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Tomorrow marks a quarter-century since Princess Diana was killed in a tragic car accident in Paris. The Princess of Wales, however, has captivated the world as much in death as she did in life, with royal fans (and conspiracy theorists) still speculating on her final moments all these years later. From her relationship with Dodi Fayed and her final phone calls, to the doctors who tried to save her life – here’s what really happened in Princess Diana’s final days.
In August of 1997, a year after she finalized her divorce from Prince Charles, Princess Diana remained a fixture on front pages around the world. Warmly nicknamed the People’s Princess – despite losing her HRH titles in her divorce – Princess Diana had been enjoying a summer vacation in France while her two children, the Princes William and Harry, spent time with their father and grandmother, The Queen, in Balmoral, Scotland. Diana’s final days, however, were far from relaxing. The Princess was chased by paparazzi angling for a picture of her with her new boyfriend Dodi Fayed. After facing Tory backlash for her landmines campaign, Princess Diana decided to extend her vacation – a move that would ultimately lead to her untimely death.
On the morning of August 31, 1997, Princess Diana was fatally injured after the car she was driving in crashed in the Pont de l’Alma underpass in Paris. After receiving extensive medical care on site, Diana was rushed to Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital. She suffered two cardiac arrests and major internal bleeding before she was pronounced dead at 4AM.
Not only did the princess suffer a significant tear in her pericardium, the membrane that protects the heart, Diana also had a tear in her upper-left pulmonary vein at the point of contact with the heart. After suturing the lesions, Diana’s doctors tried to resuscitate her with electric paddles, adrenaline and cardiac massage, but ultimately could not get her heart beating again.
Princess Diana was in a Mercedes S280 with her driver Henri Paul, her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed – son of Harrods billionaire Mohamed Al Fayed – and Fayed’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones at the time of her tragic crash. Paul lost control of the vehicle and smashed into a concrete pillar in the tunnel at about 65mph, twice the tunnel’s 31mph speed limit. Dodi and Paul died on impact. Diana later died in a French hospital. The only person to survive the crash was Rees-Jones.
The group was being pursued by paparazzi moments before the crash. Paul, who was later found to have a blood alcohol level well above the legal limit and was driving at a high speed, had been trying to evade photographers. Diana and the other passengers in the car were also reportedly not wearing seatbelts. Seconds after the accident, an off-duty doctor named Frederic Mailliez pulled over to help the victims of the crash. He called emergency services and tried to care for Diana as best he could, totally unaware that she was the Princess of Wales.
Diana had been dating Dodi Fayed for several weeks when she died. Fayed, 42, was a film producer who formed a production company that helped finance six Hollywood films, including Hook, starring Dustin Hoffman, the Scarlet Letter, starring Demi Moore, and Chariots of Fire, which won Academy Award for Best Picture in 1981. A notorious playboy, Fayed was married to model Suzanne Gregard for eight months in 1986 and proposed once again to model Kelly Fisher in 1997. Despite his engagement, Fayed also began dating Princess Diana in July of that year. Fisher sued Fayed for ‘breach of contract’ after he left her for Diana, but the suit was dropped after his death.
There is a lot of mystery surrounding the late royal’s final few hours, but it’s believed Princess Diana uttered her last words after her boyfriend Dodi Fayed was removed from the car. ‘Oh my God, what’s happened?’ Diana reportedly exclaimed from inside the vehicle. The Princess was then taken out of the Mercedes S280 as well, but her heart stopped beating when she was moved from a wooden board to a mattress meant to stop her from moving.
Before the crash, Diana spoke to her son Prince William, her butler Paul Burrell and her good friend Susie Kassem. She also called her trusted confidant and The Mail’s royal correspondent Richard Kay on her mobile. ‘She was a little agitated,’ Kay later recalled of the conversation. ‘Her plans had gone awry. She was anxious to get home to see her boys and there had been those scenes in the afternoon with the paparazzi racing after them when they’d arrived in Paris… She felt very trapped by the photographers’. Kay continued: ‘Her last words to me were something like, “You’ve been working hard. Get a good night’s sleep, unplug your phone. I’ll speak to you tomorrow and we’ll meet on Monday.”‘ Princess Diana was living at Kensington Palace when she died but spent part of her last summer traveling in France and along the Mediterranean. In the hours following Princess Diana’s death , her body remained unmoved in the French hospital at the royal family’s request. Father Yves-Marie, a French Catholic priest, stood guard over Diana’s body , although no security guards stopped other visitors – including high-ranking French officials such as the president and his wife – from going in and out of the princess’s hospital room to pay their respects.
Some of Princess Diana’s closest friends, family and staff flew to Paris to retrieve her body and bring her home to Britain . Prince Charles boarded a flight from Aberdeen to Paris along with his two former sisters-in-law while Diana’s butler, Paul Burrell, and her driver-minder, Colin Tebutt, managed to get last-minute plane tickets to France. Once Burrell and Tebutt arrived, they secured Diana’s room, requested air conditioning units be brought in to preserve her body (since the royal family requested she not be sent to the morgue), and organized clothing and embalming for the princess.
A picture of Diana’s two sons found in her purse and rosary beads given to her by Mother Teresa were placed in her hands. The royal cortège arrived shortly afterwards and Diana’s body was brought aboard a royal aircraft draped in the Royal Standard to be brought home to England.
On the morning of September 6, 1997, Britain came to a standstill as Princess Diana’s coffin was carried through London to Westminster Abbey by The Welsh Guards. Diana’s brother Earl Spencer, Prince William, Prince Harry, Prince Charles and Prince Philip all walked side-by-side behind the coffin. Inside the abbey, family, friends, acquaintances and celebrities took their seats to watch Diana’s loved ones say their goodbyes. Charles Spencer read the eulogy for his sister, and Elton John who re-wrote lyrics to his song Candle in the Wind to honor his friend, ‘England’s rose’.
Following the funeral, Diana’s coffin was driven to her childhood home in Althorp as fans lined the streets to applaud and throw flowers. She was carried to her final resting spot – an island on her family’s property – by the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, who reportedly all had tears in their eyes. Reverend Victor Malan, the Spencer family, Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry, Paul Burrell and Colin Tebbutt all said their goodbyes during the burial service before going back into the house for tea.
In 2017, Jean-Francois Musa, the original owner of the Mercedes S280 Diana was driving in on the night of her tragic crash, made headlines when he announced he wanted to put the car wreckage in an American museum, stating that the car was still legally his although he hadn’t seen it in nearly 20 years. In fact, the whereabouts of the vehicle is somewhat of a mystery. After being stored somewhere in France following the accident, the Mercedes was shipped to London in 2005 for forensic tests during an inquest into Diana’s death. Four years ago, a source told The Mirror that Princes William and Harry wanted the vehicle disposed of ‘discreetly,’ even though legally the car had to be returned to its owner. It’s currently unclear if the vehicle was ever sent back to Musa in France.
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