Channel 4’s controversial Diana doc becomes its top rating show of the year despite boycott calls

The documentary contained never-before-seen footage of the princess speaking candidly about her marriage to Prince Charles

Channel 4’s controversial documentary containing never-before-seen footage of Princess Diana might have been met with mixed reaction from critics but it nevertheless has become the broadcaster’s highest rating show since Gogglebox last year, pulling in 3.5 million viewers overnight.

The documentary, Diana: In Her Own Words, was aired on Sunday evening (6 August) ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Princess's death in a car crash in Paris on 31 August 1997.

Despite receiving widespread criticism ahead of its air date with some viewers calling for a boycott of the show using the tag #boycottchannel4, it seems the exclusivity of the documentary was too hard to resist for many.

The documentary attracted an average audience of 3.5 million viewers and a 16.4% share of audience making it Channel 4's highest rating overnight audience for a show since Gogglebox in April last year, which had a high of 3.9 million viewers.

It is also broadcaster's biggest overnight rating for a documentary since Benefits Street in February 2014.

This rating is more than double Channel 4's slot average - up +131% for volume and up +142% for share by comparison. It also significantly outperformed the slot average for key demographics 16-34 year olds and ABC1s, the broadcaster said.

The audience peaked with 4.1 million viewers and a 19% share.

In the run up to the air date, family and friends of Diana pleaded with the broadcaster to scrap the documentary, which contained private video footage of the princess recorded by her voice coach Peter Settelen.

While excerpts of the recordings were previously broadcast in the US as part of an NBC documentary in 2004, Channel 4 said the documentary contained never-before-seen footage which aimed to show Diana “at her most candid, natural and charismatic”.

On the tapes, Diana can be heard speaking openly about her engagement and marriage to Prince Charles including personal details of the couple’s sex life.

Diana’s brother Earl Spencer and her close friend Rosa Monckton reportedly asked Channel 4 to shelve the program, which they believed was an “intrusion” on Diana’s right to privacy, and insensitive to her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, the Guardian reported.

The documentary split viewers, with some commending Channel 4 for its bravery in airing a documentary that exposes the human side of the royal family, while others believed it was a ploy to get ratings.

A critic from the Telegraph downplayed the exclusivity of the documentary, believing there was nothing said by Diana to camera "that hadn’t already appeared in print", while a critic from the i newspaper believed the footage was "less controversial than might have been expected".

Jessica Goodfellow

The Drum's media reporter covering everything from publishing, TV, social media, radio and technology.

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