And there was no doubt that Lady Diana Spencer had just passed the Balmoral test with flying colours.
‘We got hot, we got tired, she fell into a bog,’ remembered Prince Charles’s friend Patty Palmer-Tomkinson, ‘She got covered in mud, laughed her head off, got puce in the face. She was a sort of wonderful English schoolgirl who was game for anything.’
With her child-like enthusiasm and ready smile, Prince Charles’s new girlfriend was just the type of house-guest to appeal to the Queen. The year was 1980.
Diana's first photocall with the Queen after her engagement to Prince Charles was announced
The whole family liked the 19-year-old Diana. Edward and Andrew competed with their elder brother to sit beside her at evening picnics, and Prince Philip clearly appreciated her good looks.
To his mother’s evident relief, her eldest son seemed finally to have picked himself a winner. And who could blame her for thinking so?
What’s largely been forgotten in the dramatic arc of Diana’s short life is that the Queen was one of her most caring supporters.
For the past year, Charles had been spending more and more time with Camilla, the wife of Guards officer Andrew Parker Bowles, and the affair had even reached the ears of the Queen.
‘Ma’am,’ a senior courtier had informed her, ‘the Prince of Wales is having an affair with the wife of a brother officer, and the regiment don’t like it.’
In April 1980, Charles had taken Camilla with him to Zimbabwe, where he was due to represent his mother at the country’s independence ceremony.
Ostensibly, Camilla was flying over to see her husband.
But at a formal dinner in Harare, the couple flirted ostentatiously and Charles fumbled below the table with his mistress while her husband stoically looked the other way. The incident was so flagrant that reports of it reached the Queen.
‘There are times,’ said a courtier, ‘when the Queen and Prince Philip are just plain baffled by this eldest son they have produced.’
Little wonder, then, that Charles’s parents were so relieved to welcome Diana to the fold. It helped, too, that she’d known the Royal Family since childhood, when her father Earl Spencer rented a ten-bedroom farmhouse on the Sandringham estate.
Park House on the Sandringham Estate
‘She looked out at Diana coping all on her own and she really felt for her,’ said one of the Queen’s friends.
That November, while Diana was visiting Sandringham, hordes of reporters and photographers surrounded the house.
Characteristically, the Queen said nothing to Charles directly, but she did speak to Philip, who wrote their eldest son a carefully considered letter.
Media pressure was creating an intolerable situation, said Philip, which meant that Charles must come to a rapid decision. Either he must offer Diana his hand, or he must break off the relationship to avoid compromising her reputation.
‘Read it!’ Charles would furiously exclaim to friends in later years, whipping the letter out of his breast pocket.
‘It was his attempt to say that he was forced into the marriage,’ recalled one who saw the note.
However, another who read it confided: ‘It was actually very constructive and trying to be helpful. It certainly did not read as an ultimatum.’
On the wedding day itself, in July 1981, Her Majesty was as giddy as everyone else with the high emotion of the day. That evening, she watched the wedding all over again on large screen televisions set up in Claridge’s.
Dry martini in hand, she studied her own image intently, pointing delightedly whenever the cameras caught one of her famous glum faces. It was noted how she beamed with pleasure whenever images of her new daughter-in-law appeared.
She did not leave till 1.30 in the morning, hitching up her skirt and performing a little jig as she said her goodbyes.
‘I’d love to stay and dance all night,’ she said.
Ever vigilant, the Queen was determined to protect her potential daughter-in-law from the almost immediate and overwhelming Press interest.
Charles and Diana appear on the Buckingham Palace with her majesty the Queen
As they approached Balmoral in an old pony trap, the Queen ran alongside, hopping and skipping to keep up, while her husband pedalled on an ancient bicycle before shooting off ahead to greet them at the door.
But it was soon apparent that something was amiss. At midday, the Queen would appear in the hall in her headscarf to take the women guests to lunch with the men on the grouse moors. It went without saying that no one should be a minute late.
‘So there we’d all be waiting in the hall,’ recalled a guest, ‘making polite conversation — and no Diana.
So after a time, the Queen would send off a footman, and he’d come back looking embarrassed. “Sorry, Ma’am, the Princess of Wales will not be joining the party for lunch.” ’
The Queen would go very silent. Friends saw the danger signs: the pursed lips, the extra quick blink of the eyes. In the monarch’s view, staying in your room at lunchtime was something you did only if you were ill — or rather odd.
