Diana described him as the “greatest love” she ever had but he was banished from the palace and then died in tragic circumstances
In the story of Diana, Princess of Wales, there are a number of men who figured so prominently in her life that they can be identified with only their first name.
Charles the philandering, insensitive husband. James, the dashing, rakish army officer who was Diana’s riding instructor. Heart surgeon Hasnat, perhaps her most adult love, for whom she considered moving to Pakistan. Dodi, the ultra-rich playboy who would die by her side.
But the first man with whom Diana became entangled during her marriage, the man she would later admit she considered running away with, well, his name was Barry.
Really – Barry.
Barry Mannakee to be precise.
Their tendresse had all the hallmarks of a Mills and Boon potboiler. He was a Cockney East Ender, who worked his way up in the Metropolitan police force to be made part of the Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Group in 1983. She had the bluest of bloods, an aristocratic lineage that beat that of her husband Prince Charles, and was the most famous woman in the world.
In April 1985 Mannakee, a Scotland Yard officer, was assigned to guard Diana, setting in motion a series of events that would end in the ultimate tragedy.
By the time the father-of-two found himself working with the princess, any lingering hopes she might have had about her own union with Prince Charles had largely been shattered. While it’s a matter of much debate about when exactly Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles reignited their physical relationship, what seems clear is that throughout the turbulent, often unhappy, early years of the Wales’ marriage the prince turned to his former paramour for emotional comfort.
When Mannakee stepped into Kensington Palace in the mid-80s, the Wales’ marriage was essentially over and the Diana he encountered was a lonely woman deeply craving affection and reassurance.
Their bond was reportedly forged during a trip to Scotland, a destination Diana held in no great affection.
According to highly-respected Diana biographer Tina Brown, Diana had joined Charles for a fly-fishing trip to the nearby estate of Anne, Duchess of Westminster, where she sat on the riverbank, bored senseless. At some point a fishing hook caught her eyelid and this is when Mannakee swung into action, radioing back to the estate that she needed a doctor.
“It was Mannakee who drove the car, Mannakee, not her husband, who consoled her,” Brown writes.
The increasing closeness between the royal and her protector did not go unnoticed with her staff becoming aware of their growing bond.
“It became clear to his fellow officers and household staff that he was straying beyond the usual line between guard and guarded,” biographer Sally Bedell Smith has written. “When she was in floods of tears, he hugged and reassured her. She flirted with him, and he, perhaps unwisely, boosted her self-esteem with compliments.”
“He really had the hots for her,” a former staffer at Charles’ country house Highgrove told Brown. “He acquired all these cashmere sweaters. It went to his head.”
“Barry, how do I look?” the royal would reportedly ask her bodyguard, a question that would clearly contravene the unspoken line between protector and protectee.
Ken Wharfe, who would later become Diana’s bodyguard, has said: “I was told [Mannakee] was totally fixated on her. He broke the golden rule and stepped over the divide between the grey carpet to the red [carpet].”
Diana and Mannakee would take tea together, according to Wharfe, in her private palace drawing room “which was unheard of,” he has said. “[The other staff ] didn’t like it.”
Throughout 1985, Mannakee was by the princess’ side for official trips to Italy, Australia and America. Per Brown, a teary Diana would turn to her protection officer for hugs which would stop her crying.
Years later, in 1992, Diana told her then voice coach Peter Settelen about Mannakee, saying: “I was always wandering around trying to see him. I was only happy when he was around … I was like a little girl in front of him the whole time, desperate for praise, desperate.”
So was theirs an intense platonic connection or a far more saucy entanglement?
When Settelen asked her about whether there had been anything sexual between them, she answered with a firm ‘no’.
Likewise former royal bodyguards Wharfe and Colin Tebbutt have both argued that the princess and her married policeman never had a physical relationship.
However there are others who adamant that they did.
James Hewitt, who Diana would go on to start a passionate affair with in 1986, has alleged Mannakee was her lover.
Veteran British broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby, who wrote an authorised biography of Charles, has said: “There is no question that Diana had an intimate relationship with Barry Mannakee … At Kensington Palace, she would dismiss everyone else, and they would be alone.
“He was very kind to her, very protective.”
(In the most recent series of The Crown, there is a scene where Charles is told that Diana has slept with an unnamed bodyguard.)
he Independent newspaper later reported that there had been “a sighting of them in an embrace and rumours of long drives around Balmoral.”
In Brown’s telling, once Mannakee came on the scene, the Princess of Wales started asking to take the royal train for engagements outside London rather than fly. “Diana had learned from her husband what a handy place the train was for assignations,” Brown writes. “In this case, handier than ever, since the police officer would be the only other person who slept on the corridor next to her saloon.”
Whatever the exact status of their relationship, there was an undeniable intensity to the duo’s bond.
“He was the greatest love I’ve ever had,” Diana later told Settelen. “I was quite happy to give it all up … just to go off and live with him. And he kept saying he thought it was a good idea too.”
However, by 1986 (and whether they had ended up in bed or not) their closeness could no longer be ignored by the palace and Mannakee was transferred away from Diana’s protection detail.
On May 17 the following year, Mannakee was riding pillion on a motorbike with a fellow police officer. When an inexperienced driver collided with the bike, Mannakee was thrown off and died instantly.
Charles told Diana the tragic news on the way to France where they were to attend the Cannes Film Festival. “That was the biggest blow of my life,” she later revealed. She cried for the entire journey.
Later, a conspiracy theory would take root claiming that Mannakee had in fact been murdered because of his intimate relationship with the royal.
Diana herself bought into this theory, saying that by the end of Mannakee’s time guarding her, “It was all found out and he was chucked out [of royal protection]. Then he was killed. I think he was bumped off.”
In 2004, an old Etonian named Lord Brocket claimed that while serving a jail sentence for fraud, he had been told about “secret documents” that allegedly proved that Mannakee’s death was deliberate and that the motorbike he had been riding on had been tampered with.
Despite persistent rumours about dark forces at play, Mannakee’s death was ruled a tragic accident, both at an inquest at the time of his passing and later when it was reinvestigated as part of the inquiry into the death of Diana.
Still, Diana never forgot about the man who had given her hugs and shown her comfort when she needed it most. She later laid flowers at the place his ashes had been scattered and allegedly told people she had dreamt about him.
Long after his passing, Diana sat in her Kensington Palace drawing room in 1992 and told Settelen of that tragic chapter, “I should never have played with fire and I did and I got very burnt.”