'Hugs can do a great amount of good – especially for children.'
'THIS IS THE THIRTY-SECOND WARNING.' Giving Diana's police T security code I spoke quietly and without inflexion into the radio, then returned it to the side of my seat in the Jaguar. We never signalled the arrival of the principal any earlier, as to have done so would have been poor security. Radio calls are easily monitored.
'Oh Ken, anyone would think the world was about to end.' The woman in the back of the car always found our procedure amusing. 'For goodness' sake, it's only little old me coming home,' she added with a girlish tickle in her voice.
Seconds later the dark green Jaguar XJ6 approached the police security barrier and, after being waved through by the constable on duty, swept into Kensington Palace. In the back of the car sat the most famous woman in the world, Diana, Princess of Wales. I always sat in the front, next to her trusted chauffeur – and my friend – Simon Solari. We were the only people in the car.
Only half an hour earlier, the Princess and I had stepped from Concorde at Heathrow after a flight from Dulles International airport, Washington, DC. Exhilarated, she had hardly been able to sit still in her designated seat, and had talked non-stop about her charity mission to America, during which she had made a friend of the First Lady, Barbara Bush. Indeed, the President himself had delayed a meeting to chat with Diana, and his decision to join them had impressed her. On that trip we had travelled under the names Mr and Mrs Hargreaves, although none of Concorde's crew had been remotely fooled. At the time she was already beginning to revel in her success as a royal personage – in fact, an international celebrity – in her own right.
Now we were back at Numbers 8 and 9 Kensington Palace, her official London residence. The Prince of Wales, her husband, was not waiting for her inside.
'Home sweet home,' Diana sighed, with more than a hint of irony, although without bitterness.
It was just after 10.35 pm on a dark autumn night in 1991, and I had been doing this job for nearly three years. The Princess, however, had been doing hers for nearly ten.
There are not many days when I do not think of Diana, Princess of Wales. Her illuminating smile, her sheer presence, and above all her yearning to live life to the full, have never left me. I am sure I am not the only person to be haunted in this way, although, with each year that passes since her death, fashionable opinion seems increasingly to insist that our memory of the once vivid woman has become not only more distant, but more uncertain. There is no shortage of commentators who want us to believe that the Diana legend is fading, or even that the substance behind that legend was of little worth.
The Diana I knew was full of fun, almost always in search of laughter, not wallowing in self-pity and tears as she is now so often portrayed. There were, of course, dark clouds in her life, but they would soon pass to allow her nature to shine brightly once again. Yet since her death on 31 August 1997 history has all too often presented a very different – not to say distorted – image of this extraordinary woman. Worse, since 1997, a PR offensive has been waged in some quarters against a dead woman's memory. Her name has been dragged through the mud, her principles derided, her motives corrupted, and even her sanity questioned. It has been, in my view at least, a vicious and one-sided war, and as in any war, the truth has been the first casualty.
For nearly five years, from 1988 to 1993,1 shadowed the late Princess in my capacity as her Scotland Yard personal protection officer (PPO, or, in layman's terms, her police bodyguard), during the most traumatic period of her life. For most of that time she was a joy to work with. As her senior protection officer it fell to me to deal with her more sensitive private engagements and public appearances, and my relationship with her was, by the very nature of the job, an extremely close one. Due to the unique position in which I found myself, however, it was inevitable that my duties could not always be clearly defined. Naturally she and I freely discussed all matters affecting her security, but we also talked openly about her life, including the most intimate aspects of it. Consequently, during my time with her, I was not only her police officer but also a trusted aide and confidant.
While this may seem a conceited view, it has its roots in the nature of my profession: if I had not liked and trusted her, I could not have done my job efficiently, while she would hardly have tolerated a protection officer whom she did not trust. There was an open-door policy between us; my independence, given that I worked not directly for her but for Scotland Yard, meant I could and would always speak freely and truthfully, unlike the army of courtiers employed by her husband, the Prince of Wales, and by the Queen. The uniqueness of my role gave me, I believe, an unrivalled appreciation of the true Diana, the woman behind the public mask.
I am the first officer from Scotland Yard's elite Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Department to publish an insider's account of service with that department. This may seem an empty claim, but I believe it is a unique story because it was shared with Diana. Most of our experiences were known only to the two of us. I would never have put pen to paper had the Princess been alive today. Since her death, however, I have become increasingly concerned at the way she has been portrayed by the media, by journalists and writers, even those who claim to have known her well. I have come to feel that unless I tell of my years with her as I saw them through my policeman's eyes, then people now and in the future will receive a corrupt impression of her.
