What was Squidgygate?
On 23rd August, 1992, the Sun – a British tabloid newspaper – published the transcript of phone call between Diana,Princess of Wales and her then-lover, James Gilbey.
The call lasted for thirty minutes and during that time, Gilbey called Diana ‘Squidgy’ or ‘Squidge’ fifty three times and ‘darling’ fourteen times. Therefore, latching onto the Nixon Watergate scandal, the call and its revelations were known as ‘Squidgygate’.
The public, having had chapter-and verse from the press, knew that the marriage between Charles and Diana had been in trouble for several years. The tape had been made three years previously and left readers in no doubt about the affair between Diana and Gilbey.
Her previous lover had been James Hewitt and there was much press speculation that he, in fact, had been the father of Prince Harry. He wasn’t though – in 2003 another tabloid, The News of the World, had strands of Harry’s hair DNA tested. Without doubt, Harry is Charles’ son.
The Sun made the most of the commercial opportunities offered by the tape. Just in case members of the public were in any doubt that it was Diana’s voice on the recording, they set up phone lines so that the public could listen to the tapes and decide for themselves.
This premium phone line cost the caller 34 pence per minute. This means that callers listening to the entire tape paid over £10 to listen in.
Diana had been playing a dangerous game. Although their separation had not been announced, she and Prince Charles were largely living separate lives. The prince used Highgrove in the country as his home base and Diana spent most of her time at Kensington Palace in London.
Men visited her there often, she wrote hundreds of handwritten letters to her lovers (James Hewitt in particular), she made indiscreet phone calls, she openly dined with her lovers in restaurants and when one of her paramours was a doctor, made frequent visits to see him at the hospital where he worked.
She thought that the people loved her and that she was invincible.
She had carefully cultivated the influential men who ran the British press including Sir David English (who ran the Daily Mail) and other important journalists. She rang them with feel-good stories, entertained them to lunch and generally flattered their male egos.
But even this couldn’t protect her from the Squidgygate tapes – the story was just too good (and lucrative) not to publish. However, according to her police protection officer, Ken Wharfe, she happily admitted to him that yes, the tapes were genuine and it was her voice. She even admitted with some glee that she had called the Sun‘s hotline number herself to listen to the tape.
During the conversation, the couple exchanged endearments and Diana referred to her marriage as ‘torture’. She complained about the royal family at length and at one point said about her ‘bad treatment ‘ that she felt empty and said on the tape ‘bloody hell, after all I’ve done for this fucking family’.
Three months later, the prime minister announced that Charles and Diana would separate but not get divorced.
Two months before the tapes were released, the Andrew Morton book, Diana, Her True Story, had been published and serialised in The Times. Diana denied any involvement in the book and it wasn’t known until later that it was indeed her handiwork. It was several years later that this was discovered.
But it was in 1995 that she delivered the coup de grace. At her invitation, a small camera crew arrived at Kensington Palace one Sunday evening when it was at its quietest. They posed as hi-fi salesmen. They had a pre-arranged appointment with Diana to film her speaking about her marriage to be shown on the TV programme Panorama.
Looking sorrowfully through heavily kohl-rimmed eyes, she described her relationships with her lovers too. Pale-lipped and sniffing unattractively throughout, she said how appalled she was that her ex-lover James Hewitt had written a long-forgotten book about their affair. She was ‘devastated’ she said because she had trusted him and was ‘worried bout the effect it would have on her children’.
Only few hundred people had seen the Hewitt book – it hadn’t sold well – but yet here was Diana telling over twenty million people on television that she was concerned that his book would upset her children – conveniently forgetting that she has initiated and collaborated on Diana, Her True Story.
Many viewers realised that she was obviously more concerned about her ‘revenge’ and her own public image. They recognised it for the theatrical performance it was.
The queen had had enough. She was concerned about the effect these Diana dramas were having on her grandsons, William and Harry. She consulted the Archbishop of Canterbury and the prime minister.She had previously kept her lips firmly sealed on the subject of the marriage but Diana had gone too far.
Diana’s failed PR
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