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Day Diana Died (Cassettes)

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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 thirty-six, millions around the world remain in shock. Over the sixteen years since her storybook wedding to Prince Charles, ...

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Overview

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 thirty-six, millions around the world remain in shock. Over the sixteen 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 -- indeed, 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, in the manner of his headline-making Kennedy biographies Jack and Jackie and Jackie After Jack, 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
From a former senior editor at People with books on Jackie and Madonna.
Library Journal
From a former senior editor at People with books on Jackie and Madonna.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781559352857
  • Publisher: Soundelux
  • Publication date: 1/1/1998
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Abridged, 2 Cassettes
  • Pages: 3
  • Product dimensions: 4.14 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 0.55 (d)

First Chapter

As they stood by Diana's body shortly before 10:00 that Sunday morning, nurses Humbert and Lecorcher also feared their grasp on reality was tenuous at best. Yet there was no time for introspection. Ambassador Jay informed them that Prince Charles would be arriving that afternoon at 5:00 to escort the body of his ex-wife back to London.

The nurses sprang into action. Humbert's first thought was that they were going to have to cool the room to keep the body from decomposing. "I knew it was going to be hot during the day," said Humbert, who asked that an air conditioning unit be installed in the room. "But that's a natural professional reflex, to immediately think of preserving the body. And I thought of all the people who would be coming, that it would create a lot of movement, and a lot of heat. The first thing was to chill this room."

Even the installation of an air conditioner presented special problems. To prevent the throng of reporters as well as run-of-the-mill curiosity seekers from learning which room Diana was in, sheets had been placed over all the second-floor windows of the immense hospital complex. There was ample reason for such caution: Several enterprising tabloid journalists had rented rooms across the street from the hospital.

Rather than mount the air conditioner in a window and risk opening a breach -- "We can't leave an opening because someone might stick a camera through it," Humbert told the technicians -- the unit was hooked up to a sink in the room, using the running water as the cooling element. "It worked," Humbert recalled. While the heat in the hospital corridors was scarcely bearable, the room where the body of Diana lay remained a cool 60 degrees F. "It was," the nurse added without irony, "the most agreeable place in the building."

Sadly, only a single bouquet arrived for Diana all morning -- two dozen red roses from former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing and his wife, Anne-Aymone, another friend of Diana's. That afternoon, more flowers would arrive -- this time an arrangement of lilies Prince Charles had asked the hospital to make up "because they are her favorite." In striking contrast to the ocean of floral tributes that would engulf central London, these were the only flower arrangements in Diana's otherwise spartan hospital room that day.

There would be an autopsy, but it would take place in England, not in France. Until that time, the body would not be embalmed. Meanwhile, every effort would be made to make Princess Diana presentable to the scores of dignitaries who would undoubtedly come to pay their respects throughout the day. "The body is very important, whether it's Princess Diana or someone else," Humbert explained. "You have to think of the family, their pain. To come to contemplate a body whose hair has not been arranged, that hasn't been washed. . ."

Members of the hospital's amphitheater staff -- the nurses and orderlies who prepared cadavers for anatomy courses and dissection -- arrived to carefully wash Diana's body and shampoo her hair. Diana's face and her famous blond coif were, understandably, of particular concern. A female cosmetician and a male hairstylist dispatched from a Paris funeral home arrived carrying a large color photo of Diana that had run in a recent issue of Paris Match.

"They tried to fix her the same way, with a curl in front," Humbert recalled, "and to make up her face to look exactly like she looked in the picture. They never stopped sending for me throughout the day, to ask if this was the way it should be, or that. . . it was very touching, and very hard to take. It was all rough. Very rough."

While the couple from the funeral home applied lipstick and styled and restyled her hair to match the photo in Paris Match, Humbert faced an alarming fact: They had nothing to dress her in. The white pants and black short-sleeved top she had been wearing that night had been cut off her by emergency medical personnel at the scene of the crash. All that remained of her personal effects -- Diana's black jacket, her black size 9 Versace high-heeled shoes, her purse, her Jaeger-leCoultre gold watch with white stones, her bracelet with six rows of pearls and a dragon-shaped clasp, a black size 30 Ralph Lauren women's belt, a single gold earring -- were placed in a plastic bag stored in the basement.

