and a designer suit had transformed her into the picture of international compassionate glamour.
Best of all, the look in her eyes confirmed she was going to give this tour everything she’d got. By sheer determination, professionalism and talent she would show her critics back home – and her husband – that she was every inch deserving of her proud royal title.
The footage of Diana getting off that plane into a blaze of flashbulbs in the warm Egyptian night appears in a documentary being shown on Channel Five this Monday evening. I’m there, too, standing just inside the aircraft door, looking at the Princess with a grin that – from this distance in time – looks a bit smarmy.
But, with hindsight, I think the expression on my face was caused by two things. One was the effect of all that suppressed excitement. Second was the feeling of relief I always felt when I saw that Diana was: a) in the right country; b) about to shake hands with the right government minister; and c) that somewhere at the end of the red carpet there was a limousine waiting to whisk her off to the good night’s sleep she needed.
Everybody coped with the afterlanding tension in their own way. Diana’s dresser and butler would get busy preparing the cabin baggage and hanging dresses for a rapid exit to the special car I’d arranged to meet them at the other door. The policemen would try to make their walkie-talkies work and check they had all the mysterious bulges under their jackets in the right order. The lady- in- waiting would practise looking cool and elegantly demure – something they all did very well.
The doctor would collect his little black bag and tenderly prepare the blood fridge for offloading. The cook would finish writing his postcards. The baggage master would stretch his arms and crack his knuckles in preparation for the exertions about to begin as he climbed into the cargo hold to take charge of our mountain of baggage. The secretary would put her shorthand pad back into her handbag and carefully file away a vital sheaf of itineraries and briefing papers.
So what was Diana’s routine that put that look on my face? She’d pat her hair, pull down her jacket and straighten her skirt. She called out to her team: “ Everybody ready? Too late if you’re not…” Then she’d square her shoulders and, as she passed, she smiled. “Just another episode in the everyday story of royal folk!”
Then she was off down the steps and into the royal routine she had taught herself to play to perfection.
Diana had served a very valuable apprenticeship touring as a couple with Prince Charles. The documentary shows rare footage from inside the plane as they arrived in Australia in the early years of their marriage. You can feel the anticipation as the Prince and Princess prepare to leave the familiar surroundings of the royal compartment and head out into the noise and heat of a bright Australian morning.
In the background you can see some of the 20-plus tour party getting organised. “After you, after you,” says Diana to her husband, and it brings a lump to your throat to see them apparently working so well together. BY THE following year the couple’s schedule was hectic: Kuwait, Bahrain, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Hungary. They were practised royal performers, reconciled to doing their duty in public and leading largely separate lives in private.
But to see them work the crowd in a busy Hong Kong square, to watch them charm diplomats and businessmen at a reception or to feel their genuine compassion for a group of disabled children was to witness a world-beating double act.
It wasn’t hard to be proud of our archaic royal system when you saw Charles and Diana on the deck of the Royal Yacht Britannia waving to well-wishers as the Marines band played A Life On The Ocean Wave.
Even then, Diana tended to draw a disproportionate amount of attention. She couldn’t help it. Whether it was schoolchildren or a troop of native dancers, it was Diana’s name that always seemed to be called out the loudest.
But there was a magic about her that went beyond a bright smile and snappy clothes. During the playing of the national anthems on arrival at Budapest airport, as the guard of honour presents arms and the men stand stiffly to attention, unseen by anybody the wife of the Hungarian president is silently weeping with emotion.
Unseen by anybody – except Diana. In a heartwarming gesture, she quietly takes the woman’s hand and comforts her during the rest of the ceremony. It’s a gesture of instinctive humanity beyond the dreams of the smartest PR adviser. That was typical of the princess’s gift for the job she had been given.
But by the time of the Korea tour of late 1992, the double act looked painful rather than unbeatable. This was the annus horribilis, and within weeks Charles and Diana had announced their separation. There would be no more joint tours. However, like a butterfly shedding her chrysalis, Diana found that her new life as an independent operator allowed her to spread her wings.
As her private secretary I was in charge of all Diana’s public engagements and soon I was crisscrossing the world, setting up overseas working visits and then doing the journey all over again, this time at her shoulder to see that everything worked smoothly.
In 1995 alone Diana completed 25 such tours – the destinations soon began to look like something from a world airline directory: the US, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Argentina.
New York was a frequent destination, perhaps Diana’s favourite. On her first solo tour, in 1989, she visited the Harlem Hospital Center in one of the city’s toughest neighbourhoods and changed the world’s perception of Aids by cradling in her arms a baby who was dying from the disease.
Speaking 15 years after the event, one of the hospital’s doctors describes the benefit of Diana’s simple, symbolic act as incalculable. It is a powerful reminder of the Princess as a force for enormous good as she helped change attitudes to drug abuse, mental health, leprosy, Aids and land mines.
Amazingly, she seemed to thrive on the most daunting and demanding visits. Giving hope to those in desperate need or drawing attention to the plight of those at the bottom of the pile were part of her special vocation.
She knew such visits could produce tangible benefit. She invested huge amounts of emotion in the task and re-wrote the royal book of etiquette in the process.
Somehow, even without the support of a happy marriage, she managed to draw on deep reserves
of compassion and determination within herself. She would respond with warmth and a smile to sights that struck me dumb with shock.
Afterwards, she would often express her emotion in laughter, bad jokes, singing and, occasionally, blasts of anger over some administrative glitch, real or imagined.
VERY rarely, the suffering she encountered would slip through even her coping mechanisms. I remember bedtime in an African Aids orphanage. The toddlers had all lost their families to the disease. They themselves would all be dead before their sixth birthdays. Diana watched as the children were gently put to bed by the nuns who cared for them. She helped tuck some of them in but, as the nuns helped them say their prayers, Diana had to look away. I saw the tears on her cheeks.
Of course, it wasn’t all earnest good works. I have a particularly poignant memory of the last foreign visit I made with Diana. Appropriately, it was to New York, where she was receiving a humanitarian award from Henry Kissinger in 1995. As he recalls in the documentary, it was an evening of true Manhattan glamour as 1,500 guests packed into the Hilton ballroom.
Later, when I escorted Diana back to her suite in the Carlyle Hotel, she invited me in for a glass of champagne; it was a typically thoughtful gesture. As we looked out at the night-time skyline of the world’s most exciting city, she was in reflective mood. We admired her humanitarian award – a lump of heavy glass on a granite base.
I said: “All these years I’ve been flying around the world telling people you didn’t accept awards – your job was to hand them out. But I think you were right to accept this one. You’ve certainly earned it.”
“Oh no,” Diana replied. “But I’m working on it.” © 2006 Patrick Jephson
My Travels With Diana, Channel Five, 8pm Monday
Diana, Princess of Wales is and always will be The People's Princess.