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Every time the bell went off as we approached a bus stop, Prince Harry shouted out, ‘Bud bud ding ding!’
Diana apologised profusely to the driver, an Indian gentleman sporting a red turban, but was oblivious to Harry’s tomfoolery.
We were on route to Smollensky’s restaurant on The Strand and I agreed we could take the bus. Prince Harry in particular loved the idea.
With Harry, however, nothing was straightforward. Harry couldn’t resist tilting his head and saying loud and fast and with a slight accent, ‘Bud bud ding ding!’ within earshot of the other passengers and the driver.
Eventually I decided it was best if we got off as we were drawing attention to ourselves.
So one day Diana was furious and immediately chastised her impish son, who I am sure was only meaning to be funny, not racist. But her admonishment had no impact — in fact it just encouraged him.
William, who could also be a little sly, revelled in Diana giving Harry a ticking off for being rude.
But Harry didn’t care one bit. (I still have a little note he wrote to me, thanking me for organising his adventure on the buses.
Harry signed off with his name, followed by ‘Bud bud ding ding!’ He was incorrigible, but likeable all the same.)
Our fun and games on a red London Routemaster were all part of Diana’s desire for her and her boys to be as normal as possible. She would take them on the Underground and in London taxis too.
As her personal protection officer I did my best to facilitate her wishes, and most of the time we got away with it. If we were recognised in the days before video recording on mobile phones the general public were usually polite.
Most of the time we had gone before they took a double take and realised they were in the company of the world’s most famous woman and her sons.
Diana didn’t blame anyone for the restrictions being a member of the royal family placed on her.
But she did crave her privacy and longed “to be normal” and to do the things so-called ordinary people took for granted. I often said that with planning, anything was possible.
The bus journey typified Diana’s hankering for being “normal”. We would often zip about London in a black cab too. We once spotted a retired Special Escort Group police officer turned cabbie when we were in traffic and he said any time she or the boys wanted to take a trip to just call him.
On a few occasions we did. People would spot her and wave but there was nowhere safer as we could use all the bus lanes and move ahead of the traffic. Harry was desperate to pay and Diana told him not to forget the 50p tip.
We used the London Underground too, but less often, as it presented more security difficulties. We did manage to achieve it a few times. She always saw these moments as major victories.
In fact the princess, in my time with her, enjoyed reasonable freedom. She regarded Kensington Gardens outside the royal security perimeter of Kensington Palace as her “backyard”. When it snowed, her boys would sneak out with a personal protection officer in tow and go tobogganing with other local children — and nobody batted an eye.
The princess went through a phrase of jogging around the lake in Kensington Gardens. In those days, in the late 1980s, nobody bothered us as she stretched her legs around the lake, with me puffing away behind her.
Another favorite haunt of hers was what is now called “Diana’s” — a café in Notting Hill. Now the walls are covered with photos of the late princess and signed letters from the princess thanking them for their service.
After dropping her two sons off at Wetherby pre-prep school we would drop in to the café before walking back to Kensington Palace. Surprisingly, nobody bothered us as we drank our coffee and it became a regular haunt.
Of course she also frequented some of London’s finest restaurants and I would accompany her. Her favorite was perhaps San Lorenzo in Beauchamp Place. Another was Le Caprice in Arlington Street.
With the paparazzi outside she would spend a convivial couple of hours with her girlfriends. The owner, the late Mara Berni, became a firm friend.
I would sit at the bar tucking into a wonderful pasta dish as the princess sat at her favorite table. Sometimes I would join her, as she didn’t like sitting unaccompanied.
I remember it was there that in pre-mobile phone days I received a message from Prince William’s personal protection officer saying he had been rushed to hospital after being struck on the head with a golf club. She was calm, made her excuses, left the lunch and headed straight to the hospital with me.
William, then eight years old, was left with a “Harry Potter scar” that glows sometimes, after being struck on the head with a seven iron by a friend of his at school, cracking his skull.
Prince Charles decided to continue with his engagements that day, which prompted screaming headlines from the tabloids saying he was a poor father.
I remember at one of those San Lorenzo lunches in 1989, this time with just two of us, she spoke out against Prince Charles and the royal family. For her after that there was no going back.
The Princess told me: “I can’t help thinking of them [Charles and his staff] as the enemy. I know that’s how they think of me — they call me ‘that mad woman who just keeps causing trouble’.”
I remember on another occasion the restaurateur Jeremy King, then owner of Le Caprice, chasing a collection of paps down the road because he had got so fed up with them hanging around outside.
We would often pop into Diana’s favorite shops, including Harrods. Whenever we went I would notify their security and we would always enter through Door 11. There the owner, Mr Fayed, would make a point of greeting her personally.
She could be quite mischievous and on occasion asked me not to let them know she was coming. But it would only be a matter of minutes before she was picked up on the security cameras and an ebullient Mr Fayed would arrive.
Another shop she liked was the gentleman’s tailor Turnbull & Asser in Jermyn Street. She would buy shirts and ties for her staff and beaus. She loved to shower her men friends with gifts, and it all went on the Prince of Wales’s account.
She was a frequent visitor, too, to Kensington High Street – often popping into Marks & Spencer for William’s favorite of roast chicken and rice. Another favorite was Rolling Stone Bill Wyman’s eatery Sticky Fingers, with all its rock memorabilia. William loved it there.
What was great in those days when Diana was still guarded by the department I served, SO14, Scotland Yard’s elite Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Unit, was that she was safe to roam London safely and freely.
She would often visit the homeless at night with just me in tow. Sometimes she would take her young sons. She never worried about her safety and felt it was important that the homeless knew she really cared.
It seems odd to say now, given the appalling circumstances of her death, but Diana loved the anonymity London gave her.
She could, with me at her side, disappear amongst the throng and largely be left alone.
Our times in the capital came back to me on that terribly sad day in September 1997 as millions took to the streets to pay their respects, lining the route along which the princess’s coffin would be borne, on a gun carriage, from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey.
After 36 years her Camelot was in ruins and the magic, I was sure, would never return.
As people again return to Kensington Palace now to lay their floral tributes, I don’t look on with sadness.
I can, after all, still hear Diana’s infectious laughter. As we travelled around her secret London, sometimes with her wearing a headscarf as a disguise, it was always with a sense of fun and a zest for life.
Ken Wharfe was Princess Diana’s Scotland Yard Personal Protection Officer from 1986-1993. His first memoir, Diana: Closely Guarded Secret, was a New York Times best-seller.
- His second, Guarding Diana, is published by John Blake priced £18.99. He was talking to his co-author Robert Jobson.
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