Princess Diana biographer depicted in ‘The Crown’ stops in Boston this weekend on his latest book tour

The West Yorkshire-born Morton, 68, first landed on the radar with his 1992 biography “Diana: Her True Story.” He worked in secret collaboration with the Princess of Wales. She recorded her candid thoughts and struggles and sent the tapes to Morton via an emissary, Dr. James Colthurst. After she died, Morton revealed that Diana was the source for his blockbuster biography.

Actor Andrew Steele plays Morton in Netflix’s newly dropped season 5 of “The Crown.”

Also a consultant for “The Crown,” Morton, who splits his time between Pasadena, Calif., and London, has written about American celebrities, but the bestselling biographer’s bread-and-butter are the British royals.

He brings “The Queen: Her Life,” his biography of Queen Elizabeth II, who died in September, to Plainville’s An Unlikely Story Nov. 19 and Wellesley Books Nov. 20. Not long after, Prince William and Kate Middleton are due to be in Boston Dec. 2 for the Earthshot Awards.

“It’s just funny, isn’t it? You’ve got the royals descending on Boston,” Morton said in a recent phone interview.

He spoke to the Globe about “The Crown,” “The Queen,” and where the Diana tapes are now.

Q. This is a big month for you — “The Queen” released Nov. 15, and you’re portrayed in the new season of “The Crown.” How did that secret collaboration between you and Diana come about?

A. We had friends in common. She knew I wrote sympathetically about her. What I didn’t realize at the time was how desperate she felt inside the royal system, how unhappy she was. She knew I was writing her biography and offered me an interview. I thought it would be about her humanitarian mission and charity work, but I was dead wrong.

Like everybody else in 1991, I believed in the fairy tale. I never suspected he was effectively living with another man’s wife and Diana was in the throes of despair. When I discovered that — and this doesn’t get shown in “The Crown,” sadly — I was in a working-man’s cafe in North London where I met James [Colthurst] out of the way, so nobody could see us. While all around me people were having their bacon and eggs and cups of tea, I [put on headphones] and was listening to Diana talk [on tape] about bulimia nervosa, which I’ve never heard of; about Camilla Parker Bowles, who I’ve never heard of. It was like being transported to a parallel universe. It was jolting. It was like entering Narnia through the wardrobe. You realize that you had a big secret— a royal version of “All the President’s Men.”

Q. What did it feel like to have this information?

A. First, my publisher thought [Colthurst] was a con man, that the tapes were fakes and was trying to extort money. But he never asked for money, so that theory went up in smoke.

We came to realize we had a tremendous job on our hands: My job for the next year-and-a-half was interviewing friends and family, trying to get a sense that what Diana was saying was accurate, authentic, and not governed by bile and bitterness. It was an exciting two years of living dangerously. When I saw my character on screen, he brought back all those memories.

Q. You’ve said some scenes are changed.

A. The general thrust is pretty accurate. There’s a long scene that was compressed. The working-man’s cafe [was left out]. But obviously, they’ve only got so many minutes.

Q. What did you think of the actor who played Diana?

A. I think Elizabeth Debicki is a shoo-in for a Golden Globe. The way she got the essence of the Diana I knew was stunning. It’s like seeing a ghost.

Q. Trying to get into her head, Diana must have been so unhappy to talk so candidly.

A. [She talked] about everything — the half-hearted suicide attempts, cutting herself. Her feelings were extreme. But what was interesting, she’d actually overcome the worst times of her life, what she called the Dark Ages, back in the early 1980s when she first joined the royal family and couldn’t cope. By the time I spoke to her, her life was on an upward trajectory.

Q. Is there anything you think might surprise readers in your book?

A. I make the point that the queen had a bad rap as a mother. I explain how difficult it was for her — a head of state at 25. Having to cope with that responsibility, as well as raise children, and have a husband who was upset about having to give up his Navy career, the issues with her sister Margaret. It seems the queen flourished the longer she reigned.

Q. I asked about how you were portrayed — but what do you think of “The Crown” in general?

A. It’s a brilliant soap opera, I swear [the show’s creator] Peter Morgan’s to be congratulated on having the kind of breadth of vision to give a sense of the change in Britain through the eyes of the royal family. People go on about [the inaccuracies], but that’s got nothing to do with it. The irony is that he created a more sophisticated mask. Monarchy is all about what lies behind the mask. He’s created a mask that disguises and redefines the monarchy in a way that makes it even more difficult to find the truth. So he’s actually done the royal family a huge favor.

Q. Where are the Diana tapes now?

A. My publisher has them. They’re in a safe. We’ll have to find out what to do with them, to be honest, because they are historical now.

Lauren Daley can be reached at ldaley33@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurendaley1.


Lauren Daley can be reached at ldaley33@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurendaley1.

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