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Diana: The Musical - A Celebration of the Life of Diana Princess of Wales - Interview

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by Chris Henniker (subscribe)
There are 6m postcodes in London, what's happening in yours?
Published September 16th 2014

It seems that there is more going wrong with Britain today. Every time you look in the paper, or look at Facebook, you hear about yet another rail strike, the latest celebrity outed as a nonce ... I could go on, but its more widely covered by social media these days, as well as the press. Each time you look at anything on telly, the same old dross is broadcast. Even the bread is mouldy and the circuses have clowns who aren't funny. Apparently, Brian Watson and the Daily Mail's Richard Kay claim to have a possible solution among many about the latter: Diana: The Musical.

What started as a conspiracy thriller called "Who Killed The Queen of Hearts?, complete with Alice in Wonderland overtones, was turned on its head when the Daily Star printed something said to Brian Watson out of context: "I said: 'it would put bums on seats.' He said:' yeah, it'll put bums on seats, but it wouldn't be any good to you because all your family will be dead.'" Asking whether the Secret Service would do away with Watson's family, this contact told him: "I don't reckon, I'm sure they would."

Although the Independent reported this accurately, he threatened to sue the Daily Star for libel because the misrepresented the conversation. They decided to not so much get revenge, as turn things on their heads by turning it into a musical.

How did the idea come about? Brian tells me that: "I was warned off it and stuck it in the draw, then David came up with the idea: 'why don't we turn it into a musical?'" An interesting question, leading me onto ask how their conspiracy to entertain came about? "Without the conspiracy," David laughs. " Well, with something like that, we were discussing the book and possibly a film on it and we thought we'd turn it on its head and write something, a beautiful portrait rather than something that was seedy or otherwise."

Brian fills me in: "The reason was working on the Daily Mail, as we both did, and we made hundreds of commercials for The Mail about Diana. Whenever they put a picture of Diana on the Front, the paper sold out. David and I were talking, it was David's idea to turn it into a musical and make it positive and upbeat and a celebration. He, quite rightly, said we should knock out any negatives., simply because anyone who came and seen it loved Diana. They wouldn't come and see anything Anti-Diana."

"We didn't think there was enough out there that showed the positive side of who she was and what she did in the world. We couldn't work out why this hadn't been done before. It's such a cracking idea and we still think it is, eight years on, and a few others think it is as well." This hasn't been a walk in the park, Chris, I can tell you."

Any theatrical production isn't easy, that's for sure. You could argue that if it was, you'd call it football. What problems did they encounter? "Creatively, really no problems." David says gladly. "The initial thing was how are we going to deal with her death." Watson reminds me:" You don't want a musical to end on a downer." He has his target audience down pat:" We're looking at coach parties, little old ladies who come down to London to see a show. They're the ones who are going to put bums on seats." This brought me on the key questions of legal difficulties, as many of the key players are alive. "None, if any". David smiles pleased that there was no controversy. Watson clarified this: "Diana is public domain, there's nothing in our musical that is contentious, controversial. The most controversial the musical gets is the scene about the Martin Bashir interview." The controversy is that there is no controversy. How post modern. "We portray most of the famous scenes you remember from her public life, and that one was a big one, and that was on TV and that went worldwide. We could not do the show without showing that because it changed everything for the public."

The immensity of putting on a show of this scale is only crowned by the tall order of finding a girl to play Diana, as Brian says like a nightmare sufferer telling Freud about what happened last night: "She doesn't have to be a lookalike, but she has to have a similar stature, have the right feel, she's got to sing, she's got to dance, so it's a big order."

"Going back to the kind of Diana we would like, the film with Naiomi Watts came outlast year was hammered by the critics and public alike.." David turns to Brian, asking: "What size was she?" Brian replies: "She was five foot three, and Diana was just under six feet .... to cast somebody with that height difference is completely wrong, and also it proved our ... because lots of people said that it needs controversy because without it, it wouldn't sell. We said, "no, it would sell because it hasn't got controversy."

This suggests that it could be very bland, but you're wrong. The Point that Brian, David and Richard Kay were trying to make was this: "Bland is the wrong word, it's far from bland. It's very interesting, it's very entertaining and the music is very good. We played it to a guy who is an actor's agent and PR man said: "Your music makes Andrew Lloyd Webber look like a midget."

Being as much a tall order as getting a girl to play Diana, it suggests that they were onto something. "We were very adamant that we didn't want to add controversy, any conspiracy theories, any negatives, simply because before the movie came out, when the movie came out, people walked out because they didn't want to see their icon destroyed." As a journalist, this seems counter intuitive to me because a story must have drama in order for it to sell. What does controversy make? I can't do these Brucie impressions all the time, so guess you know already. Their opinions of these conspiracy theories matter, especially when journalism seems dead. "I can't see the logic in that." Brian puzzled. "Conspiracy theories come from thinking people." "I agree with you," David chipped in. "You've only got to look at YouTube and the number of conspiracy theories out there and the people who spend a deal of time investigating them. Some are nut jobs and others are qualified to do so. They've looked into everything from 9/11 to the moon landings and conspiracy theories will continue to be there."

