Wed. Apr 17th, 2024
alert-–-how-princess-diana’s-audacious-bid-for-freedom-30-years-ago-became-a-heart-wrenching-annus-horribilis-of-her-ownAlert – How Princess Diana’s audacious bid for freedom 30 years ago became a heart-wrenching annus horribilis of her own

It was supposed to be the start of a new start for Diana, Princess of Wales. Instead, 1994 ended up as her lowest point in the maelstrom her life would increasingly become in the last five years of her life.

In December 1993 she announced her retirement from official duties. She had ignored the pleas of the Queen and Prince Charles to issue a palace statement. 

Instead, she opted to deliver the news herself in a dramatic, well-choreographed and tearful speech during a charity lunch at London’s Hilton Hotel. 

The implication was that she was renouncing her patronage of 118 charities to focus on a few particular causes and relevant overseas tours.

Diana, Princess of Wales gives a speech at the Hilton Hotel in London, during the Headway Charity Lunch. She resigns from her public duties and asks for 'time and space'

Diana, Princess of Wales gives a speech at the Hilton Hotel in London, during the Headway Charity Lunch. She resigns from her public duties and asks for ‘time and space’

Diana arrives at the Serpentine Gallery, London in a dress by Christina Stamboulian, June 1994. Her appearance coincided with Prince Charles's televised admission of adultery and the Stamboulian creation became known as the Revenge Dress

Diana arrives at the Serpentine Gallery, London in a dress by Christina Stamboulian, June 1994. Her appearance coincided with Prince Charles’s televised admission of adultery and the Stamboulian creation became known as the Revenge Dress

Diana's affair with former army officer James Hewitt came as  bombshell news

Diana’s affair with former army officer James Hewitt came as  bombshell news

Looking back with hindsight, three decades later, we can now see that opting for this half in/half out royal life would never have worked.  It could be that memories of this would influence the Queen’s decision not to allow Harry and Meghan the same style of arrangement. 

In Diana’s case it was made worse when, that same month, she jettisoned her police protection team against the wishes of Lord Condon, the former Commissioner of the Metropolitan police.

This paved the way for increased attention from the paparazzi who were already making her life difficult.

What should have been a year of freedom instead became – to borrow the words of Queen Elizabeth – her own annus horribilis. 

1994 was one of those ‘in-between’ years for the monarchy. There were none of the royal births, marriages, deaths or jubilees that fascinate the nation and which, in those days, sold newspapers by the millions. 

There were a few highlights, such as the official opening of the Channel Tunnel by the Queen in May.

This was followed a few weeks later by the D-Day commemorations two of which Diana attended – the unveiling of the Canada Memorial in Green Park and a reception on the Royal Yacht Britannia hosted by the Queen for world leaders including President Clinton. 

The princess also attended a family event, the wedding of Princess Margaret’s daughter Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones to former actor Daniel Chatto in July when she was seen chatting warmly to Prince Philip.

Author and broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby is pictured alongside Prince Charles to promote his programme Charles the Private Man, The Public role on ITV. The broadcast has a seismic impact

Author and broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby is pictured alongside Prince Charles to promote his programme Charles the Private Man, The Public role on ITV. The broadcast has a seismic impact

London art dealer Oliver Hoare who found himself in a relationship with Diana and received a series of anonymous calls from the princess

London art dealer Oliver Hoare who found himself in a relationship with Diana and received a series of anonymous calls from the princess

Diana laughs and jokes with Sarah Ferguson at the Guards Polo Club. Oliver Hoare stands facing the camera, centre, next to Major Ronald Ferguson

Diana laughs and jokes with Sarah Ferguson at the Guards Polo Club. Oliver Hoare stands facing the camera, centre, next to Major Ronald Ferguson

With Diana leaving her charities in the lurch following her decision to retire, she would only carry out ten royal engagements in 1994, a drop from 198 the year before. 

(She did however increase this to 127 engagements in the following year). 

