Diana In Her Own Words

WE'VE HEARD THESE DEVAStating stories before. The suicidal plunge down a flight of stairs when she was three-months pregnant. The tales of self-mutilation and bulimia. Her husband's unapologetic adoration of his mistress. Andrew Morton's 1992 biography, ""Diana: Her True Story,'' shocked the world with its unprecedented look at a royal marriage in decay. But last week Morton added a remarkable coda to the tale. Despite denying it for years, he admitted that his chief source was Diana herself. She not only sat for six lengthy interviews--conducted by a third party, so Diana could deny ever meeting Morton--she edited the manuscript and submitted family photos. Morton has reprinted the transcripts of Diana's interviews in a new issue of the book, on sale now in London and available later this week in the United States from Simon & Schuster; he also sold them to People magazine. The doomed princess's own words sound like a sad, scared voice echoing from beyond the grave. ""I was a lamb to the slaughter,'' she says about her wedding day. ""I knew it and I couldn't do anything about it.''

Morton has been roundly criticized in Britain for cashing in on Diana's death. He reportedly received $160,000 from People; in Britain alone, Michael O'Mara Books has printed more than 100,000 copies of the updated biography, to which Morton added the subtitle ""In Her Own Words.'' But the author is hardly alone in perpetuating the Diana frenzy. Last week, all the major American TV networks carried live coverage of Trevor Rees-Jones, Diana's bodyguard and the only survivor of the Aug. 31 car crash, as he left his Paris hospital. Long lenses caught him walking quickly and silently to a helicopter waiting to take him home to England. Earlier in the week, a crowd of journalists gathered outside the Alma tunnel as French investigators re-enacted the accident, studying the trajectories Diana's Mercedes might have taken and searching for clues of another car that may have caused the crash. But the most surprising contributor to the hype was the princess's brother, Charles. He is considering building a memorial/museum on the family's 16th-century estate, Althorp, in Northamptonshire, where Diana is buried. Some royal watchers, fearing Spencer might turn the shrine into the kind of carnival he himself railed against, have already dubbed it Dianaland.

The British tabloid The Sun reported last week that the museum might include Diana's clothes, jewelry and photographs. A Spencer family source says the building would probably house the condolence books and mementos that accumulated after Diana's death. Nothing will be decided until the end of the month, after the family discusses with local officials the practicalities of opening what would certainly become a major tourist mecca 77 miles northwest of London. A source close to the royal family says they are not concerned about the plans. ""I suspect a theme-park attraction is what may happen,'' the source says, ""but I'm sure Earl Spencer will be very selective in his choice and wouldn't do anything tasteless.''

It's hard to imagine a museum providing more insight into Diana's life than her interviews for Morton's book. Like the biography, the interviews cover Diana's life from her first memory--""the smell of the inside of my pram''--to speculation about whether Charles and Diana might divorce. But while the original book was rich with anonymously sourced details of who allegedly did what to whom, Diana's prose is so spare and trenchant, it's like a soundtrack being added to a silent movie. She explains why she remained a virgin--and never even had a boyfriend--before Charles: ""I knew somehow that I had to keep myself very tidy for whatever was coming. I said to my father when I was 13, "I know I'm going to marry someone in the public eye'.'' Yet for someone who knew she had to watch her step, she's remarkably candid. Few princesses would allow a biographer to tape-record language such as ""I was terrified--s--tting bricks,'' which is how she describes a visit to Balmoral when Charles began to show interest in her.

Even the most familiar stories acquire new resonance in Diana's own words. When Charles proposed, she says she answered ""yes,'' then said, ""I love you so much, I love you so much.'' His reply: ""Whatever love means.'' She says that Charles touched off her bulimia only a week after they were engaged, in 1981. ""[He] put his hand on my waistline and said: "Oh, a bit chubby here, aren't we?' '' She's surprisingly humorous when talking about trying to bail out of the marriage just before the wedding. ""Your face is on the tea towels, so you're too late to chicken out,'' her sisters told her. The night before the wedding, she confesses, ""I had a very bad fit of bulimia. I ate everything I could possibly find. I was sick as a par-rot that night.''

