Princess Diana’s Secret Visit to Italy

I recently stayed up waaay too late reading a copy of Diana: Closely Guarded Secret which is full of interesting insights. Written by her longtime Personal Protection Officer (PPO) Ken Wharfe (with Robert Jobson), the book seems to me to be an even handed account unto what daily life was like working for the Princess of Wales. It is available on Amazon, and we highly recommend picking up a copy.

Such a great read! (source)
Such a great read! (source)

The book isn’t a new one- it came out in 2002- and it covers the story of how Wharfe worked for Scotland Yard and was eventually hired to protect Princes William and Harry in 1986 (he’d accompany Prince William during his school day at Wetherby Prep School, for example) before moving onto the team protecting Princess Diana the following year.

Ken accompanying William, Harry, and Diana on a trip to the shops (source)
Ken accompanying William, Harry, and Diana on a trip to the shops (source)

This post will give particular attention to a particularly interesting account in the book – an undercover trip to Italy that Diana managed to take with Wharfe’s help. Wharfe reveals how the Princess loved Italy and particularly enjoyed a visit to Villa Rizzardi with her mother Frances Shand Kydd. They were guests of Contessa Maria Christina Guerrieri-Rizzardi aka ‘The Countess of Verona’, a longtime family friend.

Villa Nizzardi n Moonlight (source)
Villa Rizzardi n Moonlight (source)

The plane tickets were booked under ‘Mr. and Mr. Hargreaves’ which evidently was their pseudonym of choice for many trips. It was a short 3-day visit and on the final night the party went to see Pavarotti perform at a nearby concert. They had a marvelous time despite the fact that the concert was cancelled before the end due to a torrential rainstorm.

Princess Diana,and Luciano Pavarotti at Hyde Park concert July 30, 1991 in London. (source)
Princess Diana,and Luciano Pavarotti on a separate occasion at Hyde Park concert July 30, 1991 in London. (source)

Diana, her mum, and the Countess had been spotted by Pavarotti in the crowd and he invited them backstage which they were all excited about. Afterwards, Diana was so thrilled that they had managed not to attract media attention that she asked Ken to arrange for them to drive to Venice- 70 miles away- that very night. Not seeing any security reasons not to, Wharf agreed to help facilitate this request. Here is a snippet of his account of the midnight visit:

Diana jumped out of the Contessa’s car and start[ed] kicking the puddles, as if she were Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain. The Venice Carabinieri then arranged for two motor boats to take us off to enjoy the astonishing beauty of Venice by moonlight…

There was no one else around. For the next hour we saw Venice as few have ever been privileged to do. We sailed along the Grand Canal, with the ancient city silhouetted against a stormy sky pierced by a full moon. Armed with a  flat of coffee and a bottle of chilled Pinot Grigio, from which Diana would take the occasional swig as we had no glasses, we were midnight tourists in an empty city. She then announced that she wanted to walk through Saint Mark’s Square. The Italian police, who by now had embraced the mood, agreed. We docked our launches at the Hotel Danieli and, still with the tarpaulin over our sodden heads since it had started to rain again, walked towards Saint Mark’s Cathedral at the end of the square. It was an enchanting, if almost unreal experience. The, from nowhere, Sergeant Dave Sharpe appeared with a  tray of hot croissants and small loaves of freshly cooked break which earned him a round of applause from the by now ecstatic Princess. 

They left shortly afterwards, before tourists started to mill about again, and the Princess was able to catch a couple of hours of sleep at the Villa before returning home to London that day. Doesn’t that sound delightful? It’s fun to hear about her spontaneous, bubbly side.

Diana did have two other public trips to Venice. One was with Prince Charles in May 1985. The couple arrived with great fanfare on the Royal Yacht Brittania. The footage below is from a BBC news broadcast and you can spy Diana on the deck of the yacht as it arrives in Venice, with her  binoculars at the ready to see the city.

Upon spotting a can of hair spray floating along in the canal during a ride in a gondola, Diana was said to have remarked that it appeared her hairdresser had fallen in – ha!

The Princes and Princess of Wales in Venice (source)
The Princes and Princess of Wales in Venice (source)

Diana returned in 1995 and attended a dinner in aid of the Serpentine Gallery wearing a red beaded cocktail dress by Jacques Azagury. Pictures from that evening were splashed around the world.

Diana in Venice (source)
Diana arriving at the event in Venice looking like a million bucks (source)

If you’d like to pick up a copy of the book for yourself, it can be found here.  But we’re not done with this great book yet – next up we have a look at Wharfe’s account of Diana’s undercover visit to Paris with friends during the spring of 1992. Are you charmed that she was able to have a midnight adventure in Venice, too?