From car boot sale to palace: Diana's long-lost record collection saved by the MoS – and returned to her delighted sons
22:29 GMT, 7 July 2012
A young Diana in pumps practising her ballet. She was a huge fan of pop music
This week the MoS gives William and Harry 19 of their mother’s lovingly signed albums we rescued from public auction. Here we chart their remarkable journey from car-boot sale to their rightful home – as Diana’s old schoolfriend recalls their music-obsessed teenage years.
OF all the members of the Royal Family, Princess Diana is the only one known for her love of pop music.
She often spoke of Canadian songwriter Bryan Adams as being her favourite singer and Duran Duran as her favourite group.
She was said to have danced in front of her mirror at Kensington Palace listening to their hit Girls On Film on her Sony Walkman.
The image of her at Live Aid in 1985 delightedly accepting a bunch of petrol station-bought flowers from organiser Bob Geldof is one of the most reproduced from the day.
Diana’s love of music and dance stemmed from her days at boarding school, when she would buy new releases to play to her school friends – and sign the covers to stop them being ghosted away to a different dormitory.
Yet her teenage record collection is more eclectic than might be guessed, and all the more intriguing as a result.
A remarkable cache of 19 vinyl LPs owned by Diana during her mid to late teens offer a fascinating insight into a period in which her adult personality was emerging and her future contained countless different possibilities.
Discovered at a car boot sale eight years ago and put up for auction, they are deeply personal treasures, which is why The Mail on Sunday decided to step in by buying them and returning them to their rightful place – with her sons, William and Harry.
And they have been well received. The Princes’ spokesman said: ‘They are very grateful to The Mail on Sunday for retrieving the records and returning them. They were a cherished part of their late mother’s possessions, music being a critical part of her enjoyment of life.’
One woman who can vouch for that is Lucy Coats, who shared a dormitory with the future princess at West Heath boarding school in Sevenoaks, Kent, and went on to be a guest at Diana’s wedding to Prince Charles in 1981.
‘Diana was always listening to music,’ says Lucy. ‘She was always dancing – she was brilliant at it. She had a lot of albums and she used to sign them all “Diana” so they wouldn’t be pinched. We had to label everything at West Heath.
‘Being teenagers, we had pop music on all the time. We loved the Eagles and Paul Simon and we played Annie’s Song by John Denver over and over again.
‘Some of the stuff we liked back then makes me feel a bit ill now – Mandy by Barry Manilow, Sailing by Rod Stewart and Terry Jacks’s Seasons In The Sun.’
Lucy adds: ‘Diana also enjoyed classical music, especially pieces she played on the piano and soundtracks to her beloved ballets. She just loved music and had quite wide- ranging tastes. When I hear the songs from that era I always think of her.’
Some of her choices are fairly middle-of-the-road: the reassuringly clean-cut John Denver and the Eagles. But there are surprises, too, not least Bob Dylan’s 1976 live album Hard Rain, which – like all Dylan’s work – is brimming with deep personal reflection, cinematic imagery and biblical references.
The collection suggests a very different side to the lightweight Diana of popular perception and hints that the teenager whose childhood was blighted by her parents’ acrimonious split was receptive to music that tackled the disappointments of love and relationships, as well as the usual teenage romantic dreams.
‘I don’t remember her playing Bob Dylan, but she had two elder sisters who would sometimes give her records,’ recalls Lucy, who is now a successful children’s author and has a new book, Bear’s Best Friend, out next March.
The musical breadth of the records is a reminder that while Diana was often painted as the polar opposite of Prince Charles – the fun-loving populist to his serious, classical music-appreciating intellectual – in fact, she was a far more thoughtful person than she is often given credit for.
From an early age, she was listening to Beethoven, Mozart and Mendelssohn, showing an enthusiasm to educate herself in the work of serious classical composers.
Signed, sealed, delivered: Some of the 19 records which were each signed by Princess Diana
Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years, left and right, John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High
The Eagles and Favourite Ballet, a double album. Diana's love of music started when she was at school and she would buy albums to play to her friends
Princess Diana's distinctive signature can be found on each of the albums
The story of the discovery of the LPs is an extraordinary one. The records were lying in a dusty box among hundreds of items being sold at a charity sale at Cholmondeley Castle in Cheshire in 2004, with nothing, not even a label, to highlight their remarkable history.
John Bingley was the lucky man to chance upon them, and bought them for the less than royal sum of 6. The female seller, who did not give her name, also did little to solve the mystery of how they came to be among the items being sold.
