The confessions of Lady Di’s private secretary – La Tercera

Patrick Jephson had a consolidated career in the British Navy when in 1988 his superiors surprised him by telling him that they had proposed his name to Buckingham Palace to be “squire” of Diana of Wales, a position for which each branch of the Armed Forces offered candidates. and that it consisted of organizing and implementing the princess’s agenda. After an initial “simple” process, in Jephson’s own words, to pass the next test he had to attend a lunch with Diana, who had the last word. Before the meeting, the 34-year-old officer drank a gin and tonic for his nerves.

“I was very lucky. It is true that lunch was part of the selection process. It was a temporary appointment as a military auxiliary that is normally held for two years. I was very happy to spend a few days off my ship to go to Kensington Palace to have lunch with the princess. They had told me I wouldn’t get the job, because it wasn’t the Navy’s turn. I think everyone who knew her would say that she made a very strong first impression: she was tall, athletic, energetic. That day she was wearing very little makeup, very little jewelry. What impressed me the most were her eyes, which were blue and very expressive, which were capable of making you laugh or attract attention, because she was not an ordinary girl, she was an aristocratic woman, ”says Jephson in an interview with Third.

The British officer remembers that it was quite a surprise when he returned to his ship and was told that he had been selected to work with none other than Lady Di. From that moment, he became one of the few people who knew backwards and forwards the details of the life of the princess, whose death in Paris marks the 25th anniversary on Wednesday, August 31.

Diana, Princess of Wales speaks to dancers at the English National Ballet studios on August 28, the day her marriage to the Prince of Wales officially came to an end with the issuance of a decree absolute. Photo: Reuters

“He was a person with a natural human quality and was approachable. However, with a simple twist she could be very aristocratic, very royal. You were always aware of being in the presence of a person of historical importance, someone with great charisma and royal status. When I finished my two years as a squire he asked me to leave the Navy to set up his own office, because he was separating from Prince Charles. So I did and I was there as his sole private secretary and chief of staff. She told me: ‘Patrick, we are going to conquer the world’, a phrase that is challenging, isn’t it? And she was ambitious. But I knew what she meant. And I think it’s fair to say that she was successful. As a boss she was extremely professional. She made her royal duties look so easy. But as we know, to make something look easy, you have to work really hard at it,” she notes.

As personal public relations officer or chief of staff, Patrick Jephson planned almost every step of the princess. During the eight-year period he worked for Diana – until January 1996 – he arranged her meetings with presidents, prime ministers, artists, religious leaders, music stars and much more.

“I saw her every day for eight years, practically. And I can say that I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who was more sensible, especially considering the stress she was under most of the time. She had a remarkable ability to see the bright side of things. There was always a moment when she saw the funny side. And this was one of the most rewarding things about her as a boss: no matter how difficult the times we were going through, she was always able to find the bright side and make not only her laugh, but all of us”, she recalls.

Over the years, Jephson studied political science at Cambridge and became a journalist. In fact, he owns a communications consultancy (Jephson and Bateman) and is a consultant on the Netflix series The Crown. He is also the author of the book Shadows of a Princess (2017).

“Diana was also aware that, especially after her split from Prince Charles, she was constantly being evaluated. For her friends and supporters, but also for her critics. And it was no secret that there were people in the royals who would have been happy for her to fail, ”she comments, immediately noting that she has not seen movies about Diana’s life, like the most recent, Spencer. “I have no plans to see her. And from everything I’ve heard, it seems like a very inaccurate portrait of the woman I knew.”

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Prince Harry tries to hide behind his mother, Britain’s Princess Diana, during a morning photo session at Marivent Palace, on August 9, 1988. Photo: Reuters

A quarter of a century after her death, at the age of 36, Diana is still a source of fascination and her fate continues to cast a shadow over British royalty. Lady Di died when Henri Paul, the driver of the limousine that was transporting her along with her boyfriend, Dodi al-Fayed, lost control of the vehicle and collided with a column in the Pont du Alma tunnel in Paris, as he was speeding away. speed of some paparazzi aboard a motorcycle.

“I was at home in the country and woke up for no reason at four in the morning. Since I couldn’t sleep, I went downstairs to make a cup of tea. And there was a message on my answering machine from a newspaper editor saying, ‘Is there anything you want to say about the princess story?’ So I turned on the television and there it was. That’s when the world stopped, right? I went to London to help with the funeral arrangements, which I did attend. It was very sad, obviously, but it was also a beautiful ceremony. Towards the end, we went out into the sun and I was in a part of Westminster Abbey where all his people from the charities had sat. So the mood changed from sadness to joy and happy memories. We spent a long time reminiscing. She would have liked it,” he recounts.

