Murdoch's World Ends -- Princess Di's Revenge from Beyond the Grave

Diana was always suspicious of the media and joked of having her phone tapped -- if only she'd known how right she was.

When Diana, Princess of Wales talked on the telephone, midway through a conversation she would often say: ‘Hell boys, time to change the tape.’ It was a running joke about her suspicion that her phones were routinely tapped by British security forces or Buckingham Palace.

While her fears were laughingly dismissed by the 'Establishment', even she would have been stunned by the extent of phone tapping at Britain’s biggest selling Sunday newspaper, News of the World.

For the last six years there has been a steady drip-drip of revelations about celebrities, politicians and other public figures whose telephones were tapped by private investigators working for executives at the newspaper.

That drip-drip turned into a flood this week after truly ‘dreadful’ disclosures -- to quote Prime Minister David Cameron -- that the newspaper’s operatives were tapping the telephones of the grieving families of murder victims, of the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq and other high profile criminal cases. Newspaper executives were also paying huge sums to police officers for information.

In a nation largely immune to tabloid excess, these revelations were so sickening that the 168-year old Sunday tabloid literally died of shame, owner Rupert Murdoch pulling the plug on the controversial newspaper. This Sunday’s edition will be a collectors’ item for all the wrong reasons - it will be the final edition.

As the media world absorbs this cataclysmic event it is truly ironic that the late Diana, Princess of Wales who lived and died in the flashlights of paparazzi gained her revenge on the tabloids from beyond the grave.

Let’s remind ourselves how it all began.

During the spring and summer of 2005 it seemed that nothing Princes William or Harry said or did, from Harry’s visit to a lap-dancing club with fellow army officers to William’s birthday gift for his father, remained private. It seemed there were spies in their social circle. It was unnerving and deeply irritating. They simply could not trust a soul.

For a young man who liked to be in control of his life, William felt beleaguered. It was through his mother’s experience during the 1990s which finally unlocked the riddle.

In November 2005 William met a friend, ITV political correspondent Tom Bradby, who later interviewed William and Catherine on their engagement day, at Clarence House.

A previously scheduled meeting, to discuss William’s borrowing equipment to edit videos from his gap year and student days had been canceled at short notice. Curiously however a sarcastic diary item in the previous Sunday’s News of the World by veteran royal correspondent Clive Goodman had confidently stated that William had already borrowed the equipment. Only three people - Bradby, William and his private secretary, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton had known about the meeting.

Moreover the week before Goodman had revealed how William was undergoing physiotherapy for a knee injury he had sustained during a kickabout with youngsters at a football ground, as a result of which he had had to pull out of a mountain rescue course. Again, fewer than a handful of trusted people had known that William was seeing a knee surgeon.

When they met at his office, William made it clear that he did not suspect Bradby, a sometime thriller writer, of any leaks. Instead as they reflected upon the uncannily accurate stories, Bradby remembered a conversation some years previously with the paparazzo who had taken a telling picture of Diana getting out of a car owned by the Daily Mail’s royal correspondent, Richard Kay. Since Kay had effectively been her mouthpiecefor several years, the picture now confirmed these rumours.

William listened intently as Bradby told a story that might have come from one of his thrillers. Knowing that most mornings Diana sent a voicemail or text to Kay’s mobile phone, photographers would hack into his phone before he opened his messages. The technique was simple; after ensuring that Kay’s mobile was switched off, they waited for the recording asking the caller to leave a message, then punched in the code programmed as a security number - 4444 say, or a similar repetition of a digit - which gave them instant access to messages.

William and his private secretary were thunderstruck. ‘If this is potentially is happening to us, then who on earth could this be happening to?’ asked Lowther Pinkerton. He called in the head of the Royalty Protection branch who passed the inquiry on to Scotland Yard’s counter terrorism command. Their six month inquiry resulted in the subsequent arrest and jailing of the newspaper’s royal correspondent, Clive Goodman and private detective Glen Mulcaire.

After this week’s bombshell revelations other journalists on the newspaper are facing arrest and trial.

Amidst the fall out from the biggest scandal in British newspaper history it is worth recalling the first ever major phone tapping scandal - once again involving Princess Diana.

Shortly after the publication of my book, Diana: Her True Story in June 1992, a tape recording of her late night conversation with a male admirer, James Gilbey was published in The Sun newspaper, sister paper to the NoW.

Known as the Squidgygate tapes - because James affectionately called Diana Squidgy throughout the conversation - they were followed by the so called Camillagate tapes where Prince Charles and his then lover, Camilla Parker Bowles were eavesdropped on in another late night conversation, where he infamously expressed his desire to be a tampon inside her. Several months later a mobile call between Prince Andrew and his disaffected wife, Sarah Ferguson, then Duchess of York became public.

In the wake of the current shocking disclosures it will be worth revisiting the origin of how these conversations REALLY made their way into the newspapers and thence to the public.

It might be the end of the world for the News of the World but it is just the start of an inquiry which would, if Diana were alive today, have given her much comfort. A woman dismissed as ‘deranged and paranoid’ would finally have been vindicated.

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As one of the world’s best-known biographers and a leading authority on modern celebrity, Morton has been called "the king of celebrity biographers." He became an overnight sensation with the publication of his groundbreaking 1992 biography revealing the secret world of the late Diana, Princess…

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