Princess Diana’s former voice coach would leave ‘delightful’ Royal piles of washing up as she ‘longed for normality’
WHEN voice coach Stewart Pearce was asked by a friend if he could work with a young woman who wanted his help, he had no idea what lay ahead.
It was November 1995 and having collaborated with everyone from the former prime minister Margaret Thatcher to Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, Stewart, then 44, assumed it might be another politician or businesswoman who wanted him to help transform their voice.
But when he was shown into the basement of London’s then famous San Lorenzo restaurant, it was to find no less than Diana, Princess of Wales waiting for him.
"She leapt up from her table, grabbed my arm and said ‘you will work with me, won't you?’ There were no airs or graces," he recalls. "She was just delightful from the start."
That encounter was just a week after the now notorious Panorama documentary in which Diana had laid bare her unhappiness. The world could talk of little else, but while Diana felt "liberated" by speaking out, she did not like the way she came across.
"She had been absolutely ready to burst her banks and speak out, but she was unhappy by the way she looked. By that I mean that while she was a beautiful woman in her thirties, she did not look like a person of power," he says.
"It wasn't to do with articulation – she could speak very clearly. It was to do with the position of her voice," he says. "She had this submissive tone, and she wanted to find weight and resonance."
And so began a near two-year relationship – conducted largely in secret – which ended only with Diana’s tragic and untimely end in Paris.
By then, says Stewart, he had helped Diana oversee her transformation into an assertive and confident speaker.
"She had found a way of balancing her private and public self so that there was no change between the two. She could stand on a platform and feel relaxed and confident about whatever it as she needed to say."
A former actor, turned voice coach and drama teacher, and a former Master of Voice at London’s Globe Theatre, Stewart, now 69, has just published a book, Diana the Voice of Change – something he describes as a "call to arms for women’".
He says he and Diana had discussed writing the book, but he has waited 25 years to do so out of respect for her memory.
The late princess is just one of an impressive roster of clients amassed by Stewart, over the years, among them actors Mark Rylance and Minnie Driver, and Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan.
Margaret Thatcher, was among his first clients, introduced to him shortly after she had become leader of the conservative party.
"She had this weird strangled high upper middle-class sound," he recalls. "What I did was give her gravitas. I'm the man who gave Thatcher her voice."
They worked together late at night at the House of Commons, Thatcher reciting poetry and Shakespeare tracts as he walked backwards away from her.
"She was always charming and kind, and very smart," he recalls.
Fifteen years later, Stewart recalls how he was introduced to Princess Diana by Mara Berni, who ran London’s San Lorenzo, the famed haunt of everyone from Diana (who used to call Mara her "Mother Confessor”) to the Rolling Stones.
Their relationship was so confidential that even Diana’s butler at the time, Paul Burrell, knew nothing about it.
"I think she wanted this to be just for her. She always paid me my cash. It was never organised by private secretaries. She called me on her cell phone whenever she needed to," he says.
They met on average around once a week if her schedule allowed, Diana coming to Stewart’s flat in Chelsea straight from her regular workouts at the nearby Chelsea harbour gym.
"She would tumble in in her jogging pants and sweatshirt, no makeup, just looking ordinary," he says.
"Often the first thing she would say is 'can I do some washing up?’ I would leave crockery in the kitchen for her to wash up. People were always doing things for her, and she longed for a bit of normality."
Stewart focused on Diana’s breathing, giving her special breathing exercises which helped her centre her breaths from deep in the abdomen.
"What that does is it gives us weight and grounded-ness, it roots the voice down," he says.
"In many situations Diana spoke with a tight-lipped breathy voice, because of living in a state of anxiety, and this kept her in a state of radical panic.
"That was also something we needed to change. Together we created a series of affirmations she could use to feel immediate change One was ‘Detach, Feel stillness, Observe and another was ‘I am safe, I am secure, all is well’."
I would leave crockery in the kitchen for her to wash up.People were always doing things for her, and she longed for a bit of normality
Stewart recalls that Diana’s transformation was swift. Shortly after they’d been working together, the princess had to give a speech in New York after receiving a humanitarian award from the American diplomat Henry Kissinger.
"She made a speech about the compassionate way we need to raise our children. And somebody in the audience made a rude heckle and shouted, 'Well, where are your children,' and she just replied very calmly, without missing a beat, 'at school’. And it wasn’t defensive or scornful, just very natural."
Her confidence continued to grow as the weeks went by.
"Naturally she was fit, and she had this sensuality, and over time she assumed this very natural way of being able to find her voice and then using it rhythmically in speeches so that it carried through," he says.
"She was acquiring this wonderful élan, she spoke with this really strong centred voice, and everybody started to say, 'wow, what's happened to Diana?’"
As time went by, Stewart says the princess also started to confide in him about the strain she was under. "During the very difficult times when she was negotiating the stuff between herself and the Royal household, she would often use me as a sounding board," he recalls.
It was not all seriousness though. "Away from the paparazzi Diana had a wonderful sense of humour, and anything could set her off," he recalls.
"It's rather like when we were children, and we would laugh and laugh, and forget what we were laughing about."
By the summer of 1997 the duo were still working together, but by now Diana was ensconced in a relationship with Dodi Fayed, the son of Harrods owner Mohammed Al-Fayed. Yet Stewart believes it was a distraction rather than an intense love affair.
"She was excited, enjoying herself," he says. "Was she in love with Dodi? She thought he was adoring, and he was a wonderful suitor in the sense that he was such a gentleman. But she wasn’t going to marry him."
His last conversation with the princess took place a few weeks before her death, when she telephoned to let him know she was going away for the summer. "I had no idea it would be the last time we would speak," he says.
He learned of her death from a newspaper headline while on holiday with friends in New Mexico. "I looked over somebody's shoulder as they were reading USA Today, and there it was: 'Diana is dead'. A sound came out of me that I've never heard," he says. "It was a great shock."
Cut off in her prime, Stewart believes that had she been alive today Diana would have grown into an "extraordinary stateswoman".
"She had all the makings of it, and she had huge ambitions. She wanted to further all of her charitable interests, and she was really interested in making documentaries and working with child education.
"I am sorry she did not get to do that, but I do feel her legacy lives on.’
For more Royal Family related news, check out Diana's most iconic moments – from shaking the hand of an Aids patient to dancing with John Travolta.
Plus, here's everything you need to know about Diana's wedding to Prince Charles from guests in attendance to their honeymoon.
And those who met Diana reveal how the Princess of Wales changed their lives from raising money for charity to helping one woman deal with losing her legs.
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