Season 5 of The Crown has arrived, and it's time for Princess Diana to tell her truth. After season 4 depicted the behind-the-scenes turmoil the princess faced during the beginning of her marriage, the new episodes cover the late '80s and early '90s, as the royal couple separated and divorced in the public eye. In Episode 2, "The System," Diana begins to tell the public her own story, as she collaborates with journalist Andrew Morton on an unprecedented biography.
Diana: Her True Story (opens in new tab) was first published in 1992, giving readers insight into the princess's history and mental struggles in such a candid scope that fans believed it to be made up. It wasn't until after her death that her involvement in the book's production was revealed, along with how she and Morton secretly conducted the interviews that would change the public's view of the British monarchy forever.
Diana's friends vouched for the book while her participation remained secret.
The episode only focuses briefly on the fallout from the book's publication, showing a montage of Morton's TV interviews and mentioning record-breaking sales. The book did end up selling around seven million copies across 80 countries, and Morton later told The Telegraph (opens in new tab) that he initially made over one million pounds from his work. What the show doesn't include is the royal family's public response to the book's claims.
Per New York Times, at the time the book was published, Buckingham Palace tried to discredit Morton, saying he was a "self-promoting hack" and that Diana was unbalanced. However, three of Diana's friends went public as corroborating sources: her brother Charles Althorp; her closest friend Carolyn Bartholomew; and another loyal friend, actor James Gilbey. For the rest of the princess's life, both she and Morton denied her involvement in the book-writing process.
As for the public response, the book was initially boycotted and banned from several major bookstores under the assumption that it was all lies. Eventually the public accepted it as truth, and the book is still widely read decades later.
Morton released a second edition following her death.
After the Princess of Wales' untimely death, Morton revealed the truth about the book, publicly admitting that she recorded tapes as source material. The biography was then reprinted with a new title reflecting her contribution: Diana: Her True Story–In Her Own Words. In a 2017 Daily Mail (opens in new tab) article pegged to the book's 25th anniversary, the author described a similar process as depicted in the show, where the pair's mutual friend Dr. James Colthurst conducted interviews and ferried the tapes.
"I was keen to talk to the Princess directly, but this was simply out of the question. At 6ft 4in tall and as a writer known to Palace staff, I’d hardly be inconspicuous," Morton told the outlet. "So I interviewed her by proxy — giving my questions to James Colthurst [the pair's mutual friend], who then conducted six taped interviews with her in her sitting room at Kensington Palace."
The author also described the extent of his and Diana's working relationship; he claims that before she agreed to the book, she tested him by dropping bits of information that he would turn into news stories. He also told there was a robbery during the year he was working on the book, where "[his] office was burgled and files rifled through," and that following the burglary, Diana had her sitting room swept for unseen listening devices.
James Colthurst had known Diana since she was 17.
Colthurst, an Irish medical professional, is an Eton graduate who was considered a "minor aristocrat." In a 2021 Telegraph (opens in new tab) article, the doctor wrote that he first met the princess on a ski trip when she was 17 and he was a medical student. They became close and stayed friends as she met Charles and married into the Royal Family.
"The Diana I knew enjoyed interacting with people," he wrote. "She had an extraordinary ability to pitch her conversation and tempo at precisely the right level and timing for whoever she met, whatever their age, and whether the occasion was formal or informal. It came naturally to her and undoubtedly formed part of her charisma."
He has also spoken publicly about the process of recording the tapes. In a 2017 60 Minutes (opens in new tab) interview, he said that Diana was "enormously enthusiastic to have her story out there, she knew exactly what she was doing."
Colthurst is now reportedly (opens in new tab) the director of a medical research firm, and lives in Berkshire, England, with his family.
Diana reportedly never regretted recording the tapes.
In his Daily Mail story, Morton outlined the public response to the book, as well as a hint of Diana's private gratitude. "She never regretted the taping sessions," he said. "As her friend film-maker Lord Puttnam recalled: ‘She owned what she had done. She knew what she was doing and took a calculated risk, even though she was scared s***less. But I never heard one word of regret, I promise you.’"
"In the last five years of her life, the world witnessed the flowering of Diana’s humanitarian spirit — qualities that might have remained buried if she hadn’t had the courage to disclose the reality of her life," he continued. "Thankfully, Diana left her own searing testimony of what life was really like for her as Princess of Wales."
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