"She was completely nude under the sheet," recalled Humbert, who asked British Consul General Keith Moss to call the Ritz and have them supply a dress. They were shocked to discover that all of the Princess's possessions had been packed up and, on Mohamed Al Fayed's specific instructions, shipped back to London. "Everything!" Humbert declared. "That very morning!"

While British Embassy officials scoured Paris for a suitable dress, the nurses were suddenly faced with yet another emergency. Most of the Royal Family -- specifically the Queen, Prince Philip, Charles, and Diana's two sons -- had been enjoying their summer holiday at Balmoral Castle in Scotland at the time of the accident. The Queen, who remained behind with Prince William and Prince Harry while Charles flew to Paris, had phoned the British Embassy in Paris -- not with questions about Diana's medical care or how much she might have suffered, but with concerns of quite a different sort.

"The Queen! The Queen!" Consul General Moss blurted to Humbert as he rushed into the room where Diana still lay naked under a sheet. If there were any royal jewels among Diana's effects, Her Majesty wanted them returned to the Royal Family immediately. "Madame," said Moss, "the Queen is worried about the jewelry. We must find the jewelry, quickly! The Queen wants to know, 'where are the jewels?'"

"But there wasn't any jewelry," replied Humbert, somewhat stunned at the apparent callousness of the question. "No wedding band, of course, no rings, no necklace."

Before boarding the plane for Paris, Prince Charles had also called ahead with a question about Diana's jewelry. Knowing that she would have wanted to look her best for those coming to pay their respects at the hospital, Charles called the hospital and personally requested that her gold earrings be put on. "Diana always likes to wear her earrings in public," Charles said, still speaking of his ex-wife in the present tense. "There will be so many people there, looking at her. I'm sure she'll want the earrings. . ." But after scouring the premises, hospital officials failed to find the missing earring.

It would be seven weeks before the gold earring, which had been ripped from Diana's ear by the force of the crash and embedded deep in the dashboard, was recovered from the crumpled interior of the Mercedes by crash investigators. Still, Humbert later said she was impressed by the Prince's interest in preserving Diana's dignity, even in death. "That he cared to think of such details," Humbert later said, "oh la la, that surprised me."

Meantime, the hunt for a suitable dress continued for nearly two hours. Finally Ambassador Jay's wife, Sylvia, who was roughly Diana's size, offered one of her own. Shortly after noon, two men arrived at the hospital with a suitcase. One was a former bodyguard of Diana. The other was the man who had arguably been closest to Diana -- her trusted butler, confidant, and protector, Paul Burrell. He had expected to be in Paris, but never under these circumstances; the evening before, Diana had phoned Burrell in high spirits, saying how eager she was to see her sons for the first time in five weeks. Would her old friend fly to Paris and accompany her on the flight home to London? she had asked.

Humbert stopped the two Britons, neither of whom spoke French, at the door, "They wanted to see her," she recalled, and they said that they had the dress in the bag." Before they could enter the room, Humbert insisted that they open the suitcase. "It was a black dress with a V-necked shawl collar that fastened in the front, in a light wool material that was a bit thicker than wool crepe." The dress, which came down just below the knee, had long sleeves and was belted at the waist. The suitcase also contained a pair of Sylvia Jay's black patent leather pumps.

While Burrell waited in the hallway, Humbert and Lecorcher took the suitcase into the room, placed it on a chair, opened it, and removed the dress. Humbert, who with the others had marveled at the extent to which Diana's face had remained unmarred, steeled herself as Lecorcher pulled back the sheet. In an instant, the brutal nature of her injuries became horrifyingly apparent. A scar crisscrossed with sutures ran from her sternum almost to her navel -- the graphic, Frankenstein-like result of the surgeons' frantic attempts to repair her heart. Diana's hands and feet were bruised, as was her right side -- the only external evidence that her ribs had been crushed. Similarly, her right forearm, which had been badly fractured, was also black and blue. As they maneuvered Diana's body so they could slip the dress over it, the nurses discovered more injuries including a two-inch-long cut on the right buttock and a nasty three-inch gash on the right thigh.

All of Diana's injuries were duly noted on Humbert's chart, although no one reading it would have had the slightest inkling as to the identity of the patient. On her chart, Diana was not listed by name. "We used the saint's name of the day, St. Patricia," Humbert explained. "She was listed on her chart simply as Patricia." Appropriately St. Patricia, patron saint of Naples, was born into a noble family in Constantinople, fled to Italy to escape a royal marriage, distributed her wealth to the poor, and died young.

