Princess Diana And Squidgygate Explained

In 1992, Princess Diana had some of her most intimate thoughts and feelings shared with the world through a tape recording of what she thought was a private phone call. In this intercepted conversation, she had spoken candidly with James Gilbey, a childhood friend and maybe her lover, on New Year's Eve 1989. Diana was spending the holiday, as the royals often did, at Sandringham, the family's massive estate in Norfolk, England (via News.Com.Au). Gilbey had called her using the cell phone in his car, according to the Independent. Several times during the conversation he called her by his affectionate nickname for her, "Squidgy." He also referred to her as "Squidge" or simply "darling."

This scandalous call put a spotlight on the poor state of Diana's marriage to Prince Charles and it suggested that she might be cheating on the heir to the British throne. This headline-grabbing story came on the heels of another steamy royal revelation. Sarah Ferguson — "Fergie," the Duchess of York — had been caught by photographers sunbathing topless, and those images made it into the newspapers.

Princess Diana and her admirer caught on tape

There are some mysteries surrounding how this personal and potentially embarrassing conversation got into the hands of the media. The original version of the story had their talk being caught on tape by a HAM radio enthusiast named Cyril Reenan (via News.Com.Au). This 70-year-old retiree had somehow made a very clear recording of this 23-minute-long chat using his own home ham radio equipment. Another person also claimed to have recorded the conversation. Later experts would question whether it was possible to get such a good recording this way. And some suggested that the call had been recorded directly from Diana's phone and rebroadcast for someone to discover (via the Washington Post).

Reenan saw the explosive value of his discovery, and he sought financial gain for it. He approached The Sun newspaper, owned by Rupert Murdoch, in January 1990 to sell the publication the tape for $10,000. The newspaper sat on the story for 18 months, according to PBS' Frontline program. Stuart Higgins, editor of The Sun at the time, said that Murdoch didn't believe "that we had 100% proved that it was genuine."

The press released Princess Diana's private conversation

While news organizations in Britain worried about upsetting the royal family, the American tabloid The National Enquirer got its hands on the tape and had no qualms about publishing a transcript of it in August 1992. Diana's conversation with a then-unknown male admirer became an international scandal, which was quickly nicknamed "Dianagate" and "Squidgygate" in the press. And once The Enquirer released the information, the British press soon followed suit. The Sun editor explained on the PBS show Frontline that "we just went for broke and published every word of the tape that we had."

The Sun even set up a hotline for readers to call to hear the conversation for themselves. According to Vanity Fair, roughly 60,000 people paid $150,000 to listen in on this private chat. They could try to figure out if it was really Princess Diana and see if they could figure out who she was talking to. The newspaper put together a list of clues from the conversation about Diana's mystery man, including his age and his zodiac sign. It was only later that it was revealed that she was talking to James Gilbey, a gin company heir and a salesman for Lotus, a high-end sports car manufacturer.

A glimpse inside Princess Diana's private life

Living under the intense microscope of being a member of the British royal family, Princess Diana had little opportunity to be candid with her thoughts. Her talk with Gilbey (above) showed her uncensored thoughts, and they seemed to cover a broad range of topics, from fashion to family. They chatted about his Gucci loafers and her children with Prince Charles. She revealed how low she was feeling at Sandringham, saying that "I felt sad and empty" and that she "nearly started blubbing" while having lunch with the rest of the royal family (via Vanity Fair). Diana thought the royals were ungrateful "after all I've done for this ... family." Diana also mentioned that the Queen Mother gave her odd looks.

Perhaps it's the apparent connection between Princess Diana and Gilbey that proves the most shocking in this taped conversation. He asked her for kisses, and the pair seemed to be planning a rendezvous. Gilbey talked about "holding you close to me" and meeting up in "48 hours" (via News.Com.Au). He promised that "It's going to be such bliss, back in London." He told her that he loved her, and she seemed to hold him in high regard as well, saying "You are the nicest person in the whole wide world." The pair seemed to have a deep affection for each other, which, for Diana, sharply conflicted with the public role of princess and mother she was supposed to play.

Surprising royal response to Squidgygate

By having her private life exposed in the headlines, Princess Diana shook up the royal family. Part of being a British royal usually meant keeping their personal matters private. The Squidgygate scandal, with all its gory details on the marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles, had to have been very upsetting to Queen Elizabeth II. Not that the stoic monarch would ever express her discontent publicly. In fact, the initial royal response to this situation seemed a bit underwhelming. A spokesperson simply said, "On the evidence so far, there is no reason to take these tapes seriously" (via the Independent).

The lack of legal response also seemed to be telling about how the royals felt about Princess Diana. She was arguably the most popular member of the royal family, but no one inside the palace stepped forward to prevent this leak of information or try to protect her once the news broke. Simon Jenkins, The Times editor at the time, told Frontline that the royal family had been "lily-livered about it. ... Those tapes were completely tasteless. They were totally intrusive. They should never have been published."

Princess Diana and Prince Charles split up

Only a few months after the Squidgygate scandal, Princess Diana and Prince Charles reached a decision about their marriage. After years of rumored infidelities and living different lives, the once-heralded couple called it quits. British Prime Minister John Major made the announcement that the couple would be separating on December 9, 1992 (via History). Major broke the news during an appearance in the House of Commons, explaining that "this decision has been reached amicably and they will both continue to participate fully in the upbringing of their children" (via The New York Times).

In January 1993, Prince Charles's scandalous behavior made similar headlines of his own. The contents of a tape of him talking to his mistress Camilla Parker Bowles in 1989 was leaked in the press (via the Mirror). The future king of England was heard saying some naughty things to Parker Bowles while he was still married to Princess Diana. Reportedly Princess Diana found the whole six-minute exchange "sick." The press nicknamed the whole sordid situation "Camillagate." Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially divorced in 1996.