Share this article

print logo

IN THE DEATH OF DIANA, BEWILDERMENT AND BLAME

Alone, she lay naked under a hospital sheet.

The wife of the British ambassador to France had to give one of her dresses to clothe Diana, the Princess of Wales -- the most fashionable woman of the late 20th century.

Monday will mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Diana, at age 36 -- a shocking and mysterious death, a grotesque riddle with no apparent solution.

Little has been said until now by her staff, friends, officials or the medical team that attended her in the Paris hospital, but it is inevitable that her life and death will mesmerize celebrity watchers for decades, if not longer.

Christopher Andersen, a former Time and People editor, wrote "Jackie After Jack; Portrait of the Lady." Now he has explored Diana's death in a similar behind-the-scenes fashion.

With his usual skill, Andersen has managed to interview those who happened on the crash site, and also the profoundly touched surgical nurses and doctors who treated Diana in the Paris hospital. He has seen concealed police and medical documents.

He reconstructs not only the last hours of Diana's life but the year after her divorce from Prince Charles. Stripped of her royal status by an angry Queen Elizabeth II, Diana went about establishing herself as a force to be reckoned with.

Andersen speculates that she was "the first member of the royal family to actually make a human connection with suffering. . . . Whatever the cause, whatever the affliction, Diana felt they had one thing in common.

"Abandoned by her mother, rejected by her husband, scorned by the royal family, betrayed by lovers and hunted by the paparazzi, Diana knew this feeling (being unloved) better than anyone."

The public devoured the humanitarian side of her -- the Diana who embraced AIDS patients, met Mother Teresa and walked in Bosnian mine fields.

But the manipulative side of her would surface frequently. She knew how to court the very paparazzi her brother, the ninth Earl Spencer, accused at her funeral of causing her death.

With a "don't get mad, get even" approach that seemed to appeal to her sense of humor, Diana used a holiday in the south of France with the Fayed family and her adored sons to upstage Camilla Parker-Bowles, the woman who ruined her marriage.

Charles had planned a 50th birthday party for his mistress that "was all but totally eclipsed by Diana's romp on the Riviera."

The combination of Diana and Dodi is not as far-fetched as it might seem to Americans. Dodi's father, Egyptian-born Mohamed Al Fayed, whose business dealings always have been suspect, cultivated a friendship with Diana's father as part of a campaign to gain respectability in the United Kingdom. He watched Diana and her siblings grow up.

Dodi was one of the few men who would be able to meet Diana's criteria after her divorce, says Andersen. He was totally devoted to her and offered her the protection she sought. And it was obvious to anyone who saw them that they were very much in love.

Said her friend, Lady Elsa Bowker, "She wanted the person who loved her to abandon everything for her. Very few people are willing to do that."

That Dodi planned to propose marriage to Diana on that fatal night is well documented by Andersen, centering on a $200,000 ring that Diana made known to friends she would wear on the fourth finger of her right hand.

She had no intention of marrying anyone, especially a Muslim, she told them, and could live nowhere else than where her "dear, dear boys" were. She had plans to reorganize her life completely and was working on a secret project with model Cindy Crawford at the time of her death.

Dodi, instead of taking his father's advice to stay that night in the Ritz hotel, owned by the Al Fayeds, insisted he and Diana return to London.

To escape the paparazzi, Dodi's two English bodyguards would split up; Wingfield would leave the hotel by the front door where the usual Mercedes 600 and its regular driver would be waiting.

Trevor Rees-Jones (the only crash survivor, and the only passenger wearing a seat belt) would accompany the couple from the rear service door in a Mercedes S280 that should not have been on the road.

Henri Paul, acting security chief at the hotel, had been recruited as the driver.

The car had some problems. Previously, it had been stolen and stripped of its parts. It had then been repaired and returned to service by the rental company that owned it. It had reputed brake problems.

Paul had problems, too. An alcoholic, he had been drinking heavily in the aftermath of a broken love affair. He also did not have the required driver's license for that model of car and had never driven a S280.

That the bodyguards were oblivious to his reported drunken behavior in the hotel lobby seems incredible.

The high-speed chase lasted less than three minutes, says Andersen. His description of the crash site is so detailed that the sights, sounds and smells in the Alma Tunnel are all there to be absorbed, not just read.

Reactions of people around the world, including President and Mrs. Clinton, and those who attended Diana, especially the unnerved hospital priest and Diana's devoted butler, are equally as vivid.

Strangely enough, Diana regularly sought the advice of clairvoyants. They saw Dodi in a car, in a tunnel. They did not see Diana. Only a Zulu witch doctor foresaw her death, but could not tell her.

When the queen learned the news from Prince Charles, who telephoned her from Balmoral Castle in Scotland after hearing Diana was dead -- but not before he called Camilla -- she told him not to disturb his two young sons. So he waited until the next morning to tell them, and the three of them did an un-Windsor thing -- they cried. That morning, the queen and Prince Philip told the princes they were "terribly sorry" about Diana's death.

Elizabeth forbade Charles to go to Paris with Diana's sisters to claim the body. Charles not only defied his mother but gave her an ultimatum about addressing her people and the world.

"It was at this time, while her son, her grandsons, and the world at large still reeled from the enormity of the human loss," Andersen writes, "that England's Queen demanded to know if Diana was wearing any royal jewels when she died."

There are no comments - be the first to comment