Still, one had to make allowances.
‘The Queen’s thought in those days,’ said a friend, ‘was that Diana was a “new girl” who was finding it very difficult to get used to things.’
Three weeks later, she welcomed Charles and Diana back from their ocean-going honeymoon with similar gusto.
Charles and Diana during their honeymoon at Balmoral in 1981
It was rather more complicated than that, for in the year since she made her first successful appearance at Balmoral, Diana had made the astonishing discovery that her husband’s deepest emotions were committed to another woman.
Whatever happens, I will always love you,’ she’d overheard him saying to Camilla on the phone, while taking a bath.
Both this and her discovery that his mistress had given him new cufflinks featuring their entwined initials provoked a series of terrible rows.
That autumn in Scotland, Diana would be smiling one moment then breaking helplessly into tears the next, and her new mother-in-law tried hard to help her.
Pondering on what had happened to the jolly girl who’d been ‘game for anything’ one year earlier, Elizabeth referred the problem to experts.
By the end of September 1981, Diana was on a plane to London to meet with leading Harley Street psychiatrists — and having done what she could to help Diana with her private demons, the Queen summoned the editors of Fleet Street and asked them to give her more space.
‘She’s not like the rest of us,’ explained the Queen.
‘She’s very young.’
Happily, the birth of Prince William on June 21, 1982, produced a certain calm.
Charles and Diana leaving hospital after Prince William's birth on June 21st 1982
‘Thank goodness,’ she said, woman to woman, ‘he hasn’t got ears like his father.’
After Harry was born in September 1984, several friends identified this surprisingly early date as the moment when the couple stopped ‘making the effort’ with each other.
By 1987, both were having affairs. Charles was back with Camilla and Diana had turned to a series of lovers from her cockney detective, Barry Mannakee, to a Guards officer-turned-riding instructor, Major James Hewitt; and a car salesman, James Gilbey who liked to call her ‘Squidgy’.
When the princess delivered her side of the troubled marriage into the public domain, by using a go-between to provide tape-recorded answers to questions posed by Andrew Morton, a young tabloid journalist, the Queen was surprisingly sympathetic.
Without any real knowledge of how Morton had got his story, and with no doubt that she and the family were victims of the most monstrous betrayal, the Queen and Philip held back from accusing Diana.
‘If anything, they tried not to side with Charles against Diana,’ said a friend.
‘They were very conscious that, in a sense, she did not have a family, and that they had to try to supply her with that.’
Deeply troubled, the Queen fell back on the therapy that her husband called her ‘dog mechanism’
The Queen arrived the next day to congratulate her daughter-in-law and inspect the new arrival.
Diana and her royal protection officer Barry Mannakee
She’d take her corgis out for extra-long walks, bring them home, wash them, and then take them out again.
Even before Morton’s book was published, the Queen and her husband met Charles and Diana for an informal attempt at family therapy, explaining how they understood the problems that marriages go through, and were both just desperate to help.
‘Can you tell us what’s the matter, Diana?’ asked Philip, at which his daughter-in-law collapsed in tears. Refusing all offers of comfort, she continued to sob.
‘Well, Charles,’ said the Queen rather desperately, turning to her son. ‘Can you explain to us?’
‘What?’ replied the prince. ‘And read it all in the newspapers tomorrow? No thank you.’
And that was the end of the first and last royal family therapy session.
In December 1992, the then Prime Minister John Major announced that the Prince and Princess of Wales had decided to separate. It was the Queen’s fervent hope that this legal separation would stop the couple feuding — but the rivalry between them ran too deep.
Deeply troubled, the Queen fell back on the therapy that her husband called her ‘dog mechanism’.
Charles and Diana showing their discomfort at appearing together in public
In a TV documentary made the following year by Jonathan Dimbleby, the prince confessed to his own adultery — with the sting coming for his mother in the biography that Dimbleby published with Charles’s approval, painstakingly listing his grievances against his parents and actually stigmatising the Queen as a bad mother.
She said nothing to her son directly, but Anne, Andrew and Edward were furious at their brother’s disloyalty and said so to his face.
Diana’s own riposte to Charles came on November 20, 1995, when over 23 million British viewers watched the princess nervously but deftly answer the questions of Martin Bashir, a young reporter on Panorama.
