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NBC News
updated 12/6/2004 5:38:41 PM ET 2004-12-06T22:38:41

She knew what she wanted. By late 1992, 12 years after her marriage, Princess Diana was determined to recreate herself. These speech lessons and her intense reflection on her troubled past were guiding her toward the breakthrough that would help her speak to the world. When she was finally able to do that, she didn't just change her image, she changed history.

In that first conversation in the fall of 1992, Peter Settelen had been drawing Diana out, listening as she narrated her own life story, the people and events that she thought had led to the edge of a precipice. Now, it was up to Settelen to help Diana create a new version of herself -- the Princess as mover and shaker, a well-spoken independent woman using her fame to change the world. But Settelen had his work cut out for him.

Diana gave about one speech a month. Settelen noticed she often had trouble getting her tongue around the words.The key, Settelen kept telling her, was simply to be herself, the one they'd discovered together. Talk to them, he said, like you talked to me. He urged her to channel the same kind of fury she used to confront her stepmother years before.

He'd seen the playful Diana that had charmed millions. Now, he told her to use that sense of humor to convey her message. Diana didn't always agree with Settelen's technique, but he kept pushing. The results could be striking. Week after week, Diana practiced, watched her tapes and made visible progress.

The Princess was becoming a better speaker, her former private secretary Patrick Jephson recalls, but he wonders what it really meant for her.

Patrick Jephson: “The desire to make the big speech, to make a statement, to attract the attention, became more important than the content of what she was going to say. She said to me one day, ‘You know, Patrick, I want to make a real Churchillian speech one day.’ And I thought, well, that's good because heck, you can't do better than emulate Winston Churchill. But what's she going to say? The thing about Winston Churchill, Was that he usually knew what he was going to say, when he made these Churchill speeches.“

There were times Settelen’s methods could be a little strange, like the time he told her to pretend to be a prostitute.

Peter Settelen: “I said, look, imagine you're a hooker, you've been there, you've done that, and you are fine, so go and strut your stuff. It sounds funny, silly now but—“

Ann Curry: “Silly? It sounds scandalous! You told her to imagine that she's a hooker.”

Settelen: “It's to imagine you've been at the bottom and you have come out of the gutter and you are fine, and if this wasn't national television I’d use a couple of other words now.”

Curry: “Did you use them with her?”

Settelen: “Yeah… And she delivered the speech and afterwards she went back, she stopped the limo, opened the door, kicked her leg out and said, not bad for a hooker, eh. And I said, yeah, you did it! And her staff were all going, what's all this about."

The speech exercises, the role playing, the telling of her life story, all were part of Settelen's effort to prepare Diana for the expanded role she imagined for herself. The transformation came together for Diana in the spring of 1993, when, after six months of working with Settelen, the Princess decided to acknowledge in public what people had been reading about in the tabloids for years: her bulimia and the pain behind it.

Settelen: “It made her feel powerful because she was saying, I know and I'm fine and now I'm going to tell all of you what it's like for the other ones.”

Curry: “She spoke from the heart.”

Settelen: “With an edge of anger.”

Curry: “Stunned everyone.”

Diana's success was at last making a difference. Her daring new style was bringing her closer to people she wanted to help; it was also taking her away from sterile royal life and into a new independent future.

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