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Q&A: Andrew Morton on the secret Diana tapes

/ Source: TODAY

From the minute she first hit the public eye as a shy 19-year-old, Princess Diana caught the imagination of people around the world. However, the life that seemed like a fairytale turned out to be an unhappy saga only leavened by her two sons, William and Harry. Now that unhappiness is fully revealed in "Princess Diana: The Secret Tapes," two one-hour NBC specials which feature exclusive recordings of the late princess Diana talking about her life, as well as never-before-seen video. “Today” host Katie Couric talked to royal biographer Andrew Morton about the secret audiotapes in this NBC News exclusive.

Katie Couric: “Andrew, good morning, nice to see you.”

Andrew Morton: “Good morning.”

Couric: “I know you were the first person to -- to really truly reveal the extent of Princess Diana's unhappiness in the book that you wrote about her, but let's remind people how you got to know her in the first place and how she was able to trust you to tell her story.”

Morton:  “Well, I've been writing about the royal family for some 10 years, and I've written a number of books.  And I've got to know the royal circle, people like the Dutchess of York and--and Diana's circle. And one of those--one of the key characters was a chap called James Colthurst.  And he acted as an intermediary to --so that I would write out questions and he would go along to Kensington Palace and he would ask her the questions and she would speak into -- into a tape recorder, and then I would type it all up.  And it was a very kind of haphazard process, very amateurish, but it kind of worked.”

Couric:  “And it almost sounds like a movie, because he would ride his bicycles to Kensington Palace, he would get out, and obviously he was a friend of Diana's.  It would have raised too many eyebrows had you been visiting her repeatedly, right, as a journalist and chronicler of the royal family?”

Morton:  “He was, he was, he was weird.  He was the royal equivalent to ‘All the President's Men’ because you've got -- he was...”

Couric:  “He was sort of Deep Throat?”

Morton:  “You--yeah, he was.  Well, I don't think he'd like us to say that, but he was -- he was effectively really working on her behalf to tell her story.  And it was like a parallel universe because nobody at that time believed in anything other than the fairy tale; that they were blissfully happy, that everything was fine in the -- in the royal palaces, but we were hearing a very different story.”

Couric: “Over what time period, Andrew, were these tapes made?”

Morton:  “This is over a year… over a year.”

Couric:  “And this is in the early 1990s?”

Morton:  “This is 1991 to 1992.  And also he wasn't just interviewing her for the book.  We were writing her speeches for her, we were advising her on all kinds of issues and problems that she had.  So she had effectively like a shadow court.  I mean, I remember one day sitting in a pub, a public house in central London, rewriting a speech for her that she had to give in -- in about two, three hour's time.

And it was -- it was a lot of fun because you felt that you were at the center of things.

Couric:  “Was she fully aware how these tapes would be used, and understood that if other members of the royal family were aware that this was going on that she would be in the dog house?”

Morton: “Well, we gave her what we called deniability, or what you Americans would call `wiggle room,' so that if she was ever asked, `Did you see Andrew Morton?' or `Did you speak to Andrew Morton,' she could say hand on heart `No' because...”

Couric:  “But she did know how these tapes would be used?”

Morton:  “Of course. She knew they were for publication, they were for the world.”

Couric:  “And knew how serious it would be if anybody discovered that she was doing it?”

Morton: “Yeah, absolutely.  Well, we all knew it was very, very serious. We all knew it was -- and it's very important because she was at the end of her tether, remember.  She'd been living this lie for 10 years.”

Couric:  “And she was clearly miserable, as the tapes show.  Let's listen to the first part.  This is when she eerily says she wasn't sure if she would ever become queen.”

Princess Diana:  (From audiotape) “And so he said, `Will you marry me?' And I --and I laughed.  I remember thinking, you know, `This is -- this is a joke.' So I said `OK,' and laughed.  And he was deadly serious.  He says, ‘Do you realize one day you will be queen?’  And I--I've always said to me inside, `You won't be queen, but you'll have a tough row.'  So I thought to myself `OK.'  So I said yes.”

Couric:  “It's rather eerie when you listen to that now, given the fact that her life ended so tragically.”

