Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Death of Diana Princess of Wales 1997

Lady Diana Spencer made world headlines in 1981 when she married into the British Royal Family in a blaze of publicity. Prince Charles had won the heart of the young Diana from when she was just 16 years old and just a few years later was to became the Princess of Wales, being immediately adored by the public. Despite what looked like a fairy tale romance, things didn't go well for the couple though, in private their marriage was already having problems. The media, constantly following the couple around wherever they went, documented every part of their life. The birth of their sons William and Harry, the holidays, private lives and even spying on Diana in a gym.

In 1992 it was announced that the Prince and Princess would be separating and four years later were officially divorced. While the Prince had his usual duties to attend to, Diana used the title Princess of Wales to forward her causes that would generate a host of publicity for the good. Running a campaign to ban landmines she was photographed walking through a minefield to highlight this blight on the worlds stage and the injuries to children caught up in the horrors of war.

But it was her love life that became the focus of the press from the moment she split from Charles and they lapped up every morsel of gossip. Links to a heart surgeon, celebrities and members of high ranking military were the usual front pages but when she was seen to be taking a holiday in the summer of 1997 on a yacht with Harrods owner Mohammed al-Fayed the cameras were zooming in to catch every moment. This is where it was confirmed that there was something romantic going on between Diana and al-Fayed's son Dodi.

By now every newspaper was hungry for anything relating to Diana. Unfortunately she was being publicised for her love life instead of the countless charity campaigns she was running and although she was getting good results these stories were put on the shelf so that the scandal-sniffing papers could put gossip on the front pages. Photos of her would fetch a very good price, even more so if they were to catch her doing something romantic with Dodi. A photograph of them both sharing an intimate moment together on the yacht had already gone worldwide.

On 30th August 1997 the couple were in France and were having dinner at the Ritz Hotel in the capital Paris. Still being hounded by the press, they decided just before midnight to head to the apartment where they would be staying. The staff at the Ritz organised for the pair to be let out of the back entrance away from the waiting photographers and a Mercedes was arranged to take them away. A bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones would accompany them sat in the front, driven by chauffeur Henri Paul.

Setting off from the Ritz at around 20 past midnight on 31st August the car sped off with paparazzi already giving chase, cameras at the ready. After just a few minutes it became a high speed chase through the streets of Paris. As the car entered the tunnel at the Pont de l'Alma the driver lost control and the car slammed into a concrete pillar causing the entire front of the vehicle to crumple. Within a second the car had spun around and come to rest.

The chasing motorcyclists stopped to help the occupants, but some carried on taking photographs. A severely injured Diana was snapped in the back of the wrecked car, her life in the balance. Emergency services were called and were there within minutes.

She was removed from the car along with the bodyguard who were both still alive, Dodi and the driver Henri Paul were dead. As the ambulances raced to hospital, the first news broke that Diana was seriously injured in a Paris car crash.

By 0400 the fight to save Diana was over, she had succumbed to her injuries. The world soon reeled in shock at the news that this famous, kind, loving Princess, a woman who had dominated the newspapers for years, was now dead.

A replica of the American liberty flame above the tunnel soon became an unofficial memorial to the "peoples princess" and remains so to this day.

The funeral of Diana was a worldwide headline-hitting event, one in which everybody who read about it wanted to know more. TV newsreaders in black ties fought back tears as they read the latest developments. Images of the wrecked car became known almost as much as the woman herself. Public outpourings of grief led to thousands of flowers being laid outside the Royal palaces in London.

As the shock of her death gave way to anger, questions were asked as to how this could have happened. She was only 36 years old and doing great things in the world. Conspiracy theories suggested she was murdered, stories of her being pregnant, engaged and even converting to Islam were rife. Although nobody can stop people believing what they want to believe, there were calls for an inquiry as well as an inquest and both were launched.

A French inquiry in 1999 concluded that the car had been in collision with a Fiat Uno which was never officially located and identified. They went on to say that the cause of the collision was the Mercedes driver being over the legal alcohol limit and losing control of the car.

In 2007 a British inquest opened after a long investigation by the Metropolitan Police and in April 2008 the jury agreed that the three victims were killed as a result of the pursuing vehicles and returned a verdict of unlawful killing. They stated gross negligence of both the paparazzi and driver Henri Paul.

The irony in this tragic event is that the sole survivor, bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones was sat in the front passenger seat. Despite the negligence of all parties involved, it was down to Diana and Dodi's personal actions that dealt the final blow:

Both died simply because they didn't wear their seat belts.

(Below) Messages are still left at the liberty flame above the tunnel 22 years after her death.

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