Diana, Princess of Wales, dies in Paris' Pitie-Salpetiere Hospital
after suffering massive chest injuries in an early morning car
accident. Her companion, Dodi Fayed, was killed instantly in the 12:25
a.m. crash, as was driver Henri Paul, who was drunk and lost control
of the Mercedes in a highway underpass. He was driving at excessive
speeds in a reckless attempt to escape paparazzi photographers.
Diana's bodyguard, Trevor Rees Jones, escaped with serious but
nonfatal injuries. He was the only one wearing his seat belt. The
death of Diana, beloved by millions for her beauty and good nature,
plunged the world into mourning.
On July 1, 1961, Diana Frances Spencer was born at Park House, the
home that her parents rented on Queen Elizabeth II's estate at
Sandringham, England. In her childhood, her playmates were Prince
Andrew and Prince Edward, the younger sons of Queen Elizabeth. When
her father inherited the title Earl of Spencer in 1975, she became
known as Lady Diana Spencer. After completing her education, Lady
Diana became a kindergarten teacher at a fashionable school in a
suburb of London.
In 1980, she began a romance with Prince Charles, the eldest son of
Queen Elizabeth. In February 1981, the 33-year-old Prince of Wales
announced his engagement to the 19-year-old schoolteacher. Diana's
beauty and shy demeanor made her an instant media sensation, and on
July 29, 1981, nearly one billion television viewers in 74 countries
tuned in to witness her marriage to the heir to the British throne.
Married in a grand ceremony at St. Paul's Cathedral, the couple's
romance was, for the moment, the envy of the world. Their first child,
Prince William, was born in 1982, and their second, Prince Harry, in
Before long, however, the fairy tale couple grew apart, an experience
that was particularly painful under the ubiquitous eyes of the world's
tabloid media. The paparazzi--freelance photographers--made Diana one
of the most photographed women in the world, and privately she
suffered from eating disorders and depression. In 1992, Diana and
Charles formally separated. In August 1996, the prince and princess
reached a final divorce agreement after prolonged negotiations. In
exchange for a generous settlement and the right to retain her
apartments at Kensington Palace and her title Princess of Wales, Diana
agreed to relinquish the title Her Royal Highness and any future
claims to the British throne.
In the year after her divorce, the popular princess seemed well on her
way to achieving her dream of becoming "a queen in people's hearts."
She maintained a high public profile and continued to promote many
humanitarian causes, including support for AIDS victims and a campaign
against land mines. In late 1996, she became involved with millionaire
Dodi Al Fayed, the son of the Egyptian-born owner of the Harrods
department stores. Their romance grew in 1997, and in August Diana
took a holiday with Dodi in the Mediterranean. As always, the
paparazzi followed closely behind, and one photographer was paid $3
million by the tabloids for a photo of Diana and Dodi kissing on
On August 30, Diana and Dodi flew from Sardinia to Paris. Diana
planned to return to Kensington Palace the next morning after spending
a night in Dodi's Paris villa. That evening, Diana and Dodi dined at a
restaurant in Paris' Ritz Hotel, owned by Dodi's father since 1979.
The paparazzi came out in force. Toward the end of the meal, Dodi told
his chauffeur to drive his car back to his mansion in an attempt to
draw off photographers. Henri Paul, the deputy chief of security at
the Ritz, was enlisted to be the new driver. He agreed, even though he
had been drinking heavily and was taking anti-depressant drugs that
were not supposed to be mixed with alcohol.
Around midnight, Dodi and Diana emerged from the rear entrance of the
Ritz. The paparazzi had not been fooled by the earlier ruse, and the
couple were photographed getting into a bullet-proof Mercedes along
with Diana's bodyguard. As they made their way across town, they were
followed closely by paparazzi on motorcycles. On the Place de la
Concorde, Henri Paul hit the accelerator in an attempt to escape the
press. By the time they reached the underpass below the Pont de
l'Alma, the driver was traveling an estimated 120 mph in a 30-mph
speed zone. Paul lost control as they flew into the underpass, and the
Mercedes ricocheted off a wall and slammed into pillars supporting the
tunnel roof. The paparazzi, 100 yards behind at the time of the
accident, were able to stop in time. Several of them then ran down the
tunnel and began taking photos, which were later confiscated by
The Mercedes, lying crushed against the 13th pillar, was a tangle of
smoking metal. Diana, barely alive with serious chest injuries, was
trapped inside. Emergency crews arrived within minutes, but because
the car was made of reinforced steel meant to withstand bullets it
took nearly an hour and a half to extricate her from the crumbled
vehicle. She was taken to the Pitie-Salpetiere Hospital, where she
suffered cardiac arrest minutes after her arrival. Surgeons failed to
revive her, and at 3 a.m. she was pronounced dead. She was 36.
Diana's bodyguard was the only survivor of the crash. He suffered a
concussion and other injuries and has no memory of the crash nor the
events immediately preceding or following it. French authorities
arrested 10 paparazzi photographers who were tailing the Mercedes and
charged them with involuntary manslaughter. The charges were dropped
when a formal investigation concluded that Henri Paul was solely at
fault for the fatal accident.
The tragic death of Diana caused an outpouring of British national
feeling not seen since the celebrations surrounding the end of World
War II. Mourners brought more than a million bouquets of flowers to
the royal palaces and waited in line more than 12 hours to sign books
of condolences. More than 3,500 phone lines were set up to take
donations for a memorial fund, and within a year the charity fund
raised $133 million, of which $48 million came from sales of Elton
John's memorial recording "Candle in the Wind 1997" and $20 million
from official Diana souvenirs.
After being criticized for failing to satisfactorily match the grief
of the British people, the royal family arranged for a state funeral
to be held for Diana at Westminster Abbey on September 6. Diana's
coffin was taken from Kensington Palace to the Abbey on a horse-drawn
gun carriage, and an estimated one million mourners lined the route.
Diana's sons, William, 15, and Harry, 12, joined their father, Prince
Charles; grandfather Prince Philip; and uncle Charles, the Earl of
Spencer, to walk the final stretch of the procession with the casket.
The only sound was the clatter of the horses' hooves and the peal of a
The service, watched by an estimated two billion people worldwide,
sacrificed royal pomp for a more human touch. Workers associated with
Diana's various charities represented 500 of the 2,000 people invited
to attend the funeral. Elton John, a friend of Diana, lent a popular
touch to the ceremony when he sang "Candle in the Wind," accompanying
himself on piano. After the service, Diana's body was taken by hearse
to her family's ancestral estate near Althorp, north of London. In a
private ceremony, she was laid to rest on a tree-shaded island in a
small lake, securely beyond the reach of the camera lens.
Since the death of Princess Diana, Althorp, which has been in the
Spencer family for over 500 years, is now a popular tourist attraction
that offers tours to the general public.
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