In 1985, Princess Diana fell in love with her bodyguard. Two years later, he died in a crash.

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In April 1985, Princess Diana was going through a particularly tough time. Her sons William and Harry were still very young, and Prince Charles had resumed his affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles. Diana didn’t know what to do or who to turn to.

Then, Barry Mannakee, a police officer with the Royal Protection Squad, was assigned to her as her bodyguard.

Married with two children, he was a decade older than the princess. He was tall and well-built, from a working-class background, and had a reputation as being a "Jack the lad".

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Mannakee became her confidante. The two spent hours talking as Mannakee accompanied Diana, William and Harry on long car trips, including to the Royal country house Highgrove on weekends.

At the time, there were reports that Mannakee was "flirting brazenly" with Diana in front of servants. The story goes that on one occasion, Diana, dressed in a tight miniskirt, wiggled her bottom at Mannakee and asked, "Do I look all right?"

"Sensational, as you know you do," Mannakee apparently replied. "I could quite fancy you myself."

"But you already do, don’t you?" Diana supposedly answered back.

Princess Diana Barry Mannakee
At the time, there were reports that Mannakee was "flirting brazenly" with Diana in front of servants. Image: Getty.

However, it’s never been proven that the two were actually lovers.

"He was a flamboyant character who overstepped the mark," another former protection officer, Ken Wharfe, told ITV many years later. "There was a lot of rumour, but one thing is certain: had there been a sexual relationship, which Diana clearly said there was not, rest assured we would have known about it then, not now."

In March 1986, Mannakee’s superiors felt he was becoming "over familiar" with the princess, and they transferred him to diplomatic protection duties.

Just over a year later, Mannakee's friend and fellow cop, PC Steven Peat, was giving him a lift home on the back of his motorbike. A trainee beauty therapist called Nicola Chopp, who had only had her driver’s licence for six weeks, turned her car in front of the motorbike. Mannakee was hurled from the back of the bike and thrown through the window of Chopp’s car. His spine was broken in two places and he died almost immediately.

Charles broke the news of Mannakee’s death to Diana, as they were on their way to the Cannes Film Festival. Diana is said to have wept uncontrollably and torn at her clothes.

An inquest ruled the death an accident.

It wasn’t until many years later that the true depth of Diana’s feelings for Mannakee was publicly revealed. In 1992 and 1993, the princess had a series of sessions with a voice coach, Peter Settelen, who promised he could help her improve her public image. He encouraged her to talk about herself and videoed everything she said. In one of the sessions she opened up about falling "deeply in love" with one of her royal protection officers. It wasn’t too hard to work out that she was talking about Mannakee.

"He was the greatest fellow I have ever had," Diana said on tape. "I was always waiting around trying to see him. I just wore my heart on my sleeve. I was only happy when he was around.

"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."

Princess Diana Barry Mannakee
Prince William with police bodyguard Barry Mannakee in 1985. Image: Getty.

Diana went on to explain how the relationship ended. "It was all found out, and he was chucked out. And then he was killed. And that was the biggest blow of my life, I must say. And I think he was bumped off. But there we are. I don't know – we'll never know."

In 2004, seven years after Diana’s death, Settelen sold the videotapes to US network NBC. The quotes about Mannakee and the Princess’s belief that he was "bumped off" made international headlines.

Nicola Chopp, the young driver who caused the fatal crash, came out with a claim that the police had changed her statement.

"I do believe that accidents can be arranged and that something suspicious happened that night," she said.

To give the conspiracy theorists even more to talk about, convicted fraudster Lord Charlie Brocket claimed that while he was doing time in jail, a crooked former cop told him about a secret file related to Mannakee’s death.

"He said he and another group of detectives, angry at the suggestion that the Princess's bodyguard had died in a motorcycle accident after PC Peat had lost control of the bike, took its remains to their own forensic expert," Brocket said.

According to Brocket, the expert found that the bike had been deliberately tampered with.

However, the one person most likely to know the truth about Mannakee’s death is PC Steven Peat. Peat was close to Mannakee, and says he doesn’t believe that he was having an affair with Diana, or that he was about to go public with anything that would embarrass the royal family.

Peat, now working as a security consultant, has always maintained that Mannakee’s death was an accident "and nothing more".

The conspiracy theories linger on.

Feature Image: Getty.

This post was originally published on July 27, 2019, and updated on November 20, 2020.