The Day Diana Diedby Christopher Andersen, Christopher Anderson
The Day Diana Died offers a spellbinding, moment-by-moment account of the last day in the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, written by a veteran journalist and bestselling author of Jack and Jackie and Jackie After Jack. Where were you the day Diana died? Like the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the tragic death of the Princess of Wales on August 31, 1997 is one of those defining benchmarks in history -- an event that touched each of us so profoundly, we will never forget the moment we heard the news.
A full year after the Paris car crash that ended Diana's life at age 36, millions around the world remain in shock. Over the 16 years since her storybook wedding to Prince Charles, she had evolved from 'Shy Di' into the planet's most photographed, written-about, and talked-about woman -- arguably the most famous person in the world.
For all Diana's global fame, much of the human drama that swirled around her death remains veiled in mystery and intrigue. Now, Christopher Andersen draws on important sources -- many of whom have agreed to speak here for the first time -- to re-create in vivid and often startling detail the events leading up to that fateful night in Paris. Diana was, in every sense of the word, larger than life -- a force of nature that, as the Royal Family learned, could be neither dismissed nor ignored. A bittersweet saga of triumph, love, and loss, The Day Diana Died captures those last days when Diana's star never shone brighter -- and evokes the beauty, grace, heartache, and compassion that made Diana one of the most compelling figures of our time.
Christopher Andersen is the critically acclaimed author of 17 books, which have been translated into more than 20 languages worldwide. A former contributing editor of Time and senior editor of People, Andersen has also written hundreds of articles for a wide range of publications including Life magazine and The New York Times. He lives in Connecticut.
- Random House Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.19(w) x 6.84(h) x 1.07(d)
Read an Excerpt
The question you ask yourself afterwards is, did she know she was so loved?
Beatrice Humbert, chief nurse at Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital, Paris
We walked silently among the ocean of floral tributes. I could almost hear her voice in my ear: "Rosa, no, not all this! For me?" She never knew how much she was loved.
Rosa Monckton, Diana's closest friend
If anything ever happens to me, do you think they'll think of me as another Jackie Kennedy?
Diana, to royal milliner Philip Somerville
Sunday, August 31, 1997 9:25 A.M.
She looked down at the most famous face in the world. "It's not her," Beatrice Humbert thought to herself. "It isn't possible. I'm dreaming." For a moment Humbert, chief nurse at Paris's Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital, felt her knees begin to buckle and the room begin to swim as she desperately fought the overpowering urge to faint. Clad in her white hospital coat, the trim, businesslike Humbert looked every inch the seasoned professional that she was. And in a career that spanned three decades, Humbert had seen the mangled corpses of hundreds of accident victims. Yet nothing had prepared her for this. The nurse was gazing, she had to keep telling herself, at the lifeless body of the Princess of Wales.
From the moment she saw Diana lying there, beneath a white cotton sheet that had been pulled up to her bare shoulders, it struck Humbert how sad it was that the Princess looked "so all alone." Three hours earlier her body had been brought up from the basement operating room to the blue-walled second-floor room just above the main entrance to Pitie-Salpetriere's eight-story teal-green glass and cement Gaston Cordier Pavilion. Although this was the most modern section of the hospital, parts of which date back to the seventeenth century, Gaston Cordier had just undergone several months of extensive renovations. The blue-walled room above the entrance, chosen because hospital officials were told blue was Diana's favorite color, had been painted only three days before; the bracing smell still lingered in the air. There had been no need to inconvenience any other patients to make room for Diana; the wing had not been scheduled to reopen to patients until the following day, September1.
Humbert was soon joined by Jeanne Lecorcher, Pitie-Salpetriere's chief emergency nurse, and an ashen-faced Sir Michael Jay, Britain's ambassador to France. Moments later Sylvia Jay walked in and stood at the foot of the bed, choking back tears. Humbert was somewhat surprised to notice that the ambassador's wife, who blew her nose into an Irish lace handkerchief, was already dressed from head to toe in black.
Thierry Meresse had been there when they first wheeled Diana, still clinging to life, into the operating room at 2:05 a.m. "At first I didn't dare look," said the hospital's thirty-six-year-old communications director. "I had a certain vision of what she should look like that I wanted to preserve in my mind. And I thought, this beautiful face is going to be horribly disfigured by such an awful accident." Hours later, when he finally did summon the courage to look at Diana, he was astounded to discover that "she looked entirely peaceful. Her face hadn't been marked at all, really. Just a little bruising, that's all."