Morton:  “But, I mean, she had this incredible sense of presence about her life.  She used to say that -- you know that she was born in a different shell that she was only going to be Princess of Wales for 15 years.  Well, she was.  I mean, it was weird dealing with her given the fact that she had this kind of foresight into the way that her life would unfold.”

Couric:  “She also talks, Andrew, about being the sacrificial lamb on the morning of her wedding.  Boy, the world would never know, would they, watching that incredible event just how tortured she really was during the ceremony. Let's listen, and then we'll talk some more.”

Princess Diana:  (From audiotape) “I was very, very deathly calm. Deathly, deathly, calm.  I felt I was a lamb to the slaughter and I knew it, but I couldn't do anything about it.”

Couric:  “She even talks about the fact that -- on these tapes that she was looking for Camilla Parker Bowles in St. Paul's Cathedral, that there were and I guess she often said there were three people in the marriage?”

Morton:  “Yes, she said there were three people in the marriage. And as she was walking down the aisle she spotted Camilla.  And she thought to herself, `I hope all that's over now,' because she had hope and love brimming in her heart for Prince Charles, and yet she had this anxiety about Camilla, which never ever left her.”

Couric: “And I think general anxiety about her choice and what her life was going to become, right?  I mean, not just about Camilla. I mean, can you imagine?”

Morton:  “Katie, she was 20-years-old.  She'd never had a boyfriend. She had a romance with Prince Charles where… he was always surrounded be other people.  She was incredibly naive.  And here she does… she chooses to marry him in this kind of fit of adoration, love and whatever.  And it takes a… not too long before the scales fall from her eyes and she realizes that she's being trapped.  She is this sacrificial lamb used as breeding machine by the House of Windsor.”

Couric:  “I know she talks a great deal in the tapes about her suicide attempts, about throwing herself down the stairs when, I guess, she was four months pregnant with Prince William.  I mean, it's very upsetting and sad because she's desperate for attention.  But let's listen to this part where she discusses how no one seems to understand her.”

Princess Diana:  (From audiotape) “I was just so desperate.  I knew what was wrong with me, but nobody else around me understood me.  I needed rest and, you know, to be looked after inside my house and people to understand the torment and the anguish going on in my head.”

Couric:  “Do you think she was just pathologically miserable, or do you think that Prince Charles was just unable to comfort her and be there for her in a way a spouse should?”

Morton:  “I think both were true. That she got pregnant very early on, she suffered from post-natal depression, (and) she suffered from bulimia nervosa, the eating disorder.  So those things contributed to the problems that she faced together with that fact that she was obsessively jealous about Charles seeing Camilla, and the fact that the royal family didn't seem to know how to cope with her, this girl who was emotional, who was vulnerable.  And remember, all their lives is just built around duty, about reserve, about the stiff upper lip. Diana was someone who was emotive, who had the kind of emotional intelligence.  She was a real contrast to the way — to everything that had been before.”

Couric:  “And very quickly, are you worried about the impact these tapes will have on Prince William and Prince Harry?  It must be very upsetting for them to know about them.  And will they even hear them?”

Morton: “Well, I don't know whether they'll hear them or not, but the words have been in the public domain for some time.”

Couric:  “But to actually hear her say them -- that's a whole different thing, don't you think?”

Mr. Morton:  “I think that what you really hear now is a human being that all you've ever seen in public is Diana talking on the Panorama program or making her rather stilted speeches.  Here you’re seeing a warm, a very human individual who's struggling to cope with a life that she did do.  And I think they will get a greater understanding of her -- their mother, and I think that the public will start to understand Diana in a very different way because she's also very funny.  There's lots of funny out-takes and there's lots of funny asides.  She's a lot more relaxed, a lot more human, a lot more warm than the individual that we've seen so far on our screens.”

Couric:  “Well, Andrew Morton, thank you so much for coming by and talking with us.  It's nice to see you again.”

Morton:  “Nice to see you.”

Couric:  “And the first of two NBC specials ‘Princess Diana: The Secret Tapes’ airs tomorrow night at 10, 9 Central.  It features these and other exclusive audiotapes plus never-before-seen video of the Princess as well.”