My intention in writing this book is simple – to set the record straight about the woman who herself once claimed that I knew her better than anyone, and in doing so, to tell the simple truth about one of the most remarkable, complex and alluring public figures of the latter part of the twentieth century. When I joined the Metropolitan Police service as a special cadet in 1964 at the tender age of sixteen, I never dreamed that I would one day shadow one of the world's most famous women. A chance meeting with an old friend sent me on a journey that changed my life for ever.
At the age of thirty-four I was already a police inspector, more or less assured of a rapid rise through the hierarchy at Scotland Yard. One evening in the summer of 1986 I arranged to have a quiet drink with Jim Beaton, a clever and experienced officer, who had been honoured with the George Cross for saving Princess Anne, and who had been a chief inspector at Kensington police station when I was a 'skipper' (sergeant) there in the late 1960s. I had always trusted him as a colleague, and, I suppose, regarded him as my mentor. He had had a varied and successful career since our days at Kensington together, and had been promoted to the rank of superintendent. He was also the Queen's personal protection officer. As we sipped glasses of his favoured single-malt whisky, Jim came to the point. In confidence, he told me that his department, Royalty Protection, was looking for a police inspector to take charge of guarding the Queen's grandchildren, Princes William and Harry, the sons of the Prince and Princess of Wales, and thus heirs to the throne after Prince Charles.
'It's time for a change, Ken. You go for it – you have nothing to lose,' he urged, before adding, 'I'll put a word in for you.'
Next morning, with Jim's endorsement ringing in my ears (and a head that was slightly the worse for wear after the night before), I applied for the job, and a few months later, in November 1986, was appointed to the department.
Until then I had enjoyed a full and varied police career; I had walked the beat, served undercover in both the Vice and Drug Squads as a long-haired, bearded detective, and had even guarded a serial killer. Surely looking after two small children, even if they did have royal blood running through their veins, could not be that difficult? Thinking about it, I found that I was not worried by the prospect of protecting members of the British royal family; after all, it was just a job.
Even so, and although I had had a few brushes with the famous and the infamous during my career, I had the sense to recognise that royalty promised to be very different. Being a police officer in London from the late 1960s to the late 1980s was never dull. As a naive probationer I had been sent to investigate a disturbance in the West End after answering a flashing blue-light signal in the heart of Piccadilly Circus (in those days, the streets were still dotted with black 'police boxes', to which every officer had a key, and in which there was a telephone; when an officer was needed to attend a scene a blue light flashed on top of the box nearest the incident). On the other end of the phone was a crusty sergeant of early 1950s vintage, who sent me in search of what he described as 'an awful noise'. It turned out to be a wonderful, indeed, historic, commotion; The Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr – the greatest pop group of their day, were jamming their hearts out on the roof of the Apple headquarters at 3, Savile Row in London's Mayfair. Well, I had been asked to look into the disturbance, so I made my way through the building to the roof where, courtesy of my job, I had a front-row seat among a few of the group's colleagues and a handful of invited guests. When I approached drummer Ringo Starr, who was the nearest member of the band to me, and asked what was going on, he smiled, handed me a beer – which I handed back – and said in his thick Liverpool accent, 'Are you all right, mate? Don't look so worried.'
He then gestured with a drumstick for one of the fixers once again to offer me a drink while he got on with the job in hand of playing the beat for 'Get Back!', which eventually reached such a deafening crescendo that it stopped the traffic in the busy street below us. Obviously, I could not accept the drink as I was on duty, but the music was intoxicating enough. The song finished to rousing applause from the fortunate people present. By now I had been joined on the roof by about six or so other police officers; like me, none of them asked The Beatles to desist.
'Are we free to go now, officer? I promise I'll come quietly,' John Lennon said with a wry smile and a wink as he returned to the studio below.
