She was a modern princess. Her wedding was watched by over 750 million people globally, according to BBC. Her people loved her. She was, as Elton John sang, “England’s rose,” and her death broke the heart of the nation and nearly destroyed the British Royal Family. And for many, questions still remain about that night in the summer of 1997 when Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a car crash in Paris, France at the age of 36.
Diana Spencer was born into the British nobility, her father John being the 8th Earl Spencer and Member of the House of Lords. The Spencers had numerous ties to the Royal Family, and her courtship with Charles, Prince of Wales and heir apparent to the British throne, began in 1980, when she was 19 and he was 32. While their "fairytale wedding" in 1981 was a global media event, their 13-year age difference and a series of extramarital affairs strained their marriage, and they divorced in 1996.
Always a favorite of the British tabloids, Diana was pursued by the paparazzi wherever she went. In the summer of 1997 she began dating Dodi Fayed, the son of Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed. After spending a few days vacationing together in the Mediterranean on the Fayed’s luxury yacht, Diana and Dodi stopped in Paris on August 30, 1997 on their way to London. They planned to stay at the Hôtel Ritz Paris, which the Fayed family owned, however, finding themselves trapped inside with tons of photographers waiting for them, they decided to abscond to an apartment Dodi owned nearby.
To drive them they called Henri Paul, the hotel’s deputy head of security, who was off-duty that night. After first sending out a decoy vehicle to throw off the paparazzi, Diana and Dodi left from the Ritz’s rear entrance. Just after midnight, after entering the Pont de l'Alma tunnel, Paul lost control of the vehicle, and it slammed into a support column. It is estimated he was driving at over 65 mph at the time of the crash.
Paul and Dodi Fayed were pronounced dead at the scene. Diana and her bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones were still conscious when police arrived at the scene, but grievously injured. Diana then went into cardiac arrest, and despite doctors' attempts to resuscitate her, she died at 4 AM on the morning of August 31. Trevor Rees-Jones was the sole survivor, but he suffered significant injuries to his head and face.
Diana’s death was met with widespread disbelief and mourning, both at home in England and around the world. According to BBC, millions lined the streets of London during her coffin’s procession to Westminster Abbey, where her funeral was held. In the wake of the crash, many criticized the paparazzi, as they were believed to have been chasing the car, causing it to speed. In fact, nine photographers and a press motorcyclist were detained by police on suspicion of manslaughter for their perceived role in the crash, but the charges were later dropped.
In 1998, Mohamed Al-Fayed told British tabloid The Mirror he believed the fatal crash that killed Diana and his son was part of a conspiracy. He would later claim their deaths had been carried out by British intelligence, ordered by Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip. He claimed Diana was pregnant at the time of her death and planned to marry Dodi and that the British Royal Family and agents inside its government were embarrassed she was to marry a Muslim. The medical examiner at the time of her death found no signs of a pregnancy.
French investigators determined that driver Henri Paul was under the influence of alcohol and possibly drugs at the time of the crash. His blood alcohol level was at three times the legal limit to drive and also had traces of Prozac, which would have exacerbated the effects of alcohol. Paul’s father, however, refutes these findings, and in an interview with The Mirror this year said, “Someone killed my son.”
Initiated in 2004, Operation Paget was an extensive inquest into the circumstances of Diana’s death, including all conspiracy theories. Based on its findings, a 2008 jury determined the crash was solely the result of “gross negligence” on the part of Henri Paul and the paparazzi, according to the BBC.
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