Who’s Dr. James Colthurst, Princess Diana’s Buddy in ‘The Crown’?
Within the early days of Princess Diana’s marriage to the person who’d turn into king, Dr. James Colthurst knew one thing many of the world as but didn’t: The Princess of Wales was depressing. An previous good friend from her days as a blushing London socialite, Colthurst shared her stately pedigree; because the second son of an Irish baronet, his household house was a literal fort. Extra importantly, they shared a confidence—one of many few within the late princess’s brief life that was challenged however by no means outright betrayed.
Within the newest season of the Netflix drama The Crown, Colthurst is depicted in just one episode by the actor Oliver Chris. True, his scenes with Elizabeth Debicki’s Diana are hardly the best appearing work in a sequence stacked with high-caliber performances. And but, a niggling sense of loss stays after the season 5 finale; a lot of Diana’s most necessary moments and relationships are relegated to a handful of scenes. Her friendship with Colthurst is one in all them.
I’m not unsympathetic to The Crown’s have to cowl whole a long time within the span of some hours. However denying Chris’ Colthurst even one further look appears like a missed alternative. Showrunner Peter Morgan takes a measured method to his depiction of the princess, refusing to decide to both her facet or Prince Charles’, and additional refusing to permit The Crown to turn into The Diana Present. However the errors of omission appear to seem extra continuously in Diana’s camp. Additional integrating Colthurst would have contextualized Diana’s involvement in her personal implosion.
The 17-year-old Woman Diana Spencer first met the longer term radiologist whereas he was nonetheless a medical scholar, at a chalet within the French Alps, the place she slept on his Etonian associates’ couch mattress after injuring her ankle snowboarding. The 2 struck up a friendship they maintained till the princess’s tragic automotive accident in 1997. By the point we meet him in The Crown, he’s already a health care provider at St. Thomas’ Hospital, and whereas he clearly has some type of pre-established closeness with the princess, his major function is to function the intermediary for what would turn into the explosive guide Diana: Her True Story.
A lot of what The Crown depicts right here is correct. The journalist Andrew Morton, whom Debicki’s Diana refers to as “one of many pleasant ones,” did strike up a chummy rapport with a 35-year-old Colthurst over lunches and video games of squash, as journalist Tina Brown wrote in her 2007 guide The Diana Chronicles: “Morton picked up on Colthurst’s message to not fish for details about the Princess, however he took care to water his supply in opposition to the day he may.” Their camaraderie made its approach again to Diana, and he or she agreed to report audiotapes of her solutions to Morton’s interview questions, with Colthurst ferrying the tapes forwards and backwards from author to supply.
Oliver Chris as James Colthurst in The Crown.
In The Crown, Chris’ Colthurst expresses some shock over the revelations in these interviews, however the actual Colthurst had already identified a lot of what was happening in Diana’s marriage. As Brown outlines, he knew she had bulimia nervosa; he knew that bodyguard Barry Mannakee was her first extramarital affair; he even knew that the Waleses had troubles in mattress, with Diana confessing to Colthurst that the problems had been “geographical” in nature.
Diana trusted Colthurst with startlingly intimate secrets and techniques, although their very own relationship by no means turned romantic. Brown writes in The Diana Chronicles, “Colthurst’s potential to retain Diana’s esteem over time very possible relied on their not changing into sexually concerned…His qualification for consigliere was not simply his intelligence but additionally the protecting fondness he felt for the trapped Princess whom he had often known as a lady.”
The physician believed in Diana: Her True Story as a result of Diana wanted him to. She wanted to consider in it, so she may consider in her marriage. The Crown will get this proper as effectively: When Chris’ Colthurst asks why Diana has agreed to report her solutions for Morton, she tells him it’s as a result of she’s already “tried every little thing” else. The true Diana felt the identical approach. If she cracked open her diary, poured out her very soul for the world to devour, it would persuade her husband—and his dad and mom—of their very own hand in her distress.
Brown places it like this:
“Diana’s associates cooperated [with the Morton book] as a result of they believed that she confronted a selection—explode or implode. They had been proper, sadly. There’s a vitality of survival in Diana’s reckless act that eclipses its folly. Her mad braveness blasted the Palace out of its frozen presumptions and institutionalized mendacity. She instructed the reality as she noticed it. Her personal lies of exaggeration had been nonetheless not as nice as theirs of withholding.”
By the tip of season 5’s second episode, Morton’s guide is out on the planet, making its namesake her headlines and its creator his cash. Chris’ Colthurst isn’t seen or heard from once more—a disgrace, given what we find out about his continued involvement in Diana’s life behind the scenes. Brown writes that he remained one in all her confidants till late 1995, when her self-destructiveness in relationships lastly broken theirs. “She exiled everybody related to serving to her produce the Morton guide,” Brown wrote, including:
“So rattled was she by the controversy, she now denied her participation even to herself… James Colthurst survived until late 1995, lastly dropping by the wayside after a row with Diana about William, who had enrolled at Eton in September. He instructed Diana she was displaying up on the college an excessive amount of and embarrassing her thirteen-year-old son, a troublesome factor for a mom to listen to. ‘Until a mom was a widow, it wasn’t performed for them to go up with out fathers or as a substitute of fathers,’ Colthurst instructed me. ‘I used to be at Eton myself, and I instructed her she shouldn’t be going up there as a lot as 3 times per week. She obtained very offended with me and hung up. After which I assumed that’s it, that’s sufficient. I had been swamped with calls for 3 years and it was an excessive amount of.’”
Colthurst, who continues to be residing in Berkshire, England, as we speak, later revealed he and Diana had smoothed over their difficulties by the point she died. He wrote a column for the Telegraph in 2021 that exposed his final dialog along with her was over the telephone, “not lengthy earlier than her loss of life.” He continued:
“What stays with me is her nearly infectious snicker, coupled along with her critical want to assist others. She set a excessive bar for her sons, who’ve each inherited her pure approach with others. Each have her sensitivity and caring. However they’re additionally gutsy and difficult and share their mom’s ardour for utilizing their roles to do good on the planet.”
Morgan’s Diana, the Diana of The Crown, is nearly continuously framed in isolation—whether or not literal, figurative, or self-imposed. In season 5, it’s straightforward to really feel sorry for her; it’s tougher, maybe, to grasp her.
There’s some necessity to this diploma of distance. The true Diana was equally fast to isolate herself. And Morgan’s job as showrunner and author is to not rally for the late princess’s vindication, nor to clean over her extra unsavory sides. However denying a longer-lasting lens to the relative few who knew her away from the cameras, like James Colthurst or Woman Sarah Ferguson, safety officer Ken Wharfe, and even Dr. Hasnat Khan, feels disappointing. Even when it’s solely a byproduct of the chopping room ground’s calls for.
Lauren Puckett-Pope is an affiliate editor at ELLE, the place she covers movie, TV, books and vogue.