Friday 23 March 2018

Documenting Diana: Prince William and Harry on their mother's death and funeral

After a string of films about the 'People's Princess', William and Harry give what could be their final interview about the death and funeral of their mother in a new BBC documentary

Standing the test of time: Diana, 7 Days is a new documentary in which her sons William and Harry talk about the Princess's death and funeral
Standing the test of time: Diana, 7 Days is a new documentary in which her sons William and Harry talk about the Princess's death and funeral
Prince William and Prince Harry at their mother's funeral
Paul Burrell

Chrissie Russell

The sheer volume of coverage committed to marking the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's death has been startling, not least because who would have thought there was still so much to find out?

In life, Diana was newspaper catnip - her frocks, her lovers, even her haircuts made front page news and she courted attention by divulging details to a salivating audience.

And yet, two decades after her death, we're clearly hungry for more so the exclusives and dramatic new documentaries just keep coming.

Joining the pantheon of fresh Diana reportage this Sunday is Diana, 7 Days - a 90-minute long documentary from award-winning director Henry Singer.

The BBC, who are screening it on BBC1 at 7.30pm, five days ahead of the actual anniversary on August 31, are billing the programme as the first time we hear from "those who were genuinely in the eye of this most unexpected storm".

There's an impressive line-up of interviewees, including Diana's siblings, her former Lady-in-Waiting and the British Prime minister at the time, Tony Blair.

But, for many, it will be the inclusion of new, first person testimony from Diana's two sons that will make Diana, 7 Days, must-see viewing.

Singer was given free rein to question the princes on their memories of that fateful week between their mother's death and funeral, when William (then 15) and Harry (then 12) walked behind Diana's coffin, on top of which sat a little card scrawled with the word 'Mummy'.

The director has revealed it could be the final time the princes talk about that time in their lives, saying: "They are always asked about their mother, her death and that week, and they wanted to deal with it once and for all."

In the film, William will explain: "Part of the reason why Harry and I want to do this is because we feel we owe it to her. I think an element of it is feeling like we let her down when we were younger, we couldn't protect her."

Harry speaks about the outpouring of public emotion he remembers from August 1997. "It was beautiful, at the same time, and it was amazing, now looking back at it - it was amazing that our mother had such a huge effect on so many people."

Singer, however, who has a string of noteworthy films to his name, including 9/11: The Falling Man, a documentary made five years after the Twin Towers fell, says he is not bothered about pandering to the public's desire for fresh revelations on the People's Princess.

"My film may not have the headlines that other films have had," he told the Radio Times. "But I would like to think I will do something that lasts the test of time and that, for me, is much more important than breaking news."

The comment seems a covert swipe at the heavily criticised Diana: In Her Own Words, screened earlier this month by Channel 4 in which never-before-seen tapes recorded with voice coach Peter Settelen were released for public viewing. In them, Diana was shown divulging intimate details about her sex life with Charles, hinting at an affair with her bodyguard and intimating that she believed he'd been 'bumped off' as a result.

The decision to show the documentary - despite being branded exploitative and hurtful - reaped rewards, with Channel 4 netting its highest share of viewers this year.

But, interestingly, programmes that (arguably) have more tact and legitimacy score higher with the viewing public. ITV's Diana, Our Mother, which had the royal seal of approval and featured William and Harry, secured more than seven million viewers, double that which tuned into the more salacious Channel 4 offering.

It's telling that the butler, once named Diana's 'rock', appears to be absent from the pre-publicity surrounding those featured on Singer's film. Paul Burrell (right), once the go-to for Diana revelations, has seen his credibility plummet, although not so much that he has disappeared entirely from 20th anniversary viewing.

Channel 5 reportedly paid Burrell £10,000 to appear in its recently screened In Therapy programme where he plumbed the depths of decency by attempting to regale viewers about the details of Diana's colonic irrigation treatments.

Other recent Diana listings have managed more admirably to toe the line between revelation and respect. Diana: The People's Princess on Sky News saw moving accounts from previously silent minor, but key, characters. Such as the military attaché in Paris who broke with protocol and placed the royal standard on the coffin during the repatriation of the princess's body to the UK. Or the tear-jerking testimony of one of Diana's pallbearers and his obvious concern about not having "practiced" the steps at Westminster Abbey.

Diana - Her Story: The Book That Changed Everything (on Sky Arts) offered a fascinating look back at the frenzy caused by Andrew Morton's 1992 book and the efforts taken to secure Diana's story. While Diana's Wicked Stepmother, also shown this month on channel 4, gave insight into an often overlooked branch of Diana's family tree and the upbringing that shaped her.

After such an abundance of Diana programming, catering for every possible taste, one would assume that, as the 20th anniversary passes, the public appetite for the princess might finally be satisfied. But only time will tell.

Diana on film

Diana (2013)

Depicting the last two years of the princess’s life, much of the drama focuses on Diana’s romance with Hasnat Khan. Naomi Watts (who stars as Diana, right) said she hoped the film was done in a “respectful and sensitive” way, but it was panned by Khan who branded it as being “based on gossip and Diana’s friends talking about a relationship they didn’t know much about”.

Diana: Last Days Of A Princess (2007)

The TV movie, broadcast on RTE, spans the two months leading up to Diana’s death and is a mix of scripted scenes, authentic news footage and interviews with key players. In a review by the New York Times, it was branded “as convincing as it is cheesy”.

Diana: The Rose Conspiracy (2005)

A frankly bonkers offering from Uruguayan media artist Martin Sastre that sees the Paris crash revealed as a hoax and a world in which Diana is alive and well, and living in secret in South America.

Irish Independent

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