I may have only been 7 years old when the news broke of Princess Diana’s death, but I remember feeling as if everything had come to a standstill. Both my parents cried (and my dad is not a crier), and the TV hosts who had to announce Diana’s death were visibly shocked and perplexed by what had just happened. More than 20 years after the fatal car crash in Paris that took the life of the “People’s Princess,” the events of that night still intrigue people and probably always will.
Having grown up in the UK, it’s fair to say that the story of Diana’s death–or the “Diana Inquiry” as it’s been known ever since–is something that the British media has been utterly obsessed with, and not a month goes by without the tabloid newspapers mentioning Diana’s death in some form. There are many conspiracies surrounding her untimely death (most of which have been perpetrated by the UK media alone), but the verified facts about the days before and after Diana’s death are far more interesting and stranger than fiction.
Whether you believe that the fateful car crash in the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel in Paris was an “inside job” orchestrated by the royal family or that the whole thing was a tragic accident, there’s no denying that Diana’s death brought some pretty intriguing and disturbing details to light. And with all the deafening talk of conspiracy theories, the truth surrounding her death may have been lost on some people. Here are 15 things you might have forgotten about the death of the Princess of Wales.
15. The Queen Refused To Applaud The Eulogy By Diana’s Brother
One of the most memorable parts of Diana’s funeral service at Westminster Abbey was the eulogy read out by her younger brother, Earl Spencer. But what many people may not remember about that speech is that everyone–those inside the abbey and the watching world–applauded him; except The Queen, that is. Diana’s brother always made his feelings about the royal family clear, but his eulogy speech tore into the monarchy in a way that no one expected, and Her Majesty was clearly not amused.
The Princess spent most of her final years hounded by the paparazzi, and her brother hinted that the royal family she married into did nothing to protect her from this. Earl Spencer also repeated throughout his speech that Diana was almost too good for a “royal title” and–perhaps the most scathing of all–he made it clear that his sister’s “blood family” would be the ones to protect her legacy and do what’s best for her.
14. Diana’s Personal Letters That Predicted Her Own Death
By the summer of 1997, tensions between Diana and the royal family were at an all-time high. She had divorced Prince Charles a year previously, and despite Charles’ longtime affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles, Diana was painted out to be the outsider, instead of being the victim of a cheating husband (as most people would have seen it). The rift between her and her former ‘family’ was clearly felt strongly because in the months before her death, Diana wrote two very alarming letters about the fate that awaited her.
Shortly before her death, Diana had apparently written two letters to her close friends (butler Paul Burrell and solicitor Lord Mitchum). The letters stated that Diana believed that her ex-husband, Charles, and the royals were “planning her death” and that the plot would involve “a car accident.” In hindsight, this revelation is haunting beyond belief, but at the time, Diana’s letters would be treated as nothing more than irrational fears. Despite Paul Burrell going public with the letter and her solicitor passing this onto the police, no further action was taken.
13. Only One Passenger In The Car Was Wearing A Seatbelt
A detail that continues to haunt Diana’s family and most of the world is the fact that the Princess royal wasn’t wearing her seatbelt that night—something that very well could have saved her life. Weirdly, neither too were the other people in the car that evening wearing a seatbelt, Diana’s lover, Dodi Fayed, and the actual driver, Henri Paul. The sole survivor of the tragic car crash was Diana’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, and that’s only because he decided to buckle up minutes before the crash.
The fact that Diana failed to wear her seatbelt that night 20 years ago both angered and haunted her sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, because according to her, Diana was “religious” about putting her seatbelt on and that it was unlike her to ignore basic safety measures: “Why didn’t she put it on that night? I’ll never know.” This is something that has caused a lot of controversy long after the inquest into her death.
12. Diana Swapped Cars At the Last Minute
A strange detail that some may not have realized about the night of Diana’s death is that the car she was due to travel in had been swapped with another at the very last moments. While spending time in Paris with her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, the Princess had mainly traveled in the same Mercedes car to get out and about. But on the night of her death, this was swapped with a different Mercedes limo to pick the couple up.
Just as Diana and Dodi were leaving the Ritz hotel in the French capital, a different limo was waiting to pick them up. What was even stranger than the sudden switching of the cars was that–unlike all other car journeys made by the Princess–this particular ride had no backup car. Backup cars are pretty much standard practice for public figures (especially someone like Diana). But for some reason, normal security measures were abandoned on that fateful evening.