This meant that magazines and newspapers had to concentrate more and more on her private life to satisfy the never-ending thirst for Diana news from their readers. 

One particular story everyone wanted to know was if there was a new man in the princess’s life? 

Little did anyone realise at the time but Diana had already been embroiled in two complicated relationships. The fallout from these would dominate headlines throughout the year.

The first was with Oliver Hoare, a dealer in Islamic art, who had met Charles and Diana at an Ascot house party in 1985. 

He was one of the few in their circle who forged strong relations with both the prince and princess. 

Three years older than Charles, the strikingly good-looking Hoare shared Diana’s love of ballet and were both friends of Adrian Ward-Jackson, the art dealer and AIDS activist.

Diana became infatuated with Oliver Hoare and, according to another mutual friend: ‘he was flattered that Diana had a crush on him and, he encouraged her without knowing it’. 

The princess started to make silent calls to his house until in October 1993, his wife, Diane, insisted that he should ask the police to install equipment that could trace the calls. 

After a hiatus while Hoare was away for two months, the silent calls resumed on 13 January 1994 and were traced back to the princess. 

The police advised the art dealer to call out Diana’s name the next time she called. When he did so she started crying and replied: ‘Yes, I’m so sorry, so sorry. I don’t know what came over me.’

In early March, paparazzi photographers snapped the couple driving into Kensington Palace. Five months later,  in  August 21, it was directly alleged that the two had been  conducting a secret relationship.  

Diana denied it, saying: ‘They are trying to make out I was having an affair with this man or had some sort of fatal attraction. It is simply untrue and so unfair.’ 

She even added a lie about her ability to use phone booths to contact Hoare which could easily be ridiculed: ‘You can’t be serious. I don’t even know how to use a parking meter, let alone a phone box.’ 

Even the Observer labelled her claims as ‘neurotic nonsense.’

That summer had also seen the screening of the Jonathan Dimbleby documentary: Charles: The Private Man, the Public Role, in which the prince had admitted his adultery. On the night it was broadcast, Diana made what a defiant appearance at the Serpentine Gallery wearing a cocktail dress designed by Christina Stamboulian, which is still referred to as the princess’s ‘revenge dress’. 

To be fair to Charles he had stipulated that there should be nothing critical about Diana in either the documentary or the book that came out that October. 

What upset the princess was not the Dimbleby project but an inflamatory headline in the News of the World saying; ‘Charles; I’ve never loved Diana’.

It was untrue but naturally distressed her.

In August, Diana was holidaying at Martha’s Vineyard with her friend Lucia Flecha de Limas when she learned of an even more explosive story. 

Her former lover, James Hewitt, had co-operated with writer Anna Pasternak on his memoirs Princess in Love. 

In the event, the book, which would detail their five-year romance, was widely ridiculed. As Pasternak later admitted: ‘The Press, and royal hacks, furious that I had landed “the scoop of the decade” lampooned me.’ 

Hewitt was labelled ‘Britain’s Biggest Bounder,’ a ‘Rat’ and a ‘Cad’.

It was partly as a result of the Hewitt book that, by the end of 1994, the tide was turning, and Diana began to receive a more positive press.

This was in part down to her determined effort to woo the newspaper owners, editors, and royal reporters. 

The year ended with what would be Diana’s last family Christmas with the royal family at Sandringham. 

Looking happier, Diana appears in a Catherine Walker gown at Versailles in November 1994

Looking happier, Diana appears in a Catherine Walker gown at Versailles in November 1994

Looking calm and relaxed after the tumultuous headlines she had endured during the past twelve months; the princess was happy to put on a public show of solidarity with her husband’s family. 

Again, she would have had little idea what fate had in store for her in the following year. 

By the following Christmas the monarchy was rocked by her ill-fated Panorama interview, and the Queen would order her son and daughter in law to divorce. The princess would cut her final ties with her royal life and would embark on the last phase of her all too brief life.