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Sunday 16 December 2007

A week that would do panto season proud

The Diana inquest has thrown up a compelling cast of characters, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

LAST week's high spots at the Diana-and-Dodi inquest were provided by the Wicked Stepmother, the Establishment Grandee, the Best Friend, the Spurned Fiancee, and letters from Prince Philip to Di and Di to Dodi.

My favourite was Barbara Cartland's thrice-married daughter, who was born plain Raine McCorquodale but has been known variously as The Honourable Mrs Gerald Legge, Viscountess Lewisham, The Countess of Dartmouth, The Countess Spencer, The Dowager Countess Spencer, Countess Jean-Francois de Chambrun and (currently) Raine de Chambrun. When she married Diana's father, her stepchildren so hated her they called her Acid Raine.

Raine told how in the mid-1990s she had become pally with Diana, had introduced her to "sweet" Mohamed Fayed and believed Di was madly in love with "modest, charming" Dodi and that they would marry. She is not for nothing the daughter of the most successful romantic novelist ever: peeking out from beneath the black veil on her pillbox hat, she responded to a difficult question about Diana's love life with the line "The ways of the heart are impossible to fathom, aren't they, even with our closest friends?"

I would not suggest for a moment that Raine's evidence might be in any way influenced by having been for the last decade on the board of Fayed's Harrods International Ltd, although it brought to mind what might be called the official Harrods version of the pair. For those with strong stomachs, a bronze sculpture called Innocent Victims which features the couple dancing under an albatross is prominently displayed in Fayed's emporium.

Still, not all Raine's evidence was of help to her mentor. She thought Diana too respectable to become pregnant out of wedlock and believed her to be on good terms with the queen and Prince Philip. However, her exit lines were on-message, as she begged the court "to do your utmost to solve this mystery, to tear aside anything that could be a cover-up and to sift everything possible and everything indeed impossible in order to allow poor Diana and poor Dodi to at last truly rest in peace."

There wasn't much peace for the Establishment Grandee, Churchill's grandson, Nicholas aka 'Fatty' Soames, who has been a friend of Prince Charles for 50 years. He was being fingered as central to the plot to get rid of Diana because (a) he was once Minister of State at the Department of Defence and (b) he had referred publicly to her "there were three people in our marriage" interview as "toe-curling" and "dreadful" and had said that her allegations of being spied on and under threat by her husband's camp showed "the advanced stages of paranoia." Soames grovelled a bit for having used a medical term he had not fully understood, but became cross when Michael Mansfield tried to imply he was part of some grand conspiracy to stop Diana campaigning against landmines and spluttered when told one of Diana's soothsaying consultants claimed he had said in a menacing phone-call: "Don't meddle in things that you know nothing about because you know accidents can happen."

Mansfield scored zero in his contest with Brigadier Sir Miles Hunt-Davis, who produced letters between Philip and Diana that showed understanding and affection, and imperturbably dismissed impertinent questions. Still, he managed later to reduce two women to tears.

Rosa Monckton (chairman of Asprey's and wife of Dominic Lawson, once editor of the 'Sunday Telegraph'), the Best Friend, gave the biological reason why Diana could not have been pregnant, said she had been madly in love with the cardiologist Dr Hasnat Khan, had been broken-hearted when he broke off their long affair in July, had been warned not to get involved with the Fayeds because of Mohamed's dodgy reputation but had decided on a fling with Dodi for comfort and to get back publicly at Khan.

She was metaphorically beaten about the head with two Diana letters in which she called him "Darling Dodi", thanked him "for bringing such joy into this chick's life" and sent him "all the love in the world". Monckton's reasonable answer that "She tended to, you know, speak and write in an extravagant way" caused Mansfield to up the level of aggro until Monckton broke down.

So too did the Spurned Fiancee, Kelly Fisher, accused of lying about her engagement to Dodi, although he had given her an enormous engagement ring, had persuaded her to give up her lucrative modelling career to be with him and they had discussed with others marrying in August 1997. But when Diana came on the scene in July, Fisher was dropped by Dodi and sworn at and threatened by his father. Inter alia she told us Dodi was dominated by his father and himself was a servant-bullier: Henri Paul, she said, would not have driven fast had Dodi not ordered him to do so.

Only the Soothsayer can top this. Bring her on.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards