The Loss of Princess Diana to Royal Family and their reactions

Princess Diana


Inevitably, to think about Princess Diana’s life is also to think about her sudden death in a car accident, the effects of which still reverberate in the royal family and beyond. After she married Prince Charles, the eldest of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip’s four children, in July 1981, Diana Spencer’s entire life became tabloid fodder, from marital intrigue to their divorce and its aftermath.


Though Diana is remembered for her kindness and advocacy, her death is often thought of as a climax of one long chase for a scoop. A new HBO documentary titled The Princess, which premieres on August 13, is exploring her life, death, and legacy once again, this time using archival and video footage. “I’m very aware that this story has been told very widely before,” said director Ed Perkins earlier this year. “I felt very strongly that the perspective that hadn’t really been explored before wasn’t necessarily trying to get inside Diana’s head.” The documentary tracks Diana’s life from her 1981 engagement to Prince Charles all the way through her death, with revelations on their scandal-filled marriage and Diana’s often-tricky relationship with the press.

Ahead of The Princess premiere and the 25th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death on August 31, we’re taking a look back at the real-life events that lead to her tragic passing.


Princess Diana was in a fatal car accident in Paris.

On Saturday, August 30, 1997, Diana and her rumored boyfriend, Egyptian billionaire Emad “Dodi” Fayed, arrived to Paris following a 10-day getaway on the French Riviera. They dined at the private salon at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. Coincidentally, Fayed’s father, Mohammed Al-Fayed, owned the hotel at the time—along with Harrods department store in London.

A few minutes past midnight on Sunday, Diana and Fayed left the hotel and got into the Mercedes-Benz that was waiting for them, likely to travel to Fayed’s private Parisian estate.

Though the posted speed limit was 30 mph, the driver, Henri Paul, reportedly approached the entrance of a road tunnel at Paris’s Pont de l’Alma driving at approximately 70 mph. According to reports, Paul lost control of the car and collided into a pillar in the middle of the highway.

Paul and Fayed were pronounced dead at the scene, and Diana—still alive—was rushed to the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital. Early reports said Diana was suffering from a concussion, broken arm, and cut thigh. However, the princess had also suffered massive chest injuries. Operating for two hours, doctors tried, and failed, to get Diana’s heart beating properly again.

She never regained consciousness. Diana passed away from internal bleeding at 4:53 on the morning of August 31, 1997.


Her last words are heartbreaking.
In her book The Diana Chronicles, author Tina Brown describes the scene of the crash. According to Frederic Mailliez, an EMT who happened to be driving through the tunnel at the same time of the collision, Diana woke up in pain from internal injuries. “She kept saying how much she hurt,” Mailliez told Brown.

Sergeant Xavier Gourmelon, who led the response team in Paris, told The Independent Diana’s last words were, “My God, what’s happened?” Brown narrates what may have happened next: “She turned her head and saw the lifeless Dodi just in front of her, then turned her head again toward the front where the bodyguard was writhing and where Henri Paul lay dead. She became agitated, then lowered her head and closed her eyes.”

Diana ultimately died of a small, rare injury.
In 2019, Richard Shepherd, Britain’s top forensic pathologist, concluded that Diana died of a tiny, badly placed tear in the vein of her lung. “Her specific injury is so rare that in my entire career I don’t believe I’ve seen another,” Shepherd wrote in his book, Unnatural Causes, excerpted in The Daily Mail.

Shepherd believes Diana’s death could have been prevented by one small change: a seatbelt. “Had she been restrained, she would probably have appeared in public two days later with a black eye, perhaps a bit breathless from the fractured ribs and with a broken arm in a sling,” Shepherd wrote.

The only survivor of the crash was Diana’s British bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones. He had been wearing a seatbelt.


Many question what really caused the accident.
What caused Henri Paul, the acting head of security at the Ritz Hotel and a licensed driver, to so drastically lose control of the car? According to a statement from French authorities given the Monday after the crash, Paul’s blood exceeded the legal blood-alcohol limit. He had reportedly been drinking and driving recklessly.


According to eyewitnesses, there was another element involved in the crash. Their black Mercedes was being pursued by paparazzi in cars and on motorcycles, hoping to snatch a photo of the Princess and Fayed.