‘There were three of us in this marriage,’ was her edgy skewering of the Camilla situation.
The Queen was not impressed.
She’d taken Diana’s side from the earliest days, and particularly in the division of roles after the separation, when she’d resisted Charles’s efforts to cut down his wife’s access to royal perks such as the Queen’s Flight and the royal train. But now Diana had strayed into dangerous constitutional territory.
She’d not only questioned Charles’s fitness to be king, but also mounted a kind of challenge to the Queen herself by saying: ‘I’d like to be a queen of people’s hearts.’
Diana's famous Panorama interview with Martin Bashir in November 1995
On December 20, 1995, a uniformed courier from Windsor Castle delivered a personal letter from the Queen to her daughter-in-law.
‘Dearest Diana,’ it began, according to Paul Burrell, Diana’s butler and ‘rock’ in her days of separation, to whom she showed the letter.
The Queen explained that she had been discussing the ‘sad and complicated situation’ with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Prime Minister, who were both in agreement, and she was now expressing her own personal wish that Charles and Diana should formally and finally divorce ‘in the best interests of the country’.
She ended the note with an affectionate scribble, ‘Love from Mama’, but her message brooked no argument.
The dream marriage formally came to an end the following August. Charles, Diana and the monarchy could all now make a fresh start.
But just one year and three days later, the British ambassador in Paris rang Balmoral around 1am, rousing the duty private secretary, Robert Janvrin, from his sleep. The embassy was receiving police reports, he said, of a serious car crash that involved the Princess of Wales.
The Queen of the United Kingdom acted at last. The previous December had seen the second anniversary of the couple’s legal separation, the point at which British law permitted a simple no-fault divorce by mutual consent.
Diana and Dodi Fayed pictured inside the fated Mercedes
‘We must get the radios out of their rooms,’ she said to Charles.
Mother and son discussed whether to wake William and Harry — their grandmother felt strongly that they should have a decent night’s rest before they had to face what would be the most difficult day of their lives.
‘Looking after the boys’ became her top priority in the difficult days that lay ahead.
‘We must get them out and away from the television,’ she said as she clicked across the mournful images of the dead princess being played non-stop on every television channel.
‘Let’s get them both up in the hills.’
She assigned Peter Phillips, Princess Anne’s bluff, rugby-playing son, the task of taking William and Harry out on the moors on stalking and fishing expeditions, with lots of mucking around on the brothers’ noisy scrambler motorbikes.
At 15, William seemed to take it bravely, on the outside at least. Not quite 13, Harry had been more obviously upset.
‘Was everyone quite sure that Mummy was dead?’ he was heard to enquire.
Could it just be checked to make sure there had not been some mistake?
The news of Diana’s death came through from Paris just before 4am, and the Queen’s first reaction was to think of her grandsons.
Charles, William and Harry at Balmoral in the summer of 1997
‘Where is the Queen when the country needs her?’ demanded an open letter on the front page of The Sun.
Compounding the Queen’s absence was the lack of any flag flying at half-mast above Buckingham Palace as a sign of royal mourning.
Tradition was one of the keystones of the royal mystery. If Prince Charles had died in a car crash the previous Sunday, the Queen would not now be flying the Union Jack at half mast over Buckingham Palace. She had not done it for her beloved father. She would not expect it for herself or for her mother.
So why should tradition be overturned for a young woman who, just like her Uncle David, Edward VIII, in the abdication crisis, had put her own wayward concerns before those of the family?
Her Private Secretary Sir Robert Fellowes tried making the argument, but got the answer he expected. Both the Queen and her husband had a deep mistrust of making concessions to the popular concerns of the moment, particularly when voiced by the tabloid media.
Unhappiness over the flag was something that the sacred and enduring monarchy should rise above in a world of trendy gestures. The flagpole must stay bare.
‘There were times in that week,’ said a No 10 insider, ‘when you could not believe what was coming down the line from Balmoral. You wondered if they were living in the same century.’
By the Wednesday following Diana’s death, there were people in Buckingham Palace who were feeling the same.
The Queen had no doubt that the calming and secluded Highlands were the best place in the world to help the boys with the therapy that always lifted her in times of trouble — lots of fresh air and exercise. But down in London there was mutiny in the air.
