“Whatever you do, do not mention prostitutes!” That was my warning as television producer Alan Scales and I were on our way with our young crew to visit author Jeffrey Archer. It was November 1996 and he was my first interviewee for my first royal documentary.
Jeffrey Archer had been Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party under Margaret Thacher and in 1992 was made a life peer, taking the title Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare. He resigned his political position in 1986 after an article in the infamous News of the World claimed that Archer had paid a prostitute £2,000 through an intermediary to go abroad.
Following this, the Daily Star alleged that Archer had paid for sex with the prostitute. Archer sued for libel. When the case came to court in 1987, he won and was awarded £500,000 in damages.
Against this rather dramatic background, the late Princess Diana had turned to Archer for support at a difficult time in her life, when the press became particularly intrusive, showing pictures of her exercising in a private gym. In late 1993, a year after her separation from Prince Charles, Diana resolved to leave public life. She wanted to announce it via a speech at a charity function. She had met Lord Archer many times through charity engagements, she trusted him and now enlisted his help to steer her through this traumatic event.
To my amazement, in 1996 he agreed to be interviewed about this at his palatial London penthouse overlooking the Thames. He recalled the effect of Diana’s speech on the audience and said: “I mean this was pin‑dropping stuff because they haven't been expecting it. They've come to celebrate a charity function. They haven't been expecting a constitutional announcement and they burst into thunderous applause, and I could see her trembling".
He said to her: "Whatever course you take, be assured there are many charities and individuals all over the world who'll remain grateful for the dedicated service and care you have brought to everything you do.” He then led her out of the room with her audience still standing and cheering
After our interview, Lord Archer became more chatty and friendly. He told us that the Prime Minister (John Major) and his wife, Norma, had been there at a party the previous night. He pointed to the magnificent view over the Thames, which his guests had greatly admired. The walls of his apartment were adorned with world- class artworks that we also discussed: his collection included Lowry, Monet and Picasso.
I last saw Lord Archer the day after Diana died, when we were both invited to a television studio debate on her life and tragic death. We were too choked to say much when we spoke briefly at the end of the live programme.
Two years later, his life turned a sudden and sharp corner when a man who had supplied an alibi during the case against the Daily Star announced that Archer had lied.
In 2001, Archer was found guilty of perjury and perverting the course of justice at the 1987 trial. He was sentenced to four years' imprisonment at the Old Bailey but was released after two. He returned the libel payout plus heavy legal expenses. Later, he wrote about his prison experiences in a three-volume memoir and then returned to fiction writing.
Lord Archer and his loyal wife Mary still own the wonderful London apartment plus their country home in Cambridgeshire. Now they also have a fantastic newly-built six-bedroom villa in Majorca with stupendous views over the Mediterranean. At his ocean-side estate, appropriately named “Writers Block,” Archer is currently writing the second book in the five part Clifton Chronicles, Sins of the Father, following the first one, Only Time Will Tell, which reached number one in the book charts of both the UK and India.
Archer is philosophical about his fall from grace. He told ‘Hello’ magazine recently: “I’ve had experiences and met a thousand people I’d never have met had I not gone to prison. For an author, it might almost be described as a bonus.”
Now aged 71 and said to be worth £100 million from writing and investments, he has recently sold off part of his art collection for £5 million, and has stated that although his two sons will want for nothing, he will give away the bulk of his fortune.
I often wonder what Princess Diana would have made of the fall and rise of her old friend. She would probably take the view that he paid the price for his crimes and has since been more than rehabilitated in society. I’m just glad that at a time when she was ill served by others, he gave her his guidance to get her through some difficult moments. If only some who were closer to her had done the same.