11. Will And Harry Never Wanted To Walk Behind Her Coffin
Princes William and Harry were only 15 and 12 years old when their mother was killed in one of the most horrific ways imaginable. Losing a parent at this tender age must have been hard enough, but the poor young sons’ grief was tested to the extreme when they were forced to walk with the funeral procession on live television. In front of millions of viewers and among the hundreds of grieving people that lined the funeral route, the young princes were made to walk behind their mother’s coffin. Why? Well, because of royal tradition.
One word everyone could associate with Diana was that she was a “modern” woman, bringing a fresh, caring, and often rebellious side to the royal family that no one had seen before. It was a shame then that tradition couldn’t bend once to spare two young boys the pain of walking beside their mother’s body. Diana’s brother, Earl, was told that Will and Harry wanted to, but later discovered this was a total lie. It makes you wonder what else was withheld from Diana’s close family in the name of ‘tradition.’
10. Diana Was Left In The Tunnel For 81 Minutes
Unlike her boyfriend, Dodi, and the limo driver, Henri Paul, Diana was not immediately killed in the car crash impact. She suffered very serious internal injuries but medical experts believe that she could have survived if only the French emergency services had responded quicker. In the event of a car crash, working immediately to rescue injured passengers can be more difficult if the person happens to be trapped in the wreckage, but Diana’s side of the car had suffered little damage.
Despite this, it took almost an hour and a half for paramedics to remove Diana from the vehicle and place her in an ambulance. Unsurprisingly, this was met with a lot of suspicions, and something that raised eyebrows even more about the conduct of the medical team was the fact that the chief medic at the scene, Dr. Jean-Marc Martino, never made an appearance at the official inquiry into Diana’s death and never admitted to counts of gross negligence. If they had acted any quicker, Diana could still be here.
9. The “Threatening Phone Call” From A Government Official
In the weeks before her death, Diana was working in Bosnia to campaign against an issue that was very important to her—a campaign to ban all landmines. The princess had been a tireless campaigner for the removal of landmines around the world and regularly met with amputees and victims. She even walked through an active landmine field once in an iconic and astonishingly brave demonstration. But while highlighting this issue, she made a few enemies along the way.
Many government workers were upset with Diana’s views, branding her a “loose cannon” and commenting that her views on the subject were “unhelpful and ill-advised.” These opinions, Diana could brush off. But, things got real when she was genuinely threatened by a high-ranking government official who told her in one phone call: “Don’t meddle in things you know nothing about because you know accidents can happen.” A longtime friend of Diana’s was with her when the call was made and testified to these chilling words during the inquest into Diana’s death.
8. Diana’s Body Was Held In A “Makeshift Morgue”
This sounds pretty grim and not something exactly befitting of a deceased member of the royal family. But then again, Princess Diana was never a typical royal. A few hours after Diana Princess of Wales was declared dead, her closest aides were forced to create a makeshift morgue for her since the room that her body had been in was becoming increasingly hot in the late August heat and was exposed to photographers.
Together, Diana’s former butler and close friend, Paul Burrell, and her chauffeur and security consultant, Colin Tebbutt, worked quickly to set up a temporary morgue for the late Princess. After shooing out members of the press and anyone who had no right to be in the room, only Diana’s two sisters, Prince Charles, close friends, and two vicars were present in the room. To this day, Paul Burrell recounts feeling as if none of it was real saying, “I noticed that her hair was moving from the fans I had put in the room and for one minuscule moment, I thought she was alive.”
7. The Fateful Car Was Previously Declared “Unfit For Use”
Most people assume that Diana’s death was down to her driver being drunk (this has since been disproven) or that the limo collided with another car in the tunnel. But buried details about the vehicle itself could explain why the crash happened. Not only was the car that Diana traveled in that night declared “unsafe” on numerous occasions, it was apparently headed for the scrap heap. But permission was given to have the car rebuilt.
In fact, just two months before Diana was killed in it, warnings were given that the car was “unfit for the road” and that it “wouldn’t hold” if it was driven it at more than 37mph. The Mercedes car was bought new in 1994 but had taken a battering when it was stolen and joy-ridden throughout Paris. Despite suffering a crash before and having rolled over several times, the car was sold to Etoile limousines—a firm which provided chauffeurs to the Ritz (where Diana and her boyfriend were staying).
6. The Ambulance Drove Suspiciously Slow To The Hospital
As well as the fact that the French emergency services failed to act fast enough in removing Diana from the car wreckage, an equally chilling detail that reports may have glossed over at the time is how long it took for Diana’s ambulance to leave the tunnel and head to a hospital. In cases of serious internal injuries like what the Princess sustained, time is of the essence when it comes to saving someone’s life.