Millions of people around the world mourned the “people’s princess”, as then-Prime Minister Tony Blair described Diana, one of the most recognizable and photographed women on the planet. The interest that lasts for the princess is not only for her life, but for her tragic outcome. A lengthy investigation concluded in 2008 that Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed died due to the gross negligence of driver Henri Paul and the paparazzi who chased them.

Mohamed, Al-Fayed’s father, said at the time that the murder was carried out by the British secret services on the orders of Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth. A police investigation into whether she might have been murdered ruled out a number of conspiracy theories and determined that Paul had been drunk and driving too fast. However, speculation that she was the victim of a plot to assassinate her remains.

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Britain’s Princes William, Duke of Cambridge and Harry, Duke of Sussex look at the statue they commissioned of their mother Diana, Princess of Wales, in the Sunken Gardens at Kensington Palace, London, Britain July 1, 2021. Photo : Reuters

“Any time someone young and beautiful dies suddenly, especially in violent circumstances, it’s a tragedy. And people try to find an explanation that somehow satisfies the feeling of loss. I testified at the inquest into Diana’s death and I believe the official conclusions were correct that it was an accident. But of course accidents are caused by other events. So for me, the key question is: What were the events that put Diana in the back seat of that Mercedes that night? She was much more than a drunk driver. She put herself in the hands of people who were not competent to take care of her. That is an important point. But the other, was the entire sequence of events, possibly from the conduct of the Panorama interview (in 1995) that led to her being cut off from the actual support structure and therefore vulnerable to finding herself in a situation where that it was not being duly safeguarded,” he warns.

As a private secretary, Jephson was also a witness to the marital conflicts between Diana and Carlos, as well as their separation, in 1992. It was not until August 1996, two months after Queen Elizabeth II urged the couple to divorce , that both reached a final pact. In exchange for a generous settlement and the right to retain her chambers at Kensington Palace and the title “Princess of Wales,” Diana agreed to relinquish the title “Her Royal Highness Hers” and any future claims to the British throne. .

“I think it’s widely accepted that there was professional jealousy that Prince Charles felt for her, for her popularity and her spontaneity. She had an instinctive ability to get the job done really well. She was very good with details. She devoured her briefing papers. She knew the rules of protocol inside out, but she also knew when to break protocol based on a specific goal. She knew that people expected a lot from her. She was like, ‘Patrick, if people are going to wait two hours in the rain to see me, I better not let them down.’ She had a keen sense of the expectations of ordinary people: they expected a princess. She gave them a princess. More than that, she turned her own unhappiness into her private life for the benefit of humanitarian work,” she explains.

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Prince Charles and Princess Diana on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in London, after their wedding at St. Paul’s Cathedral, on June 29, 1981. Photo: Reuters

Following Diana’s revealing interview with Martin Bashir on the BBC’s Panorama program in November 1995, many of her staff resigned, including Jephson, who was one of the last to leave.

In 2020, Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, reported that Bashir intentionally misled him, which, in turn, allowed him to gain Diana’s trust and secure the explosive interview. Using forged bank statements, Bashir showed the Count that one of his staff members was spying on her, paid for by a mysterious firm. This led Diana to believe that her closest associates were betraying her and she played on her growing paranoia.

“I resigned as a result of the dishonest methods used by Martin Bashir to get the interview. He told lies about me, the ones that just came to light last year. So all this time I was unaware of it and the BBC made a public apology to me and paid me a substantial sum in damages, all of which I have donated to the Children’s Hospice of Wales, which was the last charity sponsorship I I organized for Diana,” she says.

“Diana was genuine, authentic in her vulnerability and that was a departure from traditional concepts of royalty. She was willing to show her own vulnerability. A very good example of this was when she gave a speech about eating disorders. She had bulimia. And her critics spread the rumor that she was mentally ill, which is a shameful and reprehensible tactic. And yet, she hit them back by acknowledging that she had an eating disorder. Diana the moment I met her transformed from an innocent newcomer to the real world into someone who embodied the best kind of modern royalty,” she says.

And on the disputes of his children he prefers not to delve, although he concludes: “As far as William and Harry are concerned, it is a pity that they seem to be at odds with each other. I think that would have disappointed her a lot.”

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The confessions of Lady Di’s private secretary – La Tercera

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