To this day, conspiracy theories about the crash abound. While different, the theories share the same thesis: This was no accident. For example, Mohammed al-Fayed, Dodi’s father, believes Diana was pregnant with his son’s child (this was later disproven by forensics).

Another theory posits that Diana feared such an attack. In 2003, Diana’s former butler published a note Diana had written soon after her divorce from Charles in 1996, at her lowest and most paranoid.

“I am sitting here at my desk today in October,” she wrote, “longing for someone to hug me and encourage me to keep strong and hold my head high. This particular phase in my life is the most dangerous. X is planning ‘an accident’ in my car, brake failure and serious head injury in order to make the path clear for Charles to marry.”

The conspiracy theories were all debunked.
In 2004, the British Metropolitan Police launched an investigation into the rumors that proliferated around the accident. The findings of Operation Paget, as the investigation was called, were released in 2006.

In short? The police found nothing to substantiate Mohammed Al Fayed’s claims of conspiracy—and neither did anyone else. “Operation Paget disposed of every substantive allegation. So did the official French inquiry. And so did independent investigations, notably Martyn Gregory’s Diana: The Last Days. The evidence is overwhelming that this was a traffic accident—period,” Brown writes in The Diana Chronicles.

Paparazzi at the scene allegedly took photos instead of calling for help.
Diana, arguably the most famous woman in the world, lived her life constantly pursued by paparazzi. Perhaps it’s no surprise that evidence of her death was similarly captured—but it’s certainly shocking.

According to Stephane Darmon, a motorcycle rider for one of the paparazzi who chased the Mercedes that night, the paparazzi present at the scene did not help the car’s doomed passengers. Instead, they took photos. “I did not see the car anymore because the light [of the flashes] was so bright. It was continuous,” Darmon told The Guardian in 2008.

In the immediate aftermath of the accident, seven French photographers were arrested and questioned by the police. According to The New York Times, charges of manslaughter were brought against nine photographers who followed the Mercedes and took photos after the crash, but they were not found guilty. However, three photographers were found guilty of invasion of privacy and were fined a symbolic 1 euro.

In the 2021 Apple TV+ documentary The Me You Can’t See, Prince Harry speaks about the anger he felt about the fallout of his mother’s death. “I was so angry with what happened to her—and the fact that there was no justice at all. Nothing came from that. The same people that chased her into the tunnel, photographed her dying on the backseat of that car,” he says.

Diana was 36 years old at the time of her death.
When she was 20, Diana Spencer became Princess of Wales in a lavish wedding ceremony at St. Paul’s Ceremony, televised to a global audience of 750 million. So much would happen in the next 16 years.

In 1996, Diana and Charles would divorce. The following year, when she was 36, Diana would leave behind her young sons behind.


After the accident, Prince William and Prince Charles were shielded from the public.


Diana and Charles’s two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, aged 15 and 12, were vacationing at Balmoral Castle in Scotland at the time of the crash. Understandably, they were devastated by their mother’s death.

According to Prince William, Queen Elizabeth II shielded her grandsons from the ensuing news spectacle.

“Back then, obviously, there were no smartphones or anything like that, so you couldn’t get your news, and thankfully at the time, to be honest, we had the privacy to mourn and collect our thoughts and to have that space away from everybody,” William said in a 2017 BBC documentary. “We had no idea that the reaction to her death would be quite so huge.”

The brothers have only recently begun to open up about how this devastating (and highly public) loss affected them.

“I really regret not ever talking about it,” Prince Harry said at an event for a mental health charity in 2016. “For the first 28 years of my life, I never talked about it. It is okay to suffer, but as long as you talk about it. It is not a weakness. Weakness is having a problem and not recognizing it, and not solving that problem.” Harry has since become an advocate for mental health awareness.


Queen Elizabeth II waited five days to publicly address Diana’s death.
The queen came under close scrutiny after Diana’s death—a plot point that will surely be explored in future seasons of The Crown. In fact, Crown creator Peter Morgan already explored the topic in the film The Queen, which is about the five days between Diana’s death and the queen’s public speech.


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