Princess Diana's Accident
It was Saturday, 30th August 1997.
A beautiful warm day in Sardinia, yet Diana and Dodi's holiday had come to an end, and they wanted to go home. The pair didn't however fly directly to London. They still wanted to enjoy one or two days in Paris.
Dodi's father had placed his private jet at their disposal, a short stop between destinations was therefore not a problem.
They landed in the city of love at 15.15. The lovers were at once followed by the press.
The pair viewed a Paris town house owned by Mohamed Al-Fayed. Then the pair drove to the Al-Fayed private villa. A cool drink, a little brush up, pull on comfortable clothes.
Dodi and Diana wanted to spend the weekend completely casually and intimately. Towards evening they drove to the Champs-áµlysã´es, Diana wanted to view the beautiful shops on the magnificent avenue. The pair strolled down the street, she in light coloured trousers and a dark blazer, he in jeans and a leather shirt. They looked like completely normal tourists, no-one showed the famous lovers any great attention. Later they decided to have dinner at the Ritz hotel. It belongs to Dodi's father.
Here they could sit in a peaceful corner of the restaurant. And as there was always a roomy suite for Dodi reserved in the Ritz, the pair could freshen themselves before they dined. Diana arranged for a hairdresser to attend to her, but didn't feel like getting changed. Dodi too remained casually dressed. They didn't feel very hungry and in the restaurant they ordered a little fish, white wine and coffee. Somehow the pair were nervous. They wanted to drive immediately to Dodi's private villa, the journalists were not supposed to get the opportunity to follow.
Was the dinner in the Ritz just an evasive action? Should the photographers believe that Diana and Dodi would spend the night in the hotel? In any case Dodi arranged evading tactics with the hotel staff:a chauffeur drove his limousine from the main entrance, turned round after a few kilometres and returned back to the hotel. And yes, the photographers followed on their motorbikes. Yet they soon realised that something was afoot, and remained on the hotel forecourt. At 19 minutes past midnight Diana and Dodi were ready to go. They chose the back exit which led out on to the narrow street Rue Cambon.
They also didn't take the normal Mercedes 600, instead taking an inconspicuous model, a Mercedes 280. The second security man at the hotel, Henri Paul, should drive the car. Bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones sat in the front seat, Dodi and Diana in the back. The car drove away.
At the Place de la Concorde the car with the prominent passengers was followed by the photographers, who were ever in the hope of taking good photos. They grew ever larger in numbers, the photographers probably stayed in contact using mobile phones. Henri Paul gave gas. He wanted to outdrive the paparazi under all conditions. With squeeking tyres he accelerated away. He drove faster and faster. Henri Paul took the fast road at the harbour of the river Seine, raced then into the tunnel under the Place de Alma. The speed limit is 80 kilometres, he drove a full 180. Shortly after the entrance to the tunnel he completely lost control of the heavy car. The car skidded, lurched from side to side and finally crashed at high speed into the 13th concrete post! An explosion happened on impact. It was exactly 0:25. The driver was dead at the scene.
The bodyguard lay in a critical position on the passenger side. He was unconscious, but alive. Dodi like Henri Paul, lost his life at the scene of the accident. Diana, who was sitting next to her lover, lay crunched up in the back, her head clamped between the two front seats. She was still breathing. Miraculously she had hardly any bleeding wounds. By chance on the opposite carriageway a doctor was driving. He saw the car accident and stopped his car at once. Dr. Frederic Maillez reached for his emergency bag and ran to the crashed car. He didn't know who the passengers were. But he recognised that the driver and the man sitting in the rear of the car were both dead. The external injuries of the second man at the front appeared the worst to him, so he first gave the bodyguard medical attention.
Diana made rowing movements with her arms, when injured people do this it means that they are not receiving enough oxygen. The medic laid an oxygen mask over the unconscious Princess's mouth. The ambulance was meanwhile underway. It took almost an hour until the victims could be taken out of the wreck. The car had to be first cut open using metal shears.
At half-past one in the morning Diana came into the La Pitié-Salpêtriére hospital: emergency operation. The surgeons opened her ribcage "and discovered a torn vein. Massive inner bleeding! They managed to close the vein. But suddenly her heart stopped. The medics tried to bring the Princess back to life using heart massage. The fight lasted until shortly before four o'clock in the morning. Then the doctors had to agree that they had lost the fight.
Diana was dead!
The Princess of Wales died on 31st August 1997 at 3.57 am. After the initial shock at the tragic death of the Princess many questions were raised. How could it have come to this pointless death? Then the photographers were blamed for not giving the car enough room, following the car, and therefore being responsible for the accident.
The paparazi had certainly not played a laudable role in this drama, but one cannot give them the complete guilt. As Henri Paul, the chauffeur was completely drunk! He had exactly 1,75 millilitres of alcohol in his blood. That is the same as about eight whiskies. Henri emerged as a dry alcoholic, his liver readings were normal.
In spite of this he must have been pointlessly drunk on this evening. But this was not all. The medics could also detect traces of drugs in his blood. A hellish combination when together with alcohol. How was it possible that a drunken security guard would place himself behind the wheel of a car?
How did no-one notice his condition? Mohamed Al-Fayed released the video from the security cameras at the hotel. One can recognise Diana as well as Dodi and Henri Paul. The security guard didn't sway!
A photographer reported after the accident that on the night in question in front of the Ritz Paul had told them: "You won't catch us tonight". Did he overjudge himself, and did Henri want to organise a race?
Perhaps even impress the Princess? It is also strange that only the bodyguard had worn a safety belt. Would it not have been his duty to have at least move Diana and Dodi to put it on? And why had the lovers not tried to get the driver to keep the speed down? It is so unbelievable for the entire world that Diana is no longer alive. Wild speculations soon took hold: late witnesses claimed to have seen a white Fiat Uno, which was supposedly caught up in the accident, it could however also have been a white Citröen. There were also splinters of glass on the concrete post and on the Mercedes which prove this.
It was Sunday, 31st August 1997. The Queen. her husband Prince Philip, Charles, and the children William and Harry were spending a few days in Scotland at Balmoral Castle. During the night Charles learnt about his ex-wife's terrible accident. He stayed awake for the rest of the night to find out how Diana was. As Prince Charles was informed of the tragic death of his former wife he fell into shock and could hardly speak a word. He went at once to his mother's chambers and told her the terrible news. Queen Elizabeth was also completely at a loss. Charles returned to his bedroom. He wanted to be completely alone for one moment. Then the most difficult job of his life stood in front of him: He had to wake his sons and tell them that their beloved mother was dead. William and Harry were still half-asleep as their father told them the gruesome truth. It took quite a while until they could understand what he was talking about. Whilst he was doing this more and more lights were being turned on in the castle. The Queen's Private Secretary rang his colleagues in Buckingham Palace and got them out of bed, as much had to be organised.
The fact that the royal family drove - with the children of Charles and Diana - to the normal service seemed a little strange. Diana's name wasn't even mentioned. The children, which hadn't even really understood the death of the mother, had to bear the onlookers and the many press phtographers. Nobody can anticipate which feelings the children of the dead mother had to bear.
In the meantime the whole world was shocked. Mourning citizens went to Kensington Palace or Buckingham Palace and laid down flowers. In the course of one week until the burial the courtyards turned into true seas of flowers with over a million of them being laid there. Yes, all over the world one could see crying faces. On the television one could see live reports from the Parisian tunnel. TV and radio programmes were postponed - the world cried over Diana.
Also on the same morning Prince Charles flew to Paris with Diana's two sisters Sarah and Jane. They wanted to bring the Princess of Wales' corpse back home. Diana was laid out in the hospital, her beautiful body was covered with a simple silk sheet. Her hands were folden, a white rose lay on them. Two large candles brought light to the bare room. Charles, Jane and Sarah had tears in their eyes as they glanced at Diana for one last time. Then they joined hands and said a quiet prayer. An undertaker came with a heavy oak coffin, the Princess was laid on soft silk pillows. The Windsor family flag was draped over the coffin, and soldiers carried it out with great dignity.
The Princess, who was only allowed to live to be 36 years old, flew back on her very" 'last flight."
In London the bodily remains were laid in St. James' Palace. Countless mourning people wrote messages in the books of condolence left out there.
That morning Diana's brother made a speech in which he accused the Paparazi of being guilty for the death of his sister. On the day of death, Sunday, the Queen and her husband drove to morning service - Diana's name was not mentioned once. Whilst the population openly showed their sadness over the death of Diana, the Queen, Charles and the children remained at Balmoral. That made the people feel very angry against their queen. She should also show her participation in the general mourning. The newspapers became ever more severe: "Ma'am, have you no heart?" stated the headlines. Besides this it was still completely uncertain as to how the burial would operate. The Queen didn't want to honour her former daughter-in-law with a state burial, after all, after the divorce she was no longer a member of the Royal Family. Yet as the public pressure grew ever stronger, she admitted that there would be a unique ceremony for a remarkable woman. the Queen was also under pressure from the people to lower the palace flag to half-mast, something which she reluctantly did after a few days.
On Friday, a day before the funeral, the Royal Family returned to London and viewed the sea of flowers surrounding Kensington Palace. Diana's sons appeared quite collected and also spoke to the people, exactly like their mother would have done. Yet how it looked behind the facade is anyone's guess.
On the same evening the Queen of England gave the long-awaited televised speech about the death of Diana. At this point I must mention that the Queen had wanted to keep to regulations which had been set a long, long time previously. On Saturday, 6th September 1997 a quite majestic, very dignified funeral took place, which came very close to resembling a pompous state burial
6th. September 1997:
Never was it so still in London. Planes were only allowed to fly over the city at an extreme height. Shops were shut. All sports fixtures were cancelled. The world cried over "England's Rose". The sun shone over London.
The death knell from the tower of Westminster Abbey rings for the first time. The funeral procession leaves Kensington Palace, Diana's final residence. From now on the bell rings every minute - until the arrival at Westminster Abbey.
The princess' coffin rests on a gun carriage from the year 1904 from the royal cavalry artillery. Six centimes have been hitched up in order to accompany her on her last journey through London. The blue-red-gold royal standard is wrapped over her coffin. Three white flower arrangements adorn it. The first is a small, round arrangement of small white roses. In the arrangement a letter from Harry. One can read the hand-written word "mum". In the middle lays a large white arrangement of lilies. The favourite flowers of the Princess. They come from her brother, Earl Spencer. Behind these white tulips with a gold ribbon. These are the last greeting from Diana's son William. People cry and scream "Diana, Diana,.." time and time over. Twelve soldiers of the Welsh Guard, the Princess of Wales' regiment, in red jackets and with black bearskin hats, flank the coffin. Overall between the masses of people on the roadside are standing security officers from the English Secret Service MI5.
The queen, her two sons Edward and Andrew, Princess Margaret, Fergie and her two daughters and a few ladies-in-waiting stand at the gate to Buckingham Palace. They wait for the funeral procession.
Diana's coffin passes the royal palace. The world watches the reaction of the queen: silently she bows once before her dead ex-daughter-in-law. The coffin continues on its way; and the queen returns to the palace.
The gun carriage reaches St. James' Palace. Charles' residence. Diana had previously lived here with him. Now waiting are Prince Charles, the two sons William and Harry, the queen's husband, Prince Philip. And Diana's 33-year old brother Earl Spencer. All wear black suits with black ties. Only Prince Charles' double-breasted suit is navy blue. The only person to cross himself on first seeing Diana's coffin is her brother. There are still one and a half kilometres to Westminster Abbey. It will be the toughest journey that Diana's sons have ever made. The five start to proceed silently behind the coffin. Only seldom do the young princes raise their gaze. Prince William appears shorter than he actually is. He walks with a stoop. The male royals are followed by 533 representatives of 106 charitable organisations which the princess had worked together with. Some of them have crutches, some are in wheelchairs. Many of them are wearing the sashes and decorations of their organisations. Time and time again one hears "Diana, Diana" calls. Yet again fly flowers under the hooves of the centimes. One sees cardboard placards displaying "Diana, we love you", "Good-bye Diana". The flags of all nations line the sides of the streets.
The queen leaves Buckingham Palace in a black Rolls-Royce. Then the thing happens that England has waited seven days for: the flag of the United Kingdom - the Union Jack is flow at half-mast. At this moment ten-thousand clap their approval. For days the resentment of the subjects against Her Majesty has grown. The people did not understand the silence kept by the queen up to the previous day. Again and again arrive the invited guests at the venerable coronation church, among whom Hillary Clinton, Henry Kissinger, Margaret Thatcher, Edward Heath, James Callaghan, Imran Khan, Jemima Goldsmith, Karl Lagerfeld, Sting, Danatella and Santo Versac, Chris de Burgh, George Michael, Cliff Richard, Tom Cruise, Stephen Spielberg, Tom Hanks. Germany is represented by the ambassador Gerhard von Moltke. As it is not an official state funeral the heads of state are missing. Wearing a black suit Dodi Al Fayed's father enters the church with his young Finnish second wife. Luciano Pavarotti is supported by two women. One of whom is his 23 year-old girlfriend Nicoletta. He was asked whether he wanted to sing to Diana's honour. But Pavarotti declined as he couldn't trust his emotions. His pain was so strong.