Perhaps my most famous 'scalp' – if that is the right word – was that of the British serial killer Dennis Nilsen in February 1983. His was a story that genuinely shocked people and it remained headline news in Britain (where, thankfully, serial killers were and are a rarity) for weeks. He was clinical to the point of coldness in everything he did, and especially in the killing, dismemberment and disposal of the young homosexuals he invited back to his flat in North London. As is the case in so many crimes, his undoing came by chance. The police were called in after a workman clearing a blockage in his drains made the grisly discovery that the obstruction was caused by human remains. At the time I was an Inspector at Hornsey Police Station, and one of my duties was to be responsible for Nilsen's security while our investigations continued ahead of his court appearance. My recollection was that the notorious serial killer, later dubbed the 'Muswell Hill Murderer' in the popular press, was an iceman. He appeared totally unmoved by the horrific nature of his crimes and entirely fatalistic about what was happening to him. This was a man who had enticed at least twelve young men to his home, and then strangled and sometimes also drowned them. After killing them he would bathe and dress his victims' bodies, which he would keep for extended periods of time. Finally, he would dissect and dispose of the remains either by burning them on a bonfire or flushing them down a lavatory.
When arrested, Nilsen, handcuffed for the journey from his home to Hornsey Police Station, was silent but unperturbed. After a few minutes he suggested to the arresting officers that they should return to the scene of the crime, his suburban semi-detached house. They did so and went into the kitchen, where there was a large pot standing on the stove. To the horror of the officers when they lifted the pot's lid, inside was a partly boiled head, half skull, half cooked flesh.
Owing to the similarity of their modus operandi Nilsen was later described by the British media as the 'British Jeffrey Dahmer'. Convicted of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder at the Old Bailey, he was sentenced to life imprisonment on 4 November 1983, with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of twenty-five years. He is currently incarcerated at HMP Full Sutton maximum-security prison locked behind bars; locked, too, inside his own macabre world.
Neither of these two incidents could be said to have particularly prepared me for the new service I was about to join, however. If I had to try to pinpoint a reason why I joined the roller-coaster business of guarding the British royal family, it would be that, by the early 1980s, I had become thoroughly disillusioned with what was happening on the front line in the Metropolitan Police Service. Having left the Complaints Investigation Bureau, the department that investigates internal police corruption, I was posted to North London in 1982 as a newly promoted inspector. Then, after just a couple of weeks at Hornsey police station, I was asked to write the divisional action plans for the district, spelling out how we could tackle the key areas of crime. Surprised, and, I must admit, a little flattered, I believed that here was my chance to make a real difference. Frustration soon set in, however, when it became clear that despite being praised for my work, my recommendations were not acted upon. Within two years I joined the District Support Unit, a new 'people-friendly' term for the controversial task force, originally known as the SPG (Special Patrol Group), and which later became the Territorial Support Group. I made a number of influential friends, some of them senior officers, and in 1983 I was recommended for promotion to chief inspector, seemingly destined, at least in terms of rank, for higher and greater achievement with the service. My promotion was blocked, however, and after a while I began to get the feeling that someone higher up the so-called 'police food chain' did not like my face. Or me.
A few days after I was passed over for promotion, the area I was policing was mobilised to deal with the Broadwater Farm riots, a series of violent and bloody disturbances that brought turmoil to race relations in Britain and changed the face of front-line policing for ever. Broadwater Farm was a run-down housing estate in Tottenham, North London, which was also a hotbed of crime, drugs and violence. The majority of its inhabitants were black working-class people; most were law-abiding, but the estate had virtually become a 'no-go' zone, dominated by gangs and drug dealers. In 1985, when the police raided the estate in an attempt to reinstate order, violence erupted among the lawless factions there, and the officers withdrew. Senior officers then decided that we had to go in behind helmets and riot shields to restore order. During the ensuing battles one of the men on my relief, Police Constable Keith Blakelock, an honest and distinguished officer, was brutally murdered and his body mutilated after he was cut off from other officers by a mob. I was sickened, and grieved both for him and his family. Matters grew worse in the days that followed, and were made worse still by the widespread, lurid and often exaggerated reporting of the media. Infuriated by the way the service pandered to the self-styled 'community leaders' who, in the wake of the murder, continued to peddle anti-police propaganda, I resolved to leave the service. What was the point of good, decent human beings putting their lives on the line for others if nothing was going to change? I felt that Keith had died for nothing. If he was not to be defended after death then I did not want to serve any more. The community leaders used Keith's death as a political platform; his presence on the estate and the fact that he was a police officer as a political football. It was as though it had been his fault that he had been brutally murdered just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and just for doing his job.
A few days after his death, exhausted and emotionally strung out after the frenzied atmosphere of the riots, I resolved there and then to hang up my blue inspector's uniform, placing it in my police locker. I have not worn it since; not even on the day I was formally invested with an honour by the Queen.