Brian said "When Diana died in the early hours of that Sunday morning, I got every newspaper for two weeks. The contradictions in those reports were unbelievable, and people who were interviewed went missing. The family who were first on the scene in the Pont D'Alma Tunnel were interviewed, you didn't see them again." Things get really interesting here, as it has drama. "Anyone with a brain starts to ask questions ... there was one particular incident in the whole episode that baffled me. That was the car, the Mercedes. The car she was supposed to have gone in was the Range Rover, but they very quickly replaced it with the Mercedes. This Mercedes had been off the road for two weeks and newspaper reports said it was having its computer replaced because it was stolen. That car sits in the back streets of Paris, two fourteen year old boys stole the computer. There's no market for that computer. People who own those cars don't go round the back streets to find a dodgy part, they go to Mercedes." Or they work on the car themselves, for that matter. "What transpired was that it was reported, the car was off the road for fourteen days to have its computer replaced." Brian elucidates further, my eyes widen at these possibilities: "being a Mercedes owner, I rang up my Mercedes guy and asked: 'How long does it take to replace the computer in an S-Class?'" This is where it gets more interesting. "'Half an hour, an hour max.'" That quickly? "Not the fourteen days?" He asked the mechanic. "No Way!" Then came the clincher: "if they replaced the computer with one that can be controlled externally, could that be done? 'Yeah, it could. You could take over the car's vital driving instruments externally.'" Getting bogged down in conspiracy theories when discussing Diana's death is a distraction to the musical itself. That said, the how has been tackled, but not the why: "The thing was that the white Fiat Uno that everyone knows about passed him and he took over the driving, knocked the power steering and accelerated the car, which is what made it crash into the pillar. Anyway, that seems to have got me into trouble and people were saying: 'Hold on, I think you've hit the bloody nail on the head here. Why has no one thought of this? That's going the long way round to say that's how we came up with Diana: The Musical. We got there by default. I came up with the "Who Killed The Queen of Hearts?" Scenario in about 2001, 2002, then I put it on the shelf."

What of the positives are they showing in her story? David gives an example: " She was an inspiration to many people. Children, charities, her children for those short years they were with her." "We try to put across the image that the icon she became. The way we finish the show is that she disappears at the end, and you know where she's gone, like a dramatic death, but there's a huge Hollywood song and dance with a big staircase. What Diana became (and was becoming) before she was killed was a world wide personality. She was bigger than any actor, actress, anything because when you think of what they did, those final 4,5 years, as David said, people loved her. She did amazing work for charity, no matter what others said. She got money into charities the likes of which they never saw in their life. Here's a princess and she walks through a minefield. This woman had balls."

Cynics amongs us would view this as a publicity stunt, staged and contrived to evoke an emotional response, but it worked. It raised awareness of what landmines can do in changing the opinion of the monarchy, she set the precedent of Wills & Kate today, who they see as Diana Mk2. "We wrote this because we wanted to and we like writing that sort of stage music. The big numbers". You don't go to a musical to hear two minute garage numbers, do you? It neatly brings us onto the state of musicals today: "All musicals now in the West End are what are called 'jukebox musicals' because they use old songs." A good example is "Let It Be", but you could argue "Miss Saigon" is one too, but the question of whether musicals could be seen as McTheatre neatly followed: "I like musicals," Brian enthuses, with David piping in: "They're entertaining."

Stating the obvious aside, Brian expands: "Musicals, they make you feel good, most of them, Les Miserables doesn't make you feel good at all because it is a depressing story." Like Threads, I take it. "There are a lot of things like that that could work as a musical because musicals are very clever. They get into the psyche without trying, you can get points across in a musical you can't get across in a straight play." Diana aside, you could be quite subversive under the guise of entertainment. "Ours isn't, they can be. You can go on the website and read the entire script and listen to demos of five of the songs. All we want to do is have a bunch of people come into the theatre and leave thinking, 'I enjoyed that'."

Ambitiously, they want Princes William and Harry to see it and love it. Your biggest critic is your audience, but also the people commissioning it. Richard Kay was her closest confidant and on board with the project to give it credibility, which shows in the songs: "We wrote songs that said she was nuts about Charles. We weren't sure whether this was right, so we asked Richard and he said she absolutely idolised him." This is a revelation to me. "He does bring credentials to it because he was with her throughout the good times and the bad times....his credentials are second to none, he knew her personally. They dined together, they wined together, they went out together, they were at the gym together. Let's face it. Richard, being a good journalist, he made use of that. It was straight of of her lips." David says with quiet pride: " I think getting Richard on board was a big play for us, he completely supported our whole take on this. He wouldn't have been involved if have as in any way shown in another light." Even Richard Kay vetoed the need for controversy too, as he believed that's exactly what Diana was like.

David has the last word on part one: "Cynics will say that this is treacle treated and sugar coated, that's fine." They even featured in the Croydon Advertiser, who printed song lyrics and a photo of Diana, and it sold out. This musical might potentially have legs, but will they be as long as hers? Only time will tell.

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