Suspiciously, the ambulance carrying the “People’s Princess” did not speed down the streets of Paris like you would expect in an emergency situation. Diana’s ambulance traveled so slow. In fact, it was equal to a pedestrian’s walking pace (around 12km). It was later explained that this uncharacteristic snail pace was because Diana was being treated on board. A lawyer and eyewitness at the scene of the crash, Stanlee Culbreath, even commented that the ambulance passed one hospital, but took Diana to one farther away.
5. The Immediate Clean-up Of The Tunnel
Normally, after an accident like this one, a road tunnel would be closed for a couple of days while police surveyed the scene and maintenance workers could ensure that the area was safe for public use. This car accident in particular involved, at that point in time, the most photographed woman in the world. Diana’s death immediately raised lots of questions that only a long and thorough investigation could answer for them.
Oddly, the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel in Paris where the princess lost her life around midnight was opened up to the public again almost immediately. By the early hours of the morning, the tunnel had been completely cleared of any evidence and let cars pass through as if nothing had happened at all. While recovering quickly and letting life return to normal is a good thing following a tragedy, many people criticized how quickly the tunnel reopened as it not only seemed disrespectful to Diana’s memory, but no real investigation could have taken place in such a short space of time.
4. No CCTV Cameras Were Operating Along The Fateful Route
There seemed to be many eerie coincidences surrounding Diana’s death, and this one was certainly one of the strangest. When Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi, left the Ritz hotel, they were headed to Dodi’s flat. The route that their driver took to get to the flat would take longer, but this was to avoid the paparazzi. Oddly, though, even though a spur-of-the-moment change was made to the route, no CCTV cameras along the way were working or in operation.
The car that Diana, her boyfriend, and her bodyguard were traveling in passed a total of 17 CCTV cameras along the route before the crash occurred. As a result, no footage was ever recorded of the journey that would have put many questions about that tragic night to rest. Apart from a few intrusive paparazzi shots before and after the crash, no footage exists. So, out of 17 CCTV cameras, why were none actually active along that route? We can’t be sure, but it’s no wonder that this has led to some people coming to a very sickening conclusion.
3. Diana’s Last Words Mentioned Her Lover, Dodi Fayed
The sole survivor of the tragic car crash that night on August 31st, 1997 was Diana’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones. Because Rees-Jones suffered a serious head injury during the crash, he could not recall many details about that night, but one memory has always stayed with him—Diana’s haunting last cries out for her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, as she lay dying in the mangled car wreck. Pretty haunting stuff.
Speaking at the inquest into Diana’s death years later, her bodyguard recalls a vague memory of hearing someone repeatedly cry out the name “Dodi” again and again. Diana’s boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, and the driver, Henri Paul, were killed instantly in the crash, so he concluded that the dying moans definitely came from the Princess. Considering the injuries Mr. Rees-Jones sustained that night, some believe that this could be a false memory. The surgeon called to treat him after the crash said that he had “never seen so many fractures on a man who was still alive.”
2. The Flash Of Light Spotted Inside The Tunnel
A particularity controversial detail that conspiracy theorists have always been quick to leap on is the fact that eyewitnesses noticed a blinding white flash of light in the Paris tunnel moments before the crash happened. This has led many to believe that the sudden flash of light was intentional in trying to blind the limo driver, Henri Paul, causing him to lose control and crash into one of the tunnel pillars.
This might sound far-fetched, but the many eyewitness accounts of the supposed “bright flash” at the tunnel’s entrance aren’t the only causes for suspicion about the crash. A former British secret service worker called Richard Tomlinson had once revealed plans within the British intelligence to assassinate a Serbian politician years before using the exact same method—using a blinding flash just as the car entered the tunnel to ensure a crash. Whatever your belief about Diana’s fate, the coincidences are pretty chilling.
1. BBC Newsreader Nearly Broke Down Announcing Her Death
News anchors are known for their composure and ability to separate emotion from fact (especially British news anchors), but on the morning of Princess Diana’s death, some newsreaders were more affected by the news of her death than others. Welsh news reporter Sir Martyn Lewis was the guy to break the news of Diana’s death to the nation on the 31st of August 1997, and doing so almost broke him. Lewis remembers how everyone in the studio was frantic with nerves as the news of Diana’s injuries turned from bad to the kind of news no one wanted to hear.
“There’d been none of the normal briefings before the bulletin,” Lewis recalled and then added, “I was on air for six hours virtually without a script.” When the moment finally came, Lewis’ own memories of meeting Diana came back to him while he was telling millions of viewers that the young vibrant woman everyone had come to love was now dead. He admits, “I lost it for about five seconds when I was repeating Tony Blair’s words from his interview when he described Diana as the ‘People’s Princess.’
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