Prince Charles, and Princes William and Harry walk amongst the floral tributes at Kensington Palace
‘When the Queen was at Buckingham Palace or Windsor,’ said a former adviser, trying to explain the Queen’s obstinacy over the flag, ‘she was psychologically much more prepared to get involved with something unexpected.
'But her time relaxing in Scotland was so precious to her . . . she was not thrilled when Prime Ministers or Privy Councils or something interrupted “her Balmoral”.’
The Queen had been encouraging this sense of detachment for the sake of her grandsons. But what worked for William and Harry was disastrous when it came to the her own willingness to take on board the messages coming from London — most of them conveyed via the courtly Robin Janvrin, a former naval officer and diplomat.
‘Robin had a tough job up there,’ remembers one of the team of courtiers based in London at the time.
‘We were all coming off the street as it were, with our feeling of what was happening out on the ground. Then he had to walk down the corridor, a delegation of one, and convince the family — the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles — all gathered in the sitting room, that there was a crisis and they couldn’t just look at it in the traditional family way.'
When Janvrin was rebuffed, Robert Fellowes would pick up the phone in the palace and go into action.
‘I love Robert — he’s incredibly brave,’ says one of his former colleagues.
‘If he believes in something, he’ll go right over the top fighting for it, whatever the cost.’
The cost proved painful for Fellowes himself and for several other senior courtiers in a series of deeply wounding confrontations with the Queen and with Prince Philip.
By the end of the third day after Diana’s death the Queen’s advisers were unanimous.
There must be some compromise over the flag, as well as some drastic change in the timetable decision that had been taken by Elizabeth and her husband at the start of the week: that they would not show their faces in London until the morning of the funeral, coming down overnight on the royal train, then heading straight back to Scotland afterwards.
UK newspapers headlines from September 1997, asking the flag to be flown at half mast
The first reaction of the Queen and her husband to these suggestions was that they would not budge. They both got angry with their advisers, and in an ugly fashion.
When the memory of those desperate hours and what was said at Balmoral comes up today, all those involved go silent and refuse to describe what transpired. They had seen a side of Elizabeth II that they would evidently prefer to forget.
‘A lot of people,’ recalls one of them, ‘were heavily scarred by it.’
But next morning — Thursday September 4, the fourth day after Diana’s death — Her Majesty showed another side.
The Queen, as one of her private secretaries says, ‘has ruthless common sense and the ability to move on’.
And that day up in Balmoral she bent to a principle that was even more timeless than her respect for tradition — her need to stay in business.
Was it the morning headlines, or a change of heart in the night? Either way, Elizabeth accepted that her stiff upper lip would now have to soften — and the details of what was to be done were set in place at once.
The Balmoral pastor was told to arrange a service that very evening at which the name of Diana would be mentioned.
Such a fleeting visit to the capital would only increase the accusations of indifference and heartlessness that were now being hurled openly at the Royal Family.
The Queen and Prince Philip look at the floral tributes to Diana at Buckingham Palace
In addition, the BBC was told to set up its cameras inside Buckingham Palace: Her Majesty would be making an eve-of-funeral broadcast to the nation.
The turn-around was incredible: in just 45 minutes, the Queen had backtracked, adapted and totally reinvented her role in Diana’s ending, moving herself from the margin to the very centre of the drama.
‘I, for one,’ she said in her live broadcast, ‘believe that there are lessons to be drawn from (Diana’s) life and from the extraordinary and moving reaction to her death.’
She proved as good as her word.
‘After the broadcast,’ says one of her advisers, ‘we found it easier to convince her about doing things. She listened to us more, and was just a little more prepared to take risks.’
Afterwards, the Royal Family would get out of their cars to inspect the flowers that had been laid at the castle gates, and the next day the entire family — the boys included — would fly down early to London so they could talk to people outside the London palaces.
The Queen making her speech about Diana on the eve of her funeral
But she warned her staff against taking informality too far.
‘No stunts,’ she would say. ‘I am not a politician.’
And she was positively annoyed when the Press interpreted her ‘new informality’ as the ‘Diana effect’.
‘Don’t they realise I’ve done it before?’ she said. ‘I’ve done everything before.’
Adapted from A Brief Life Of The Queen by Robert Lacey, published by Duckworth on January 31 at £9.99.
In one school, she took questions from the class, cheerfully admitting she had no idea how many rooms there were in Buckingham Palace.
Source : Daily Mail.co.uk