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NBC News
updated 11/30/2004 11:26:31 AM ET 2004-11-30T16:26:31

The young girl once known as "Shy Di" grew into a forceful advocate for issues like AIDS, eating disorders, and landmines, defending those least able to defend themselves. How did she do it? How was she able to transform herself, amid the pain in her personal life, into a powerful voice for millions in need? The answer might be found in never-before-seen videotapes. They reveal Diana in rare, unguarded conversations at a critical point in her life --  as she was just beginning to reclaim herself from her shattered marriage. 

Princess Diana: “There's just nobody to-- to-- physically scream at.  Or someone to put their arms around me and just listen.”

In September 1992, 11 years after her fairytale wedding to Prince Charles, the normally private Princess Diana sat down in her Kensington Palace living room with a man she barely knew and recorded this casual, wide-ranging and surprisingly frank discussion of her life. 

Princess Diana:  “My parents, they never said they loved me.”

Peter Settelen: “So you never knew that anyway?”

Princess Diana:  “No. No. No idea. There was no--there was always a kiss there. No hugs or anything like that.

The video camera belonged to Peter Settelen, a former actor who had developed a thriving business as a voice coach.  They met through a mutual friend. Settelen says in their first meeting, Diana came across as a frightened woman, shell-shocked by a bad marriage and worse publicity. He told her improving her public speaking skills could be a therapy of sorts and a way for a soon-to-be-divorced woman to show her husband and the world that she wasn't frightened, but strong and independent. Settelen told her he could help her find that strength.

Settelen: “After the first session, I said, 'Look, I want to bring a camera. I want you to see you, and we will do your story, you will tell me your story, and then you can watch. Because in a way it does show you who you are. If somebody can draw you out and take you to the best of you, and you then see it, it reaffirms, 'Yes, that is me, it's okay to be me.'”

In all, Settelen says he made 20 tapes over the course of a year. NBC News recently acquired several of those tapes, and is now broadcasting them for the first time.

By their second meeting, Diana seemed so comfortable with Settelen and his video camera that she quickly and unexpectedly began to share intimate details of her personal life.

She recalled the moment in 1980 when her courtship with Charles began. It was at the estate of a mutual friend, shortly after the funeral of Charles' great uncle and close friend Lord Mountbatten.

Princess Diana: “And I said, ‘You must be so lonely.’ And I said, "It's pathetic watching you walking up the aisle at ST. Paul's with Lord Mountbatten's coffin in front.’ I said, you know, ‘It's ghastly. You need someone beside you.’ Ugh! Wrong word. Whereupon he leapt upon me,  and started kissing me and everything. And I thought waaaaah. You know. This isn't what people do. And he was all over me for the rest of the evening--followed me around, everything, a puppy. And um, yeah, I was flattered but I was very puzzled.

Diana was just 19, and despite that fumbling first encounter, she fell hard for the Prince -- even though, as she told Settelen, Charles still had a lot to learn in the boyfriend department.

Princess Diana: “He wasn't consistent with his courting abilities. He'd ring me up every day for a week, and then he wouldn't speak to me for three weeks. Very odd. And I, I accepted that. I thought fine. Well, he knows where I am if he wants me. And then the thrill when he used to ring up was so immense and intense. Drive the other three girls in my flat crazy. But-- no, it was all-- it was odd.”

Diana told Settelen that despite their celebrated public image, romantic sparks had never caught fire between the royal couple.

Settelen: “There's virtually no sexual relations between you and Charles?”

Princess Diana: “Well, there was. There was, there was. But it was odd. Very odd. But there was -- it was there, and then it fizzled out about seven years ago -- six years ago? Well, seven was Harry, it's eight-“

Settelen: “How do you know it was odd?”

Princess Diana: “Instinct told me. It was just so odd. I just -- I don't know. There was never a requirement for it from his case. Sort of a once every three weeks look about it about it and I kept thinking...and then I followed a pattern. He used to see his lady once every three weeks before we got married.

Diana spoke openly about the physical and emotional effects of her unhappy marriage, her frustrating relationship with the Royal Family and Charles' ongoing relationship with his former girlfriend Camilla Parker-Bowles.

Princess Diana: “I remember saying to my husband, you know, ‘Why, why is this lady around?’ And he said, ‘Well, I refuse to be the only Prince of Wales who never had a mistress."

Settelen acknowledges that Diana never meant their conversations to become public -- and in fact, they almost didn't. Missing for years, confiscated by police, and subject to a lawsuit by Diana's family, the tapes only recently returned to Settelen's possession. Since then, he's been intensely critized for his decision to release them.

Ann Curry: “But if your aim was not to make these tapes public, then why are you now releasing this tape with this interview and profiting from it?”

Settelen: “I don't want to denigrate Diana. I'm trying to give the public an opportunity finally, finally, okay, okay, okay you see for yourself, because these people are spoiling, not just the work that I did with her but using it again to kind of diminish her, and I don't think that's right.”

By the time she sat down to record these tapes, Diana was determined to make a happier, stronger life for herself and her conversations with Peter Settelen would mark the beginning of that transformation and a step toward the destiny she'd long imagined for herself.

Princess Diana: “I knew that something profound was coming my way and I was just um treading water, waiting for it. I didn't know what it was. I didn't know where it was. I didn't know if it was coming next year or next month. But I knew I was different from my friends in where I was going.

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