August 31


The death of Princess Diana

By 1997, the life of Diana, Princess of Wales and ex-wife of the heir to the British throne, was a soap-opera nightmare. Her marriage had collapsed under the weight of mutual infidelity — Charles had taken up with an old mistress Camilla Parker-Bowles, and Diana conducted a series of affairs with her bodyguard, a polo playing soldier, a rugby player, a Canadian rock star, a Pakistani heart surgeon and, lastly, Egyptian-born playboy Dodi Fayed, whose father owned Harrod’s department store and Fulham soccer team. Diana was a psychological mess, bulimic, depressive, self-harming, and manipulative, carrying an enormous grudge against her ex-husband whom she accused of plotting her death in a car crash that would be made to look accidental.

What she saw in Dodi Fayed remains a mystery, though some say his Muslim religion was a factor — supposedly it would outrage the Royal Family. Dodi was in every way a lightweight, scarcely employable and a connoisseur of American models, one of whom he had married, another of whom he had dumped for Diana, but his family fortune was clearly not a barrier to romance. In August 1997 the couple spent six days on his yacht in the Mediterranean and then flew from Corsica to Paris where they stayed at the Ritz Hotel, owned by Dodi’s father. In the early hours of August 31, while a decoy car attempted to lure away journalists, Diana and Dodi entered a Mercedes Limo driven by Ritz head of security Henri Paul and accompanied by a Fayed family guard. Chased by paparazzi, the limo entered the Place de l’Alma tunnel at a high rate of speed and crashed. Paul and Dodi died immediately, Diana expired from massive internal injuries a few hours later in hospital. The only survivor, bodyguard Trevor-Rees Jones, was severely injured and spent a month in hospital recuperating. His face was reconstructed using family photographs as a guide and held together with 150 pieces of titanium.

Controversy continued to dog the dead princess. As Britain mourned in spectacular fashion, rumours spread of the limo being struck from behind by a white Fiat which then sped off, never to be seen again. Others spoke of an assassination of the lovers by British intelligence services at the behest of the Royal Family — a view that Dodi’s father clings to. The driver Henri Paul was found to have been intoxicated and no one in the car was wearing seat belts.

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