Peeling back the truth and lies behind people’s princess Diana
- Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images
Playwright Jon Conway talks to Alex Bellotti about London’s most controversial new play: Truth, Lies, Diana.
A playwright whose recent portfolio includes All The Fun Of The Fair with David Essex and Boogie Nights with the Osmond brothers doesn’t sound the most likely candidate to crack the biggest story of a generation.
For the last three years however, Maida Vale resident Jon Conway has been trying to do just that.
His new play – Truth, Lies and Diana – made its British premiere at Charing Cross Theatre on Monday and has attracted a host of national headlines for its controversial claims about the demise of Diana, Princess of Wales, whose death in 1997 in a car crash in Paris sent shock waves around the world.
Partly staged as a series of verbatim interviews with key figures surrounding the incident, the play in particular has peaked interest for a conversation it relates with former army officer, James Hewitt, who had an affair with the Princess for five years during her marriage to Prince Charles.
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In the scene, Hewitt admits his affair with Diana started 18 months before it was commonly believed to have – reviving the divisive rumour that Hewitt is Prince Harry’s true father.
While Conway is keen to clarify the play doesn’t make such an assertion directly – it is up to the audience to decide – he suggests the revelation about the length of the affair is just one piece of an extensive cover up.
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“It’s interesting that the way the story (about the play) broke was a rather sensational piece which was taken out of context,” the 50 year old explains.
“Hewitt has never claimed he’s Harry’s father, the claim is this: he now admits he started the relationship earlier than it was. My point is forget Harry, what this proves is that the palace and some portions of the press must have known that, but why didn’t they say?”
Having decided to pursue the subject after originally planning to write a play about the Leveson Inquiry, lies and cover-ups are, as the title suggests, at the very heart of Conway’s script. A large part of it covers the Diana story: using forensic research, conversations with previously silent sources and access to Police witness statements and court transcripts, the nine hander uses the actual words spoken by figures including Piers Morgan, Paul Burrell, Mohammed Al Fayed, members of MI6, witnesses to Diana’s crash, and the British Royal Family.
Framing this however is a more intimate and brutally autobiographical story of how lies can affect even the smallest situations. Conway plays the protagonist – a playwright attempting to pen a show about Diana who begins to suspect, with good reason, that his wife may be cheating on him – and as the story develops, his paranoia expands to include the media and government.
“I wanted to show that these things happen to normal people and that it’s the small lies that count. You see this man struggling to cope with what his wife is telling him and he wants to believe her.
“This character does not want to think that the establishment have lied to him. None of us wanted to think that there was a dodgy dossier on Iraq – I don’t care whose side you’re on. Nobody wants to think that the Hillsborough Inquest was a cover up, but these things have proved to be the case.
That’s why it’s called Truth, Lies, Diana – lies matter.”
The writer makes an astute observation when he states that if the inquest into Diana’s death – which took ten years to start – was held in 2015, the circumstances might be very different. In light of the phone-hacking scandal, the MP expenses row, the Hillsborough Inquiry and Jimmy Saville revelations to name but a few, the public’s trust in the ‘establishment’ was not what it was eight years ago.
Aside from the Hewitt interview, other theories Conway seeks to explore are that the driver of the car, Henri Paul, was not drunk (as the inquiry concluded); that Diana may have been pregnant when she died; that the French Police ignored leads to find the drivers of the following motorbikes and Fiat Uno that caused the crash; and, most sensationally, that Diana was actually killed in the ambulance while travelling to hospital (“the ambulance cut all communication with the hospital for the last 37 minutes of Diana’s life”).
Interestingly, Conway identifies himself as a monarchist and says that the Royal Family aren’t necessarily the establishment figures most directly in his crosshairs. “The shtick for me is unveiling all of this, almost like peeling an onion.
“What’s happened is that anybody who has an opinion that maybe the truth hasn’t been told is labelled a conspiracy theorist or an antimonarchist and that’s not right, it’s not fair; it’s stifling a really responsible debate.”
The show has already bedded in during a run in New York and Conway says his biggest challenge has actually been finding a theatre willing to show it in London – despite the fact he has previous staged five other productions in the capital. Furthermore, he cites several suspicious coincidences during its production, including a raid of his house by police in which his laptop and belongings were taken for nine months in an apparent case of mistaken identity.
The show is certainly set to cause a stir, with its creator claiming the evidence it reveals is the equivalent to “finding out that someone else was standing next to Lee Harvey Oswald”.
He insists though that while “the angle that something went down is pushed slightly more,” a balanced argument is nonetheless given.
Intriguingly, the show also encourages the audience to vote on their opinions throughout the night – a concept that appears to underline what the production is really trying to achieve.
“I deliberately will not give my opinion of what I think happened – and I have a very fixed view of what I think happened – because ultimately my opinion’s not important,” says Conway. “Public opinion is important.”
“What I find the most fascinating thing is this: go and ask people in your office now and I bet you between 40 and 60 per cent will say, ‘I think we weren’t told the truth; I think something dodgy happened’.
“Translate that into this country and that’s 20 million people – that’s more people than who will vote for the next government. That’s why I think I have a mandate to tell this story.”
Truth, Lies, Diana runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until February 14. Tickets from £35.10. Visit charingcrosstheatre.co.uk