Robert Lacey writes for the Daily Mail
‘Yes, I adored him. Yes, I was in love with him.’
These are hardly the words any 13-year-old wants to hear fall from his mother’s lips on the subject of her extramarital boyfriend — especially not when they are shared with 23 million avid television viewers around the world.
The boyfriend in question was the dashing Captain James Hewitt, William and Harry’s riding instructor.
Princess Diana’s astonishingly candid November 1995 interview with Martin Bashir on Panorama shattered her relationship with the Royal Family.
It ended her marriage, her royal-ness and — fatally, as it turned out in Paris — her cocoon of royal protection.
But beyond that, the interview also had an extraordinary impact on her elder son, William.
The implications of Diana’s revelations seem largely to have passed over the head of the younger Harry, who was then just 11 years old.
But they struck young teenager William at an especially vulnerable moment.
Caring mother though she was, Diana does not seem to have considered the emotional effect of her intimate revelations on her elder son.
Her cascade of confession and barbed insults added up to a maliciously crafted attack on both her husband and his family — her children’s father and family.
‘Because I know the character, I would think that the top job, as I call it, would bring enormous limitations to him,’ said Diana, openly dismissing the prospect of Charles becoming king.
Bashir: ‘Would it be your wish, when Prince William comes of age, that he were to succeed the Queen, rather than the current Prince of Wales?’
Diana: ‘My wish is that my husband finds peace of mind, and from that follow other things. Yes.’
It was not until this explosive material was in the can, being edited by a secret BBC team at a hotel in Eastbourne, that Diana started to reflect on how her two boys — both away at boarding school — might feel about it.
According to Simone Simmons, the Princess’s confidante and faith-healer, it took a phone call from William’s Eton housemaster, Dr Andrew Gailey, to prompt Diana.
Gailey had read the advance publicity in the newspapers and phoned to tell her it was ‘imperative’, in his view, that she should come to explain things to William, face to face.
‘Is that really necessary?’ she asked him.
In another phone call from Gailey the next day, Simmons told the editor-in-chief of royal magazine Majesty, Ingrid Seward, he effectively ordered Diana down the M4 motorway to talk to her son.
‘I’ve done an interview for TV,’ she told William in the housemaster’s study on Sunday, November 19. ‘It’s going to air tomorrow night and I didn’t want it to catch you by surprise.’
It was a brief conversation, according to the various accounts based on Diana’s version of the encounter.
Afterwards she drove on to Ludgrove, Harry’s prep school half an hour away, to deliver the same message in person to her younger son.
‘Don’t worry,’ she assured him. ‘Everything will be fine — I promise.’
The 11-year-old Prince was offered the chance to watch the interview on the TV set of his personal protection officer at Ludgrove.
He declined, and the details of how Harry later reacted to his mother’s revelations are still obscure.
But William went down to his housemaster’s study shortly before 8pm that Monday to sit alone and watch as Panorama’s revolving globe and percussive theme music made way for the close-up of his mother’s wide eyes and heavily kohled eyelids as she fired off her broadside of embarrassing accusations.
Before the 58 minutes ended, William was weeping.
Gailey told Diana that he found her son slumped on the sofa, his eyes red with tears.
The Prince pulled himself together to rush back to his room — but when, an hour later, Diana telephoned on the house phone, William refused to take her call.
Something inside him had snapped. ‘He hated the idea of everything being on television,’ related Simmons, ‘and he knew his friends would poke fun at him, which they did.
‘He felt she made a fool of herself — and of him.’
William was in a fragile place. He was only in his first weeks at Eton, having just endured the college’s then-notorious ‘welcome to the club’.
The ‘Colours Test’, for example, involved learning the names and colours of the school’s 24 houses and other items of Eton trivia, to be quizzed by prefects who might sit you down beside a bucket of raw eggs and Worcestershire sauce.
This, they promised, might be poured over your head if you made any mistakes.
In 1995, £12,384 — the Eton school fees per year — could buy you some high-class bullying.
The consolation that Eton offered, after years of communal prep school dormitories, was that William could retreat to his own room or ‘study’ to hide his sorrow — and also to reflect.
By the time he went home to Kensington Palace at the end of that week to see Diana, he was raging. ‘All hell broke loose,’ Diana told Simmons the following Monday.
‘He was furious . . . that she had spoken badly of his father, furious that she had mentioned Hewitt . . . he started shouting and crying and when she tried to put her arms around him, he shoved her away.’
Diana was getting an unpleasant personal experience of William’s notorious temper.
He apologised to his mother the next day and presented her with a small bunch of flowers, but Diana sensed that some profound and irretrievable damage had been done.
‘When I saw her later,’ recalled Simmons, ‘there was a look of hopelessness on her face . . . she was still somehow convinced that he would hate her for the rest of his life.’
Hate his mother? Or love-hate her? This was the moment when William seems to have experienced that decisive act of detachment from the parent that marks the advent of adult life. The iron had entered his soul.
When the question later arose as to who William would invite to his first Fourth of June celebrations — Eton’s equivalent of Founders’ or Parents’ Day — the Prince decided he would invite neither his father nor his mother.
