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Tell the world the truth about me, Diana pleaded...promise me you'll tell it the way it is; THE REAL DIANA BY THE WOMAN SHE TURNED TO IN HER DARKEST HOURS ...AND WHO BECAME ONE OF HER CLOSEST FRIENDS.

SIMONE Simmons sits cross-legged on the floor of her tower block apartment. The woman with the wild red hair and grey- green eyes looks out of her living room window watching the shoppers in the mall below busily making their way to Tesco.

The flat in the working class suburb of London is a million miles from the glamour of Kensington Palace, where Simone spent much of the past five years with her friend Princess Diana.

"I've written this book because Diana asked me to," she says of Diana: The Secret Years, to be serialised in the Sunday Mirror next week. It tells the story of the REAL Diana, the woman behind the insecurities and the complexes.

"We were lying on the sofa in her sitting room at KP one day. We'd been laughing about something when she said, `Simone, I want you to do something for me. I want you to promise that one day you'll write THE book about me. I know they'll say I'm the nutty Princess and you're the nutty psychic but I want you to tell it the way it is. Will you promise me you'll do that? I need people to know the truth'."

Simone promised to do what Diana wanted, not knowing that when she did her friend would be in her grave.

"Writing this book has been gut wrenching," says the woman who was Diana's psychic healer, who the Princess often used five times a week for up to 14 hours at a time, and became one of her closest friends.

"It has dredged up so many memories and I know I'm setting myself up for a lot of criticism but I was determined to do it. I promised."

Diana met Simone Simmons nearly five years ago at a London healing centre. "I knew from the moment I met her there was something about this person that was so much like myself," says Simone. "We were a mirror image of each other. Diana knew it to. It's why our friendship grew so quickly.

"There were weeks when I'd see Diana five times. And if we weren't lounging around in her sitting room at KP we'd be on the telephone. Our calls were always a couple of hours long but there was one that lasted eight hours and another that went on for 14. Her phone bill was huge - often pounds 3,000 a month - that's how much she needed to talk.

"She rang me once at 1am. I always knew it was her because this little voice would say, `Are you busy Simone?' We started talking that night and were still talking at 8am the following morning. We never ran out of things to say. There were times she badly needed my help and others when we just gossiped, because Diana was a great gossip."

Simone had been introduced to the Princess through a mutual friend. Diana was still married to Charles, but was in emotional turmoil.

"The first time she asked me to do some healing was in 1993. I didn't know where to start. She was completely fragmented - an emotional, physical and psychological mess. She was being torn apart by everything and everyone in her life at once," she says.

Simone, 41, who was born and has lived in Hendon, North London, all her life, has been able to heal with the energy in her hands for as long as she can remember.

She was 36 years old when she met the woman who was to change her life. "People have this impression that Diana was barmy," she says. "But she was one of the strongest, funniest women I have ever known.

"We'd sit in KP on Saturday nights drinking gallons of tea and coffee watching Casualty. The room was always full of white lilies and although it was beautiful it was very informal - big, squashy sofas, photos everywhere and she even had her ballet shoes hanging on the back of the door.

"She loved those girlie nights when we'd both be sprawled across the floor. I'd be sitting cross-legged and barefoot on the floor leaning on a huge hippopotamus. It was a stuffed toy someone had bought her. She'd have no make up on and would be wearing an Alice band and an old pair of leggings. We'd sit in front of the TV laughing and giggling.

"When we got bored with the TV we'd go to her bedroom and hunt through her wardrobes howling with laughter at the frumpy ball gowns she used to wear.

"She said to me once, `They're not me any more are they Simone?' I just said, `No they're not. You're not the fairytale princess any more'.

"She used to give me some of her clothes although I'm much bigger than she was. One day she gave me two bags of Calvin Klein bras. I was worried they wouldn't fit. But she just laughed and said, `If they fit Fergie they'll fit you'.

"I remember the first time I went to KP. Diana had invited me over to do some healing. She said she felt there was terrible negative energy in her apartment - especially in her bedroom.

"And she was right. I could never have lived in that place the way it was. As soon as I walked into the apartment I felt oppressed. It was like something was trying to push me out. But I'd told her I would come over and see what was happening. She said, `Good. We'll have tea afterwards'. I said, `OK you make the tea, I'll bring the biscuits'. It seemed the most natural thing in the world.

"And I think that's why Diana liked me. I didn't treat her any different to anyone else. And of course that meant we had lots of rows.

"Our first argument was about something so petty I can't even remember what it was. But Diana did what she always did when she fell out with someone - she got one of the people in the Palace to ring me up and cancel our next appointment.

"I thought that was so rude so I drove to KP and told her so. She was standing looking sheepish at the bottom of the stairs and I said, `If you've got something to say to me - say it to my face. I'm not a servant or a dogs body or an insect. If you have a problem with me tell me and we can resolve it'.

"She went bright red and said she had to go. Three days later she phoned and said, `Sorry'. It was the only time I ever heard her say that word. Diana didn't like saying `sorry' and to be honest I didn't need to hear it from her. The fact that she used to phone after an argument and chatter away like nothing had happened was her way of apologising."

Despite rumours that Diana dropped friends at will if they displeased her, Simone says she was a true friend.

"She understood the responsibilities that go with friendship," says Simone. "When my father died suddenly from a massive heart attack she was one of the few people who were there to support me. She'd phone me at all hours asking if there was anything she could do.

"Diana and I talked about bereavement and loss and about letting go. She talked me through a lot of pain.

"I know people say she dropped friends but you have to understand that everything went back to when Diana was six years old and her mother walked out on her.

"She never wanted to feel that abandoned again so she actually dropped people when she believed they were going to drop her.

"If a friend was too busy to see her or wasn't around as much because she was in a relationship with a new man, Diana would dump them because she truly believed they were going to dump her. We talked about that a lot and she really did try to make it better.

"When Diana made a new friend she got very close to them very quickly and she wanted them around all the time. If they couldn't see her when she wanted them to she thought that meant they were about to desert her. But she nearly always brought people back - except if they had betrayed her, of course.

"I know a lot of people have claimed to know Diana but I truly did.

"That's why writing the book was so hard because I knew my cover would be blown.

"But I saw all sides of this woman - the good, the bad, the ugly, the capricious, the beautiful and the funny. And I wanted to tell people about her.

"Yes, she was a complex person but she wasn't unique. She had the same insecurities as 10 million other women - `Will he love me forever? Will he leave when he discovers my insecurities?'

"We weren't speaking before the crash. But I wasn't worried about it because we'd had rows before and they always sorted themselves out.

"This particular one had been bad. We spent a whole day screaming at each other on the phone. She'd slam it down, then I'd slam it down. People don't realise she swore like a trooper and boy did she swear at me that day.

"We fought because I was trying to warn her about someone who didn't have her best interests at heart but she wouldn't listen. But I knew we were too close for the bad feeling between us to last for long.

"When I heard about the crash I was devastated. I'd had an uneasy feeling about her for weeks and it scared me. I even phoned the Palace to tell her butler Paul Burrell about it but I never dreamed she was going to die.

"I cried for days. I was sad we hadn't spoken before she died. I still think about her a lot. I was privileged to have known her. Diana was a complex woman, but she had a beautiful soul.

"And that's how I will always remember her - my funny friend with the beautiful soul."

Diana: The Secret Years by Simone Simmons. Simone Simmons 1998. Published by Michael O'Mara Books on November 6, price pounds 16.99 hardback. To order a copy of Diana: The Secret Years call 01403 710851.
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Author:Malone, Carole
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 25, 1998
Words:1729
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