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PRINCESS DIANA: 1961-1997

To L.A. Advisor, Diana Showed Own Heart

Richard Greene was asked to coach princess in public speaking last year. In their brief relationship, he saw how open she could be.

September 07, 1997|RICHARD GREENE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LONDON — My invitation to the funeral came in a phone call Wednesday night from Princess Diana's chief of staff, a wonderful, caring man who served her for many years. His words--"Richard, you're meant to be in Westminster Abbey. Book your flight"--still ring in my ear.

My connection to his boss began just over a year ago, in June 1996.

She had invited me to Kensington Palace for a private lunch to share my expertise as a public speaking coach. While captivating and at ease in social interaction, the princess, like so many other high-profile people around the world, was uncomfortable giving speeches.

"I would love to be more comfortable speaking," she told me. She said she envied Prince Charles' ability to "stand up there and tell jokes with such ease."

I responded that Charles could never, with all his training, do the one thing she could do: speak from the heart. Instead of launching right into her speeches, I suggested, she should do a prelude with some warm, natural personal conversation.

The Kensington Palace visit came just days before she was to lose her royal status, finalize her divorce from Charles and begin a new phase in her life.

Bounding out in a comfortable but classic blue suit, face tanned and smiling, she extended her hand and excitedly said: "Oh, Richard, I'm so glad you could make it."

There never had been a thought of missing it, of course, but the princess seemed genuinely appreciative that I had made the effort, an effort that millions would consider the opportunity of a lifetime.

Remembering the proper protocol, I dutifully reached out my hand and bowed, uttering something like, "It's a pleasure to be here, your royal highness."

Setting the tone instantly for our two hours together, she almost laughed and said, "Oh, please, call me Diana." This open, relaxed, playful, heartfelt manner was one of the more remarkable things about her.

Sitting in a front-row seat inside Westminster Abbey on Saturday was deeply moving. When Charles passed within a few feet as he entered the cathedral, I could see that a tear had rolled down his left cheek.

The subtlety and sincerity of his emotion were touching.

And as I listened to Diana's brother, the Earl Spencer, so eloquently indict those who doubted her, I reflected on the pain she had shared with me about being so misunderstood. "I do care," she had said to me. "They just don't seem to want to believe it."

In our time together, I told her that she would prevail, that she would win over the doubters simply by being herself.

But we didn't speak only about her.

I was shocked at how open she was about so many things in her life. She talked about Charles, her relationship with his family, her mother, why she was drawn to the charities she had chosen and what she was looking for in a man.

"You know, I think romance is overstated," she told me during our first meeting. "I think now that what I really want is someone who can be a lifelong friend."

But her sons were her favorite subjects of conversation. When talking about Harry, she would describe him in typical kid terms. And when she mentioned William, her whole face would light up. She told me she believed him to be "a very old soul."

So, I believe, was she.

Richard Greene is a communication consultant who lives and works in Malibu.

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