At Pitie-Salpetriere, disbelief gradually began to yield to an overwhelming, soul-crushing sadness. "The way you see her on television," Humbert said, "with those big blue eyes and that marvelous smile, and then the big blue eyes were no longer there, nor was the marvelous smile. There was the closed, pallid face of a cadaver, that's all. It wasn't an expression of peace, or the absence of peace. It was as though, stupidly, I was waiting for a smile. And then I thought, we'll never see this smile again . . ."
Father Yves Clochard-Bossuet, who had worked for Air France until he joined the priesthood just five years earlier, had been trying to come to terms with that realization for hours. Short and balding at age forty-six, Pitie-Salpetriere's resident priest had been fast asleep in his apartment when he was jolted awake by a phone call at 3 a.m. "The emergency unit of the hospital told me someone very important needed the Last Rites," he later recalled. "When they said it was Princess Diana, I thought someone was playing a joke. I thought they were drunk." He slammed down the receiver and tried to get back to sleep. But, he said, "Something kept me awake."
When Father Clochard-Bossuet called back, hospital officials confirmed that Diana had been in a car crash with her Egyptian-born boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, Dodi's bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, and the car's driver, acting Ritz Hotel security chief Henri Paul. Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul, Clochard-Bossuet was told, had died on the scene. Rees-Jones had suffered multiple fractures and half of his face had been literally ripped away, but he was likely to survive. Diana was not.
The priest leapt out of bed and quickly dressed. Even as he fumbled with his clerical collar, Mohamed Al Fayed's helicopter was touching down at Paris's Le Bourget Airport. Dodi's controversial father, owner of Harrods department store in London as well as Paris's Ritz Hotel, had been at his baronial estate in Oxted, Surrey, when Ritz president Frank Klein called over two hours earlier with news of "a terrible accident." Dodi, Klein said, trying to find some way to soften the blow, had "passed away."
"An accident? Do you really think it was an accident?" Mohamed Al Fayed asked Klein. Within minutes, Dodi's father was aboard his Sikorsky S-76 heading for Paris. At Le Bourget, he was met by Alexander "Kes" Wingfield, one of his son's bodyguards, and by Dodi's regular chauffeur, Philippe Dourneau. Unaware that Dodi and Henri Paul had been taken directly from the site of the accident to the Paris morgue, Mohamed Al Fayed ordered Dourneau to take him to Pitie-Salpetriere, where Diana was still in surgery.
It seemed oddly fitting that the life of the Princess of Wales, whose compassionate nature led her to reach out to the disinherited, should have ended there. Founded in 1656 by Louis XIV to care for the poor and the insane, Pitie-Salpetriere (literally "Pity-Saltpeter") took its name from its charitable mission and from the saltpeter once used in arms production on the site. Much of the original seventeenth-century structure still stands--including the hospital's landmark Chapel of St. Louis with its distinctive octagon-shaped dome--in stark contrast to the modern Gaston Cordier wing where Diana was taken.
Mohamed Al Fayed reached the hospital at 3:50, and was met by Ambassador Jay and French Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement. "Mr. Al Fayed got there so quickly," Thierry Meresse said, "that we naturally assumed that he must have been in Paris when the accident occurred." Ten minutes later, at 4 a.m. Paris time, Diana was pronounced dead. "I could not believe it," Dodi's father said. "The situation was too desperate to take in."
Yet Al Fayed wasted no time waiting to pay his respects to Diana. Already all but convinced that Dodi and Diana had been assassinated, presumably by enemies of the Al Fayed family within the British Establishment, Mohamed moved swiftly to protect his interests. Employees of Al Fayed's far-flung empire, many of whom already suspected that their phone calls were bugged and their actions monitored, were now instructed under pain of immediate dismissal not to speak to anyone regarding Dodi and the Princess. In a move that angered hospital officials, Al Fayed also ordered that everything belonging to the Princess and Dodi be packed up immediately and shipped back to London along with their luggage. It was only then that he asked to be driven to the morgue to see the body of his son. Diana's body was still on the operating table when Al Fayed left the hospital.
Meet the Author
Christopher Andersen is the critically acclaimed author of nineteen books that have been translated into more than twenty languages worldwide. A former contributing editor of Time and senior editor of People, Andersen has also written hundreds of articles for a wide range of publications, including Life magazine and The New York Times.
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