For almost 30 years the argument has raged ceaselessly back and forth around some of the smartest dinner tables in the land: Who really broke their vows first?
Was it her husband’s adulterous behaviour that drove the lonely and vulnerable Princess Diana to seek solace in the arms of another man?
Diana herself couldn’t have been clearer in her notorious Panorama interview when she said of her love rival: ‘Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.’
Her bulimia and self-harming, she said, were consequences of the prince’s infidelity.
And in recent times, millions of viewers of the Netflix series The Crown have been presented with this version of events as definitive: that Charles was the first to be unfaithful.
But yesterday an unexpected voice entered the fray — one the public have never heard from before — to offer an entirely different narrative.
For almost 30 years the argument has raged back and forth around some of the smartest dinner tables in the land: Who really broke their vows first, Charles or Diana (pictured in 1985)?
As the Mail’s diarist Richard Eden disclosed, the princess’s former police bodyguard, Sergeant Allan Peters, has given a startling interview in which he claims Prince Charles returned to Camilla’s bed only after he discovered Diana had been having a fling with a fellow protection officer, Barry Mannakee.
According to Peters, it was he who informed the prince of his wife’s affair. Claims about the princess and Mannakee, a burly father-of-two who died in a motorcycle accident in 1987, are not new but it is the Peters dimension which has given them an intriguing twist.
All the same, it does seem an unfortunate time to be resurrecting this issue, with questions over the Queen’s health very much on the public’s mind along with the ongoing simmering tensions between Prince Harry and the Royal Family.
Little wonder, then, that many are speculating that Sgt Peters’ intervention may even have been discreetly encouraged with Charles edging ever closer to the throne.
Would it not be useful, so this argument goes, for the prince, who is anxious to make Camilla his queen, to be portrayed as the wronged party in the saga of Charles and Diana’s bitter marriage break-up?
That it was she and not he who first broke the marriage vows?
‘It does seem extraordinary that Allan Peters, who has hardly ever spoken of his royal service, should choose to do so now and about this topic,’ says a figure close to the late princess. ‘It does make one wonder about the motive.’
Indeed, others have suggested there might be a touch of envy in Peters’ recollections.
The ex-policeman has barely uttered a public word about Diana since the two parted company in 1989 but, judging by the interview he has given to CNN, the American news network, he has a lot to get off his chest.
‘The popular perception is that the Prince of Wales was straying throughout his marriage — and that is definitely, unequivocally, not the case,’ the retired officer told the channel.
‘The first person who strayed was the princess. He went back to Mrs Parker Bowles after he learned about her affair with Mannakee.’
Diana’s ex-police bodyguard Sergeant Allan Peters claimed Prince Charles returned to Camilla (both pictured) only after he discovered Diana had been having a fling with Barry Mannakee
Peters, who spent seven years at Diana’s side in the 1980s until he was abruptly removed, says he began to notice the princess behaving oddly whenever Mannakee — who like him looked after Princes William and Harry as toddlers — was around.
At first she denied anything untoward, he said. ‘But then she told me exactly what was going on: she was having some sort of relationship with Mannakee.’
He then said he had been approached by the prince, who was puzzled by his wife’s behaviour and asked him: ‘What on earth is the matter?’
The officer answered: ‘You’ve got to talk to her.’
To which Charles, according to Peters, then said: ‘Well, I’ve tried all that, and the only thing that seems to be upsetting her is that Barry Mannakee is going back to uniform. And if she’s that upset, Barry can stay.’
Astonishingly, Peters then said that if that happened, he would have to leave — presumably because he felt it would compromise his position.
‘I think at that point the penny dropped — he was utterly shocked and was clearly very upset.’
On the face of it, the sergeant’s interview suggests we may need to recalibrate the steps that led to the breakdown of the Waleses marriage. So what is the truth of the matter and who betrayed whom first?
Rumours about Diana’s closeness to Mannakee have been around for years.
When she learned of his death from Prince Charles — the couple were en route to the 1987 Cannes Film Festival — she wept uncontrollably, tearing at her clothes and scratching her arms and legs so much that on arrival her gown had to be adjusted by a lady in waiting to cover the damage to her body.
After all the nudges and winks came the conspiracy theories that his death was no accident, that he had been ‘bumped off’ to ensure his silence.
Then, years later, in a series of tape recordings made by her voice coach Peter Settelen, the princess described Mannakee thus: ‘He was the greatest fellow I ever had.
‘I was only happy when he was around [and] I was quite happy to give it all up just to go off and live with him. Can you believe it? And he kept saying he thought it was a good idea, too.’
Could Diana really have been considering leaving Charles to start a new life with the East London-born Mannakee, whose father had worked for Ford at its Dagenham plant? All these years later, it seems unlikely.
Married with two daughters, he arrived at Kensington Palace in 1985. He was 37, the princess 24. He worked on a rota system alongside her senior protection officers, Inspector Graham Smith and Sgt Peters.