Mr Bingley, who now lives in Spain, says: ‘It was nearly going-home time when I picked up this dusty old box of records. I noticed they had the name Diana written on them, and obviously she had a very distinctive signature, which I recognised.
‘The lady selling them confirmed they had been the Princess of Wales’s and said they had been in the big house – meaning the castle – for many years. She said there had been arguments at school over who owned them, which was why Diana had signed them. I had most of the records in my collection already but I knew I had to buy them.’
After leaving them to gather dust in the same box for eight years, Mr Bingley decided to auction them last month. The Mail on Sunday bought all 19 and will present them to William and Harry. The records are particularly valuable because of what music meant to Diana. From childhood, she used music, as well as her beloved ballet and tap lessons, as an escape from her unhappy family background: her mother Frances had left the family home when Diana was just seven to marry Peter Shand Kydd.
Diana and her friend Lucy Coats in 1975, the pair loved listening to music together
Tracks of her teens: The box of Lps The Mail on Sunday is returning to William and Harry
When Diana attended West Heath, she took piano lessons, although she felt that at 14, she had begun too late.
Her teacher, Penny Walker, later recalled a girl whose low self-esteem prevented her from making the most of her talents. ‘She had a lovely singing voice, but we couldn’t get her to audition for the choir. She was just too scared, which was a real shame. It was a lack of confidence and shyness.’
But Diana had determination. She spent hours at the piano practising a difficult part of Dvorak’s Slavonik Dance In G Minor until she mastered it.
Her musical accomplishments were overshadowed by those of her sister Sarah, who could boast of music school lessons, and her grandmother, who had performed before nobility. Nevertheless, Diana became relatively proficient, and played throughout her life.
‘She greatly enjoyed playing, and with further instruction I think she could have been a good pianist,’ says her former bodyguard Ken Wharfe.
‘She loved to listen to others play. There was a member of her staff who was a very classical pianist, and three times a week Diana would invite her to play at Kensington Palace.’
It is unsurprising, then, that among Diana’s record collection are piano works by Liszt, along with several other classical works by Brahms, Elgar and Sibelius.
Princess Diana, pictured with her young sons Princes William and Harry, used to use her music as an escape from her unhappy childhood
In 2007, on the tenth anniversary of their mother's death, Princes William and Harry organised a Concert for Diana which featured her favourite band Duran Duran
Her love of dance is reflected in her choice of the music to the ballet La Fille Mal Gardee, along with a compilation of music from other popular ballets, including The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky.
An early love of opera can be seen, too, in the inclusion of Carmen. As an adult, she regularly attended the opera and developed a friendship with the late Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti and the New Zealand soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.
‘Both her mother and father were very interested in classical music and she was brought up to appreciate it,’ says Mr Wharfe.
‘She always had music on in her home at Kensington Palace and in the car when we were driving to Highgrove, and I remember her playing John Denver and the Eagles.
‘But many of her favourite records, the ones she’d listen to time after time throughout her life, were classical compositions such as the Requiems by Verdi and Faure. Music was extremely important to her.’
It is her love of pop, though, that captured the public imagination. It showed that she wasn’t stuffy or out of touch. It was a passion forged among the girls with whom she shared her life at school.
Lucy Coats recalls: ‘We would bring new albums to school with us after the holidays.
‘If we played them, everyone would have to listen because the building where we slept, which we called the cowshed, was one big room divided into cubicles by curtains. We were always swapping albums with one another and selling them.
Duran Duran were Princess Diana's favourite band and performed at the concert arranged by her sons William and Harry in 2007
‘I still have the first cassette I ever bought – a second-hand copy of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which Diana sold to me for about 50p, which she signed.’
Diana’s teenage choices of Paul Simon, the Eagles and John Denver are more downbeat and pensive than her New Romantic favourites of the Eighties, although Lucy remembers plenty of cheerful music, too. ‘We loved Boney M and Donna Summer disco songs we could dance around the dormitory to when we were supposed to be revising.’
It is, perhaps, Diana’s favourite album as a teenager that is the most poignant choice. She adored the Nino Rota soundtrack to Franco Zeffirelli’s steamy 1968 film Romeo And Juliet. This was extremely popular with young audiences at the time because its actors were close to the age Shakespeare intended the characters to be.
Its famous Love Theme, which was later used for the radio programme Our Tune, became the soundtrack to a generation of young girls’ teenage crushes.
‘Romeo And Juliet was one of the films we watched on film night, with a rickety screen and projector in the school hall,’ says Lucy. ‘I remember us all being very struck by it, and terribly wanting to be Olivia Hussey.’
Little did Diana know then that in a few short years’ time, her life would indeed change beyond recognition.