Instead, he took his older friend and shooting companion William van Cutsem (then 17; today the godfather to William’s firstborn, George), along with Tiggy Legge-Bourke, his nanny — who, it later emerged in various legal actions, was being openly and completely falsely accused by Diana in these years of being Charles’s mistress.
‘Camilla,’ Diana had written to her butler Paul Burrell, ‘is nothing but a decoy.’
No wonder the wounded William sought to escape from the pain of his parents’ recriminations. A plague on both your houses!
The one justification for Diana’s bizarre broadcast was that she was responding to the TV interview Charles had given to Jonathan Dimbleby the previous year, in which he acknowledged his relationship with Camilla.
It had infuriated Diana — and this year her brother, Charles Spencer, has rightly questioned the bogus bank statements that Martin Bashir unscrupulously fabricated to take advantage of that, engineering access to Spencer and then playing on his sister’s fears in order to inveigle her into hitting back through Panorama.
‘Is it true,’ William had poignantly asked Diana after Charles’s revelatory broadcast, ‘that Daddy never loved you?’
The Prince’s protocol-breaking intervention this week to express his approval of the campaign to ‘establish the truth’ — William’s own words — about Bashir’s behaviour reflects his childhood pain.
He has been in touch with the BBC about the investigation, we now discover, for a full fortnight. ‘It is a very personal matter,’ says a source close to Wills.
His intervention is the more momentous for being the first major initiative he has ever taken about his mother without co-opting Harry.
The two sons refer to Diana quite regularly in individual speeches and interviews, but any pronouncement about her of this significance would previously have been made together.
This partly reflects the rift that currently has the two brothers living on opposite sides of the world.
But it also reflects their different experiences of that traumatic broadcast in 1995 — and hence their views of Diana.
Harry has always been uncritically proud to tread in his mother’s footsteps. He did so quite literally in September 2019 when he walked through the Huambo minefield in Angola.
His passionate royal exit speech of this January — ‘there really was no other option’ — could have been written by Diana herself.
But William has been more ambivalent because he was older, and thus had more first-hand experience of the manipulative role that his mother came to play in Windsor politics towards the end of her life.
Part of William viewed Diana’s behaviour as the rest of the family did. Now the Bashir/BBC investigation opens up the prospect that in November 1995 William’s mother was less the manipulator than the victim who was being manipulated.
Might the Prince be able to blame Martin Bashir and the BBC, not Diana, for the broadcast that has burdened him with such anger, pain and loneliness?
These were the emotions that afflicted William 25 years ago as he tried to take refuge from his parents’ poisonous crossfire in the life of a schoolboy.
He was agonised by his mother’s betrayal of trust but, from the playing fields of Eton, he could look up and take comfort in the sight of his future destiny — the battlements of Windsor Castle, looming over the River Thames.
It was in these months of 1995-96 — William’s first year at Eton — that he would decisively transfer his emotional allegiance away from his warring parents and on to the more stable and reassuring occupants of Windsor, the Queen and Prince Philip, his grandparents up on the hill.
Soon after William’s arrival at Eton and amid all the turmoil surrounding the rival parental broadsides, the Queen had become concerned about her elder grandson’s state of mind.
She feared that the boy might be heading for some sort of breakdown, she confided to one of her advisers.
Sharing her concerns, the Duke of Edinburgh suggested they should take advantage of William’s closeness at his new school to invite him to join them from time to time on a Sunday, when the Eton boys were allowed out into the town.
And so the lunches began. Every few Sundays — allowing for the weekends William would spend with his separated mother or father — he would walk with his detective down Eton High Street and across the bridge up to Windsor, where he would join the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh for a hearty and tasty meal.
When the pudding course had been eaten, Philip would make a discreet exit, leaving his wife and grandson together in the panelled Oak Room, with its six-arm chandelier hanging over the table in front of Queen Victoria’s Gobelins tapestry of The Hunt.
In this splendid and historic but also intimate setting, grandmother and grandson — monarch and future heir — forged a unique link, talking, ‘sharing’ and creating together the axis that dominates and sets the tone for the Royal Family to this day.
Diana did not come into the picture. Just as Queen Elizabeth II had bypassed the example of her own mother, the too-soft ‘Queen Mum’, to take her direction from her formidable grandmother Queen Mary, whose rigid style she has replicated throughout her reign, so William would bypass the confused role model of his father Prince Charles, to take his personal lead from the Queen’s example.
He has formatted himself in his grandmother’s image, and that has turned William into the Royal Family’s most astute tactical infighter.
Having assisted William in the January exiling of Prince Harry, Case was involved in the ousting of Dominic Cummings this month.
William is unrelenting in his defence of the monarchy his grandmother has built.
Camilla confided to friends the shock that she felt, following her marriage to Charles in 2005, at the disdainful way in which her stepson would angrily rebuke his father if Charles’s enthusiasms led him to stray — in William’s opinion — from the traditional royal path.
Small wonder that Simon Case, his private secretary and canny consigliere at the ‘Sandringham Summit’ in January this year, has gone on to become Boris Johnson’s right-hand man as Cabinet Secretary.
