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The Crown: Did Diana really smuggle bombshell tapes out of Kensington Palace?

  • Season Five of The Crown contains the remarkable story of how a controversial biography of Princess Diana was produced

  • The show depicts that secret tapes recorded by Diana were smuggled out of Kensington Palace and given to the writer

  • The Crown has been criticised in some quarters for not making it clear that it is a drama and that some of the featured events didn't happen

  • Read below to get the full story on how accurate The Crown's portrayal of these real-life events actual is

OTTAWA, CANADA - OCTOBER 29:  The Prince And Princess Of Wales During A Visit To Ottawa In Canada  (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
Charles and Diana during a royal visit to Ottawa, Canada in 1991. (Getty Images) (Tim Graham via Getty Images)

In 1991, Diana made a decision to collaborate on a bombshell biography that would ultimately set her on a trajectory to breaking away from the Royal Family and divorcing Charles.

The biography - written by Andrew Morton - was eventually called Diana: Her True Story and depicted a life far from the one being presented in public. It was filled with shock revelations, including her husband's infidelity, that she suffered from bulimia, self-harmed; and had struggled so much that she had attempted suicide.

The book - and the extraordinary way in which Diana smuggled incredibly personal recordings out of the royal household to tell her side of the story, features heavily in Season Five of The Crown.

For the most part, The Crown's depiction of how the collaboration transpired is broadly accurate, according to Morton's own accounts of what happened.

"The whole thing was rather like a spy thriller," Morton said in 1998. "It was very much undercover, very secretive and if the Establishment had got any wind of it the the cover would have been blown [...] and the story of Diana that the world knows today would never have been revealed."

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 09:  The Royal Journalist Andrew Morton Posing After The Publication Of His Book
Andrew Morton in 1992 after his book 'Diana: Her True Story' had recently been published. (Getty Images) (Tim Graham via Getty Images)

For many years, it was only guessed Diana had actually taken part. Confidentiality had been a condition of her taking part, but Morton admitted after her death that she had, in fact, collaborated with him. He would go on to release a new version of his book that included transcripts of the tapes Diana had recorded.

Initially, Morton says he "was called a liar" when the book was first published. He had worked as royal correspondent for the Daily Star for a decade, and claims that before even beginning to write the book he "knew, already, that the reality of her life did not match the image. Diana's friends and staff were dropping dark hints about her unhappiness, and she needed the truth to come out."

Despite the claims that he had made up much of the content of the book, he has said he didn't reveal the Princess of Wales's involvement, because "she trusted me. It would have been a betrayal."

Diana, Princess of Wales, wears an outfit in the colors of Canada during a state visit to Edmonton, Alberta, with her husband.
Diana during a royal tour of Canada in 1983. (Getty Images) (Bettmann via Getty Images)

Morton's account of how Diana came to agree to answer his questions has varied slightly over the years and The Crown's dramatisation of the events certainly plays a little fast and loose with the timeline.

Morton first met James Colthurst — who would eventually become the author's go-between with the Princess of Wales — in 1986, after Diana attended an engagement at St. Thomas Hospital, where Colthurst was reportedly employed as a junior doctor.

Colthurst had reportedly known the Princess of Wales since she was 17 years old and was one of her confidantes.

As The Crown would tell it, this initial meeting took place almost immediately before Diana began to collaborate with Morton on his book.

However, in the intervening years before Morton started to research his book, the two men "gradually [...] became friendly," and, as The Crown depicts, played squash together.

The Prince and Princess of Wales attend a welcome ceremony in Toronto at the beginning of their Canadian tour, October 1991. (Photo by Jayne Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images)
Diana and Charles on a royal tour to Canada in 1991, when Diana was secretly smuggling tapes out of Kensington Palace to collaborate with Andrew Morton on his book. (Getty Images) (Princess Diana Archive via Getty Images)

In 1997, Morton told The Independent that it was he who had asked — through Colthurst — whether "she would consider answering some questions."

Later, writing for The Daily Mail in 2017, Morton said that it was in fact Diana who made the suggestion. He said "[Diana] gradually started testing me out by allowing Colthurst to give me snippets of information, which I turned into news stories."

He went on to claim that "some time later, she asked [Colthurst]: 'Does Andrew want an interview?'" for the book he was researching.

WINDSOR, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 01:  Author Andrew Morton In Front Of Windsor Castle Holding A Copy Of His Book On Diana (exact Day Date Not Certain)  (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
Andrew Morton posing outside Windsor Castle with his bestselling book, circa 1994. (Getty Images) (Tim Graham via Getty Images)

In episode two of The Crown season five, Colthurst — played by Oliver Chris — takes a list of questions and a tape recorder with him to see Diana in Kensington Palace.

According to Morton, this is actually pretty much what happened.

Colthurst acted as "proxy" and "conducted six taped interviews with her." He added that "Colthurst vividly remembers that first session" and that he said of the experience: "before we began, [Diana] took the phone off the hook and closed the door. Whenever we were interrupted by someone knocking, she removed the body microphone and hid it in the sofa."

Equally, scenes in the Netflix show include Morton's office being broken into and Diana having her apartment at Kensington Palace swept for bugs, events which both took place.

"My offices were burgled and files rifled through — but nothing of consequence [...] was stolen. After that the Princess had her sitting room 'swept' for listening devices — none was found — and shredded every single piece of paper

"She trusted no one inside the royal system. Even with Colthurst she was never entirely frank." Morton has said.

CHICAGO, UNITED STATES - JUNE 06:  (NOT FOR USE ON MAGAZINE COVER IN THE USA BEFORE 15 JUNE 2007) On The Last Day Of Her Visit To Chicago Princess Diana Waves To Enthusiastic Crowd.  (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
Diana waving to crowds during a visit to Chicago in 1996. (Getty Images) (Tim Graham via Getty Images)

In 1998, Morton said in interview with the Associated Press that the point of the subterfuge was to give Diana "deniability" which he argued was to give her marriage "a chance" to reconcile.

Looking back at the tapes — which Morton has said brought him "mounting astonishment" when he first listened to the contents which he called a "tale of woe in rapid stream of consciousness" — Morton has also said he feels surprised at "Diana's audacity [which] was breathtaking."

While Diana had divulged her husband's affair with Camilla — and even provided Morton with their love letters as proof — as well as her unhappiness at her treatment within her marriage, she never disclosed that she had also been unfaithful to Charles.

Despite the criticism Morton has faced for his book, he claims it "exploded the fairytale" of Diana and Charles.