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Princess Diana tapes: Part 5

The course Princess Diana was charting would end before she figured out where she was headed. It was just a few weeks after Diana died in August 1997 that the drama over the Settelen videotapes began.
/ Source: NBC News

Diana worked with Peter Settelen from September 1992 to December 1993. During that time, her speeches got better but the press got worse. The headlines about the Royals' infidelities seemed to have no limit. Even Peter Settelen got caught up in the craziness.

Peter Settelen: “I had lunch with her in a restaurant not very far from here, and the press thought I was the next man, it was after the separation, and I was the next man. And so 30 press were outside my house for three days, and it is terrifying. It's like they've come to pick over you… and it's horrible. And she said, well, at least you know what it's like now."

Then in November 1993, the Daily Mirror printed infamous photos of Diana working out in a gym in a leotard and bike shorts, from rather un-princess-like angles. Diana felt defeated. Here she'd spent so many hours working hard to craft a serious public image, and all the media cared about was getting racy pictures. She had had it. In a speech for a charity luncheon in December 1993, she startled the crowd by announcing she was giving up most of the public charity work she cherished.

Diana eventually would go on to champion other causes -- she was too bright a light to recede into the shadows. But that so-called “Time and Space” speech would be the last one Diana and Peter Settelen worked on together.

Patrick Jephson: “Mr. Settelen gave Diana many hours of entertainment in the way that he taught her to speak. And I think that he succeeded in making her talk in a less affected way. I think made her-speak in a more relaxed way. Diana at that time was very enthusiastic about gathering advice from all sorts of sources. And the result was that people came and went.”

Ann Curry: “A lot of people came and went?”

Jephson: “Quite a lot of people. There were plenty more people in the queue, just itching to get into Kensington Palace and give her the benefit of their advice, too.”

Curry: “How did she tell you that she did not want to work with you anymore?”

Settelen: “She didn't tell me.”

Curry: “How did it end then?”

Settelen: “Well, we didn't do any more speeches. The next speech she gave was 15 months later. Paths part, and other people move in. I offered up what I had, I think it helped her, and her world moved on.”

Diana alone was in charge of her destiny. But by now, the princess had hit her stride. She was confident, prepared and good at being herself. Just her very presence could move mountains, powerful messages delivered with the Diana touch. There's a famous photograph of Diana with a landmine victim on her lap.

Settelen: “That changed history, that picture. World leaders within three days changed the law on landmines and everybody had been trying to do it for years. One picture. Ninety journalists had traveled across the planet to be with her to get a picture and she said, yeah you can have the picture, but she's in the picture with me, okay.”

As the world knows too well, the course Diana was charting would end before she figured out where she was headed. It was just a few weeks after Diana died in August 1997 that the drama over the Settelen videotapes began. Settelen had begun to wonder whatever happened to those tapes he'd recorded and left with her, years before. He wrote a letter asking Palace officials to return the tapes to him. Diana's butler Paul Burrell wrote back and told Settelen the tapes had been destroyed. Which might have been the end of it, until Settelen read some intriguing news.

Settelen: “It was in the paper that Paul Burrell had a lot of possessions of the Royal Family in his house. And my wife and I were having dinner, it was her birthday, and I said, ‘I bet you the tapes are there.”

In fact, they were. Settelen went to the police, but they were of no help, nor was the Spencer family, which said the tapes were part of Diana's legacy and claimed ownership. Settelen decided to sue and this past summer, a judge ordered that the tapes be returned to him. The Spencers would not comment for this program.

Curry: “Why did you fight so hard to get the tapes back?”

Settelen: “Because they're mine, and they're private. I have a right to have what I did in my possession, and they tried to take that away from me, and that's not fair. We're all equal.”

Not all the tapes were recovered, however. Diana herself suggests there's more to come at the very end of the interview tape in this report. According to the British media, the missing tapes contain explosive material.

Curry: “The London papers have written that they reveal that Prince Philip once referred to Diana as a Mad Cow. That Diana fantasized about running off to New York with James Hewitt, and that she had a falling out with each one of her siblings. And there's more. Is any of that true?”

Settelen: “No, that's not in there. That's not in the tapes in anything that I recorded.”

Curry: “You're saying that none of these reports, I just reiterated to you, are true.”

Settelen: “No.”

Curry: “And you're saying there was an intentional effort to put out information that was incorrect to make you look bad.”

Settelen: “But that also would then justify why they could -- I shouldn't have them, that they were too private and they're too personal and they shouldn't be seen by anybody, including me, that I shouldn't ever see them again if I hadn't got them in my possession.”

But there is another reason the media have been critical of Peter Settelen. At the time the tapes were being fought over in court, Settelen's very publicly insisted his client never intended to release them.

Curry: “The fact that you are now talking about these tapes and making them public begs the question, were you lying to the court through your attorney?”

Settelen: “No, at that particular time that is exactly what we would have done. I just want my tapes back, but they wouldn't -- I was not being aided in any way to get them back. I then had to make a decision as to do I just let it go and let other people do whatever they want with them, or do I try in some form to take back control of that material.”

What about the fact that Settelen sold the tapes to NBC News? He says he made the deal so he could pay his lawyer.

Curry: “People have said that the fact that you're releasing these tapes exploits Diana.”

Settelen: “I can't stop them saying it, I don't necessarily.”

Curry: “But do you think it exploits?”

Settelen: “No, I don't, not now.”

Curry: “Because she didn't expect these tapes to be released.”

Settelen: “She didn't know she was going to die. She didn't know that people were going to write what they have about her and twist the truth.”

Curry: “How much of the money that you've gained from selling these tapes will be for the legal costs of paying to fight for the release of these tapes?”

Settelen: “A substantial amount will go to that, some of it will go to look after a child that we adopted from Russia, and some of it will go to charities that I care about. And some of it will help me live, because over the last few years what they've done has affected my ability to earn a living.

So much about this captivating woman will always remain an untold story. Would she have remarried? How far might she have gone? What other causes would she have championed? What we do know is this: In the time she was here, when she didn't have to, Princess Diana chose to make a difference.

Jephson: “Historically, I'm sure she will be remembered as the unhappy victim of a broken Royal marriage. But it's even more important that we should remember her as a very strong and effective force for good.”

Curry: “What would she want?”

Jephson: “I think on a bad day, Diana would like to be remembered as a victim. But I think on a good day, and most of the days were good days, she'd want to be remembered as somebody who was strong, sympathetic, and made a difference.”

Settelen: “She was just beginning to be quite a dynamic force when she died. People change their lives by stories that they read or they hear about, well her story was this woman brought into a situation that disempowered her and made her feel inadequate as a human being in a very public way. And you can actually see her move from that to become a powerful woman, not a girl, but a woman, ready to take on most anybody.”

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

Diana, it turns out, still has so much to teach us, about how it is possible to find a way out of personal despair. In helping herself, Diana helped millions. And the voice she tried so hard to find will be heard for generations to come.