From the beginning, he had an easy familiarity with Diana that irritated others. This evolved into a closeness that sometimes made his colleagues feel ‘quite uncomfortable’.
‘We could see she liked him,’ recalled a workmate. ‘It was ‘Barry this’ and ‘Barry that.’ But we never dreamed there was anything between them because Barry was a blabbermouth… he’d have boasted about it. He never did.’
Claims about the princess and Mannakee (both pictured), who died in a motorcycle accident in 1987, are not new but it is the Peters dimension which has given them an intriguing twist
This was a time of mounting turmoil for the princess, when the unhappiness of her marriage was intensifying.
And Mannakee was not only a good talker, he was also a very good listener — particularly on their regular 90-minute drives taking the children to Highgrove for the weekend.
They called them their ‘M4 chats’. He would be with her in the car when she took William from Kensington Palace to Mrs Mynors Nursery School in Notting Hill, and he would be there when Diana called to pick up her son.
The relationship certainly annoyed Palace staff — the valets, butlers and dressers — because Diana was always asking his opinion about just about everything.
Whether this closeness developed into intimacy is not something Diana divulged on her video recordings — indeed, she never even mentioned his name beyond saying she had fallen ‘deeply in love with somebody who worked in this environment’.
But the fact is that circumstances often left princess and policeman alone. And when she found his presence comforting, it was hardly surprising this led to the first flirtations. Brazenly confident, Mannakee had no compunction about flirting with Diana in front of servants.
Once, she dressed for a dinner date and playfully wiggled her bottom —clad in a tight, short skirt — at him. ‘Do I look all right?’ she asked him.
According to observers, Mannakee replied: ‘Sensational, as you know you do.’ And then he added: ‘I could quite fancy you myself.’ Diana’s response was to giggle and retort: ‘But you already do, don’t you?’
Their chemistry undoubtedly worked. Soon, he became her chosen protection officer on shopping trips. At Balmoral, they were spotted driving together, apparently by themselves, on the empty roads.
One thing that endeared Mannakee to her was his easy way with the children, playing and laughing with them so differently from Charles, who had to be coaxed into the nursery.
One day, when she was particularly low and Mannakee arrived to begin his shift, Diana threw herself into his arms, sobbing: ‘I just can’t go on any more. I just can’t.’
Gossip about the scene quickly spread through the Palace. But it was nothing like the storm that erupted on July 22, 1986, the night before Prince Andrew and Fergie’s wedding.
What is said to have happened is this: Diana, having chosen the dress she would wear to the Westminster Abbey wedding, kissed her children goodnight and hurried to her drawing room. Waiting there was Mannakee.
Some time later a senior member of Charles’s staff unexpectedly put his head round the door. He was said to have found the officer consoling the princess with an arm around her.
Within hours, the prince was being told of what had been seen and Mannakee’s stint as a royal protection officer was summarily terminated. Not quite the version Allan Peters recalls.
Peters, who spent seven years at Diana’s side in the 1980s, says he began to notice the princess behaving oddly whenever Mannakee was around. Pictured: Diana and Charles in 1989
Either way, Mannakee was summoned by his superiors, accused of being ‘over-familiar’, put back in uniform and moved to diplomatic, not royal protection, duties. The story was put out that Mannakee was transferred at his own request.
He told the Mail at the time: ‘I was transferred for domestic reasons. The job meant long hours away from home.’ He and Diana, he said, were ‘good friends, nothing more’.
A year later, Mannakee was dead when the Suzuki motorbike on which he was pillion passenger collided with a car. Ken Wharfe, who took over from Mannakee as William and Harry’s bodyguard before replacing Sgt Peters at Diana’s side, has never believed the gossip. Diana claimed to him that the rumours were part of a ‘smear campaign’ against her by Prince Charles’s camp.
‘Diana was not averse to embellishing the truth, but I believed her then and do still,’ Wharfe told me. Diana never admitted, not even to her dearest friends, an affair, though she did say Mannakee had ‘meant an awful lot to me, he was my father figure and looked after me’.
Her old friend Simone Simmons remembers Diana ‘swearing on her children’s’ lives that there had been no affair.
She said: ‘She told me she talked to him a lot, that she could open up to him and him to her and he also passed information he picked up about Camilla.’
As for who cheated first, Diana was never in any doubt. She simply believed that Charles had never stopped seeing Camilla.
Allan Peters, meanwhile, who had joined the princess shortly before Prince William’s birth in 1982, was, like Mannakee, moved on.
Having twice leapt to the princess’s aide — once even reaching for his gun — he was reported to have annoyed Diana by ‘overstepping the mark’.
She put it more prosaically to me: ‘He was too close to my husband’s people.’
For my part, Diana once asked me to accompany her on a drive to a crematorium in East London. In those pre-satnav days we used a battered old A-to-Z street map of London to find the place.
I cannot remember if it was Barry Mannakee’s birthdate or the anniversary of his death, but she wanted to leave flowers in his memory.
It was years after his death and she told me she would always be grateful for his friendship.