The 1900 mourners fill Westminster Abbey, filling all the seats. Ten minutes beforehand Queen Elizabeth II entered. After the singing of the national anthem æ°God Save the Queenæ± all eyes are fixed on the church portal. Eight Welsh Guards carry the oak coffin on their shoulders into the basilica. They set it down before the altar. Four large candles frame it.
The queen and her husband Philip lay down a small white bouquet. Prince Charles and his two sons step up. They too lay down a small arrangement. Prince Charles crosses himself afterwards. The funeral service begins.
Lady Diana's family arranged the order of events. This incorporated a mixture of traditional ceremony and a completely personal parting. The two sisters of the deceased began to speak.
The first, Lady Sarah, who quoted from a poem:
"Should I die and leave you for a time, do not be like the others, bitter, despondent. Those who stay long awake in silent fog and gush tears. Go back into life and smile for me. Strengthen your heart and your shaking hand, in order to do something that will comfort other hearts to your own. Finish my unfinished duties which were so important to me, and with this I will perhaps give you consolation."
Next spoke Lady Jane. She read the following verse:
"Time elapses too slowly for those who wait, too quickly for those who fear, it is too long for those who enjoy themselves, but for those who love time, time is eternal".
Next a passage from Verdi's Requiem was sung. Prime Minister Tony Blair read, obviously moved, from the 1st letter to the Corinthians, the 13th chapter, whereby he replaced the word used in the English Bible >charity< with the word >love<: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal".
A high-point of the funeral: Diana's close friend Elton John placed himself at the piano and sang his song "Candle in the Wind". In memory of Lady Diana he changed the text to "Goodbye England's Rose". As he sings Princes William and Harry also cry. As a matter of responsibility the BBC gave its camera crew the strict instructions not to focus on the grieving family members during the service. They kept to this.
Next Diana's brother Charles spoke. Time after time he struggled too with the tears. The young Earl wrote his text himself and had not laid it in front of the royal family beforehand. He wanted to prevent anything being struck from his text. From an extraordinary and very personal viewpoint he paid tribute to his dead sister. His speech however contained a hardly concealed critique of the English royal court. Diana was a person with a natural nobility, classless, and someone who proved in the last year, that one doesn't need a royal title in order to keep a special magic. And he promised to protect the two princes from the coldness of the palace, so that their souls would not simply be submerged in duty and tradition, but would be able to sing freely. The congregation broke into spontaneous applause - etiquette was disregarded. At this moment only the feeling of the individual counted. For the first time since the year 1065 when the originally Norman nave had been consecrated there is applause in the place of worship, Westminster Abbey. And outside on the streets of London, in Hyde Park, where hundreds of thousands follow the funeral service on giant cine-screens, the people celebrate like at a rock concert.
Archbishop George Carey speaks to the mourners. He praises Diana's involvement with people suffering from AIDS, victims of landmines and completely normal people. He is the only one at this point to also mention Diana's partner Dodi Al-Fayed, the dead driver and the seriously injured bodyguard.
14.00 hrs.: The service is over. The eight guards carry out the coffin. This is followed by a minute's silence. Diana begins her final journey. The soldiers place the coffin in a black hearse. 123 kilometres north of London, in Althorp, she is to be buried in the presence of her family at the Spencer family estate. The limousine drives slowly through London. Overall on the sides of the streets stand people who want to say goodbye to Diana. They throw flowers on the roof, on the bonnet, on the bumper. Sometimes the driver has to turn on the windscreen-wipers in order to be able to see the way ahead. The car joins the motorway. It is flanked by police on motorbikes. On the opposite side of the motorway the cars have stopped. The people get out and wave at Diana one last time. Diana should actually be laid to rest in the Spencer family grave in the village church of St. Mary the Virgin. The 400-soul village Great Brington has just one postoffice, one pub and one village stores. Everyone knows everyone else. In order to prevent the small village becoming a place of pilgrimage the Spencer family chose a small wooded island on the estate lake to be Diana's final resting place. The giant 240 hectare estate Althorp is protected by a two metre high russet stone wall. In this way Diana's sons William and Harry have the opportunity to visit their mother's grave.
Diana has returned home. The large wrought-iron gate of Althorp House closes behind her for a final time.
Diana is buried in complete silence. Only Prince Charles, the two sons, Diana's siblings, her mother, Diana's best friend and a clergyman are present. A few weeks beforehand Diana had ordered a black long-sleeve wrap-around dress from her clothes designer Catherine Walker. She wears it on this memorable day for the first time and for eternity. In her hands a rosary, which Diana had once received as a gift from Mother Theresa.