When William fell in love, it seemed perfectly proper to him that ‘Waitie Katie’ should spend nine years auditioning for the job of future consort.
He was amazed that Harry did not exercise any similar caution with Meghan.
The ‘Sussex Storm’ of 2019-2020 was the issue on which the steely grandmother and grandson displayed their particular unity, both resolute that Harry and Meghan’s inventive brand name, ‘Sussex Royal’, should be granted no breathing space.
‘Royal’ is the value by which the Queen and her grandson must, operationally, live and die — and they made that clear in the image of the ‘Four Monarchs’ that Buckingham Palace released this January to set the tone for the new decade.
Here was Elizabeth II herself, flanked by just Charles, William and little George — direct ‘heirs’ all three of them, with not a ‘spare’ in sight.
‘That’s what ‘royal’ means, Harry,’ it seemed to shout.
Shunning his mother’s breathless interview style that so embarrassed him in 1995, William has developed an artfully jaunty and jovial approach to interviews that appears both youthful and open.
But on the issues that really matter, he has proved as buttoned-down as his grandmother, imitating her technique of ignoring any inconvenient realities by sweeping them under the carpet.
In September last year, Prince Harry made a graceful acknowledgement of the brotherly rift in his momentous interview with Tom Bradby in Africa — ‘we’re certainly on different paths at the moment’.
But he added the touching personal postscript that, ‘I will always be there for him and, as I know, he will always be there for me.’
William has made no such public statement or gesture towards his brother. He has not given a single interview, nor made the slightest on-the-record reference to their split.
Off the record, however, a ‘senior Kensington Palace source’ leaked a suggestion in October last year that Harry and Meghan were ‘in a fragile place’.
The smear has never been disavowed by William — and as Diana’s confidant, this newspaper’s Richard Kay, recently remarked, it is a tactic straight out of the War of the Waleses playbook of the 1990s, when Charles and Camilla’s aides liked to spread the idea that Diana was ‘bonkers’.
According to those close to recent events, history has still to record the sharp-elbowed role William played in the displacement of his younger brother.
The elder Prince has recently taken to lecturing us on the importance of mental health.
‘I’ve always believed,’ he told Alastair Campbell, ‘in being very open and honest’ about mental conflicts and difficulties.
But William has not spoken a word to the world about the main conflict in his life — the split from Harry — ignoring this painful issue in the same remote style as his grandmother. His hope, presumably, is that it will go away with time.
But time does not seem to be healing the fraternal rift. Quite the contrary, with Harry and Meghan setting up their Archewell foundation in California, while William and Kate expand happily into the British public space that the Sussexes have vacated.
The Cambridges have even hired ‘Digital Dave’ Watkins, the whiz behind the now-defunct ‘Sussex Royal’ website, to help grow their own web presence to some 12 million followers.
We all recall the excitement of that May 2018 Windsor marriage that created such a whirlwind of attention around Harry and Meghan.
For 18 months, the new royal rock stars put William and Kate in the shade, quite overturning the proper order of things in the eyes of royal traditionalists.
But with Harry and Meghan in exile, the balance has been restored. Glowing and smiling with their three irresistible children, William and Kate are once again the undisputed focus of the future of the monarchy.
William has only to sit in a chair and watch television with Sir David Attenborough — himself a semi-royal figure — to generate front-page coverage.
The latest British opinion polls show clearly that the Cambridges are seen as the figures of the future, with Harry and Meghan cast as the scapegoats for whatever has gone wrong.
The glittering appeal of the Cambridges also eclipses the probability of a future King Charles III and Queen Camilla, a prospect that no one who recalls the troubled 1980s and 1990s can view with much pleasure.
Was not this obstinate love affair the source of the marital discord that led to the distress and pain of the current generation?
It is one thing to let the chickens come home to roost.
It is quite another to set them on thrones and crown them as a reward for the sorrow and confusion they have prompted.
So this question looms for the sad moment when Elizabeth II is no longer with us — how will Britain feel about all the fol-de-rol and expense of crowning the elderly Charles and Camilla for what can only possibly be a brief reign?
Meanwhile, William’s intervention this week in the BBC/Bashir scandal shows his increasingly assured profile as a future king — the action-man Prince, rather than the Prince who talks to his plants.
As the Queen and Prince Philip celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary this week, the card they studied came from just three of their nine great-grandchildren — the children of William and Kate.
In ways great and small, deliberately or otherwise, the baton is being passed.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge — not the Prince of Wales and his second wife — are clearly the future focus of Britain’s royal affections.
And as this becomes more obvious, the hope that Diana dared to voice in her momentous 1995 interview grows ever closer to being realised.
The Princess’s dream could still come to pass, with William, not his father, securing ‘the top job, as I call it’ in direct succession to the grandmother who brought him such solace and guidance at a painful stage in his life, and in whose footsteps William is clearly determined to walk in the future.
Robert Lacey is the author of Battle of Brothers: William, Harry and the Inside Story of a Family in Tumult.