Princess Diana
Diana, Princess of Wales, during her visit to formally open The Richard Attenborough Centre for Disability and Arts in 1997Reuters

Like millions of others, I remember exactly when I heard of the death of Princess Diana. On the last day of August 1997, my mum, husband, little daughter and I got into a cab at Heathrow airport after a fabulous holiday in Canada. You don’t get much British news in North America, so I breezily asked the Asian driver what had been happening. He, a man in his fifties, put his head on the steering wheel and started sobbing loudly. Then, in Hindi, said: ‘She’s gone, she’s gone. Allah has taken the princess. Cursed they are who gave her pain’.

Bit by bit, we realised he meant Princess Diana. Then my mother broke down and that set me off. We wept for days afterwards. Our mosque prayed for her.

The whole nation, the whole world was stunned. Diana was overprivileged yet she was one of us, an everywoman. She had everything and nothing. Had she never married Prince Charles, she would have been alive today. I, a staunch republican, felt as sad and sorry as loyal royalists.

Black, white, brown, Britons and visitors flocked to Kensington Palace. Never before had this country witnessed such collective, spontaneous mourning. I saw sign after sign expressing grief and anger at the way she had been treated by her adulterous husband, the frosty royals and her own aristocratic brother and sisters. She never had a chance. The flowers which filled the park and scented the skies were seditious.

Ten months before her death, she wrote a letter in which she claimed that she had been warned she would be killed in a car crash. Then she died in a car crash. Are we just supposed to go along with official insistence that this was a coincidence? We, the people, will never get to know the whole truth of what happened. That would rock, maybe crack the secretive state we live in. Those who express such doubts become pariahs or are dismissed as crazy conspiracy theorists. Fanatical conspiracy deniers are, perhaps, even crazier than those of us who still suspect the official accounts of Diana’s life and death.

Twenty years have passed. Twenty years during which the Royal family and their acolytes have ‘managed’ the memory of the beautiful, damaged, fragile young woman. They have killed off the Diana so many of us loved and admired. And rewritten the script so now Charles and Camilla are stars in a marvellous romance – the inseparable two joined by enduring love.

Diana has been turned into the needy nutter who drained her husband and disrupted the old order. Friends of mine, smart intellectuals among them, have become Camilla groupies while the Queen, Phillip, William, Kate and Harry are more popular than ever before.

At one event a few years back, I was invited to meet the Duchess of Cornwall. I politely declined. At the time I was talking to Helen Bamber, a truly remarkable defender of torture victims. She advised me to be less contrary: ‘This is not the time or place’. But I, a feminist, simply could not offer respect to any woman who had so cruelly hurt another female.

Princes Diana and Prince William
Princess Diana holds her two sons Prince William, 6, and Prince Harry, 3, (front) as they pose during the mornings’s picture session on August 9, 1987 in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.Reuters

This week, transcripts of hitherto unheard tapes were released. Diana describes unhappiness, her dashed dreams, her debilitating bulimia and self-harm. She recorded them for Andrew Morton whose first explosive book, The True Story was published way back in 1992. The material appears in his newly updated book.

Remember she was only an innocent teenager when this marriage was arranged. Camilla was at the wedding, wearing grey. Weeks after the fairy tale nuptials, Diana was self-harming. By the time she was four months pregnant with William, Charles was back with his mistress. She threw herself down the stairs when she was four months pregnant, to get his attention, to get him to love her. As she loved him. William was induced and the time and day set had to fit in with Charles’s polo schedule.

He thought his wife was a damned nuisance and insisted on her going on official engagements even when she was clearly ill. His father and mother sided with ‘poor’ Charles. When he was three, William shouted at his mum: ‘You are the most selfish woman I have ever met’. He’d heard his dad saying that. And still, the wounded Princess was able to impress the high and mighty and extend comfort to the sick and dispossessed. That also made Charles jealous. Diana was no angel – she fell for too many dubious men, manipulated the press and was capricious. But all that came after she was used and betrayed by the Royals.

Princes William and Harry should now defy protocol and palace propagandists and use the anniversary to restore and honour the memory of their ill-used mother, the people’s Princess. Will they? Or have they too become entrenched defenders of the murky Firm?

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a journalist, columnist, broadcaster and author. Follow @y_alibhai