In the early years of her marriage, when the pregnant princess threw herself down a flight of stairs, Diana says her mother-in-law worried more than her husband. ""The Queen comes out, absolutely horrified, shaking--she was so frightened. I knew I wasn't going to lose the baby; quite bruised around the stomach. Charles went out riding and when he came back, you know, it was total dismissal.'' Even in discussing her son's birth, Diana betrays her bitterness: ""When we had William we had to find a date in diary that suited him and his polo.''

But the predominant emotion in the interviews is the pain of a loveless marriage. She was obsessed with Charles's mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles, seeking her out in the crowd at Westminster Abbey on her wedding day: ""Walking down the aisle I spotted Camilla, pale grey, veiled pillbox hat, saw it all. To this day you know--vivid memory.'' On her honeymoon, Diana dreamed of her rival. The princess also recounts the time she confronted Camilla, pulling her aside at a private dinner party. ""Camilla, I would just like you to know that I know exactly what is going on. I obviously am in the way and it must be hell for both of you. Don't treat me like an idiot.''

Diana's unvarnished, verbatim grief could well hinder Charles's attempt to rehabilitate himself with his future subjects. But at the moment, Britain's ire is directed at Morton. ""This man is using the princess's memory as a money-making machine,'' says Labour M.P. Alice Mahon. ""Has he thought of the effects this would have on her young sons?'' The tabloids headlined their stories SHAMEFUL and DIANA, THE FINAL INSULT. The Times of London published excerpts from the new foreword Morton wrote profiling Diana and their literary relationship, but the paper turned down an offer to buy the interview transcripts. Cutler Durkee, executive editor of People, says his publication has nothing to be ashamed about. ""I don't think this is an insult. Diana comes off very sympathetic and intuitive,'' he says. Morton, 44, who has reportedly earned more than $7 million from the book, was equally unapologetic. ""It is important as a matter of historical record that, to quote her brother, she is allowed to sing openly.''

The Spencer family is reportedly considering filing a copyright suit, but it's unclear who owns the tapes: Morton, Diana's estate or the unnamed intermediary who conducted the interviews. If they belong to Morton, there is nothing to stop him from selling them for TV or radio broadcast next. ""I have behaved extremely honorably throughout this episode,'' he said on British TV. ""I never once hinted at Diana's involvement. I have been asked, "Was she involved?' and I always said no in order to protect her. She doesn't need protecting anymore.''

The one person who apparently needs protecting is Rees-Jones. After leaving the hospital in Paris with his face badly scarred and his left forearm in a cast, he was transported in a helicopter owned by Harrod's owner Mohamed Al Fayed to a secret location in Britain. Rees-Jones told French police last week that while his memory is improving--he now recalls driving away from the Ritz Hotel with Diana, Dodi Fayed and chauffeur Henri Paul--he still cannot remember the crash itself or the events immediately preceding it.

The police spent much of last week looking for evidence that a slow-moving second car may have been in front of Diana's black Mercedes and contributed to the fatal crash. Investigators have found shards from the left rear taillight of a Fiat Uno near fragments of the right front headlight of the Mercedes in the tunnel. There were also traces of another car's paint on the right fender and right rearview mirror of the Mercedes. But after an extensive search of body shops and insurance records, police have found no record of a car with a broken taillight, much less the extensive damage one might expect if a little car ran up against a speeding Mercedes. After spending hours last week recreating the crash with laser surveying equipment and various stand-in vehicles--as well as the crushed hulk of the Mercedes itself--police remain skeptical about the second-car theory. If his memory returns, Rees-Jones could shed light on what really happened and who is to blame. Police plan to interview him again in about two weeks.

Even if investigators are finally able to determine what happened that night, it won't bring back a princess who never quite lived the life she hoped for. ""I'm not bitter about that, but it would be quite nice to go and do things like a weekend in Paris,'' she says in the interviews. ""It's not for me at the moment, but I know one day if I play the rules of life--the game of life--I will be able to have those things I've always pined for.''