TEN days from now, guns will start roaring and popping on our grouse moors. Pity the poor birds for whom the bullets whine. You might, however, have already heard potshots being fired in another direction this summer. The prey? The Royal Family. The hunters? Channel 4 and those cockroaches – no other word will do – who have dished up videotapes from the early 1990s of Princess Diana confessing all to her voice coach.

Where for fowl there is a strictly policed period in which they can be slaughtered, it is perennial open season on the royals. As the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death approached, it was inevitable she would be splashed over the front pages, her allure and the money her image brings as lucrative in death as in life. It was equally predictable, but no less sordid, that any scrap of fresh news about her would be given top billing. What a gift these tapes are to the TV network. And what a shameful way to treat Diana’s family.

I am no royalist – quite the reverse – yet it is sickening to think that the indiscreet but private comments of this most unhappy woman are being peddled as entertainment. The Romans were scarcely crueller when feeding Christians to the lions. Does anybody stop to wonder what it will feel like for Diana’s sons, her former husband, and relatives? Torture, I imagine. Even for the Queen, probably the most imperturbable and unhistrionic of monarchs ever to have sat on the throne.

Unsurprisingly, Earl Spencer, Diana’s brother, has pleaded with Channel 4 not to air these recordings. The broadcaster’s response, that they represent a matter of public record and are an important historical source, is utterly self-serving. It is a heartless justification dreamed up to excuse a course they were already hell-bent on pursuing. In the distant future, when close members of Diana’s family are no longer around, these revelations could and should be made public. But to serve them up now, in the guise of national interest, rather than admit that they are mere prurience and provocation, is risible.

The loving tribute to Diana that princes William and Harry filmed recently must have shown even the dimmest witted that they are still reeling, and suffering, from her death. In this they are like anyone who loses a parent unconscionably young. Where they differ is in being obliged to hide their emotions in public for the past two decades. That, and watching their mother’s story endlessly picked over by the hyenas of the media and treacherous former employees, lovers and friends.

Why do we persist in thinking the princes, or for that matter Charles or Camilla, are different from the rest of us? It will be as excruciating for William and Harry to hear details of Diana and Charles’s sex life, or their stand-up fights, as it would be for any child to learn such things about their parents. Pretty awful for the Prince of Wales too, who has perhaps even more reason to feel sorrowful, given the unedifying part he played in a drama that was beyond his powers of comprehension.

Channel 4’s Diana documentary is tangible proof that like so many others they view the princes and their kin as fair game, and a species apart. It’s an outlook as antiquated as Queen Victoria’s bloomers, yet they want us to presume that Diana’s boys are immune to the same feelings and emotions everybody has.

Of course, there was a time when that was partly true. For centuries, royalty were on another planet, and tried to keep it that way. Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake” was a glimpse of their utter incomprehension of the way others lived, of an unbridgeable social gulf. The revolution that led to her beheading, however, prompted a rethink across Europe by those who wore a tiara or crown and wished to retain their necks. By our own times, the British royals have shown themselves interested, aware and sensitive to the plight of others, and hard-working in the public good. Being out of touch with the people is an accusation that these days could more accurately be levelled at politicians – and parts of the media – than the incumbents of the Palace.

Instead it is we, the commoners, who are unfeeling and behind the times. For all our much-vaunted efforts not to view others as different, regardless of skin colour, religion or race, we do not extend such tolerance and humanity to Buckingham Palace or Balmoral. We – rightly – bend ourselves like pretzels not to offend ethnic or religious or sexual or gender minorities. But for the House of Windsor, the tiniest minority in the land, we fall back on crude ancient beliefs, and think that when cut they don’t bleed, when hurt they don’t cry, when dragged through the mud they don’t have legitimate reason to cry “enough!”