Diana had once told Burell that she wanted to be buried in a casket with a window in it so that her face could be clearly seen. Now just such a gray metal casket -- the strangest either of the nurses had ever seen -- was rolled into the room. Humbert and Lecorcher, aided by the undertaker and two British Embassy staffers, then lifted Diana's body ("one takes the arms, the other the legs," Humbert explained) and placed her inside. They then carefully arranged her arms and feet. For the dignitaries who would arrive that afternoon, the coffin lid was left open. Just ten weeks earlier, an auction of seventy-nine gowns belonging to Diana at Christie's in New York had raised over $3 million for AIDS research -- an idea that originally had been proposed by her increasingly publicity-savvy son William. Now the most fashionable woman in history lay in her coffin wearing a borrowed dress.

Diana often described the burly soft-spoken Burrell as "my rock -- the only man I can trust." As soon as he saw her, Diana's rock dissolved. "He broke down, just came undone," Beatrice Humbert remembered, contradicting later reports in the Sunday Times of London and elsewhere that Diana's butler had never lost his composure. Burrell "wept, with great sobs." He placed his hand on hers, which the two nurses had lovingly folded across her chest. ("He had to touch her because he just could not believe she was dead," Lecorcher said.) Then he "sat down at the Princess's feet, and he cried and cried."

Burrell reached into the suitcase that had contained the dress and pulled out a rosary. "These were a gift to the Princess from Mother Teresa," he said, handing Lecorcher the beads. Burrell then asked if the rosary could be placed in Diana's hands. Lecorcher gently opened Diana's fingers and placed the rosary inside. Then Burrell produced a framed photograph of William and Harry that Diana always traveled with, and a snapshot of her adored late father Earl Spencer. These were also placed in Diana's hands.

Burrell began to stagger, as if he were about to faint. "We were afraid he was going to pass out," Humbert said. "We made him sit down, we tried to reassure him." But Burrell was beyond consolation. "He didn't want to leave her body. We had to tell him, 'Paul, it's time to leave now...'"

Burrell was not the only devastated mourner Humbert tried to comfort that day; she had been assigned the thankless task of escorting all visitors to Diana's bedside. The reaction of France's Health Minister Bernard Kouchner was typical. Monsieur Kouchner was, Humbert said, "overwhelmed" when he saw her.

"It's impossible, it's impossible, it's impossible," Kouchner kept saying. "This beautiful lady. It's impossible." Humbert would become emotional when she remembered this. "It is dreadful, every time I think of these people. It was very hard for me."

At 2:00 p.m. about thirty people -- including Dr. Bruno Riou, who headed the emergency medical team that tried to save Diana, Chief of Police Philippe Massoni, the heads of protocol from the Elyse Palace and the British Embassy, as well as several security chiefs and press attaches -- met to decide how the afternoon was to proceed. The most pressing question: How would the coffin carrying the body of the Princess of Wales leave the hospital? At first, it was assumed that the casket would leave via the hospital's rooftop helipad. From there, it would be taken to Villacoublay, a military airfield southwest of Paris, and placed on a British military aircraft for the journey home.

But Charles himself, in constant touch from Scotland via phone, insisted Diana leave by the main entrance. By then a crowd of thousands had gathered in front of the hospital. "People want to see her and they should," said Charles, much to the relief of police officials, who feared any attempts to spirit her body away in secret might spark a riot. "There is no reason to sneak out. We have to leave normally."

To Meresse, the hospital's communications director, the atmosphere was decidedly Shakespearean. "It reminded me of Hamlet," he said. "Inside the castle everything is conspiratorial, very quiet, very hushed. Outside there is this gathering mob."

There was, it turned out, legitimate cause for concern. Early news dispatches had already laid the blame for the crash on the notorious Parisian paparazzi. Outside the angry mob shouted 'Bastards! Assassins! Murderers!' at the pool of six reporters and six photographers allowed inside. "I did not want an ugly scene to greet Prince Charles when he arrived," said Meresse, who had spent the morning sprinting between the emergency wing and his press office down the street. "It would not have looked good for the hospital. It would not have looked good for France."

Tossing off his jacket, Meresse climbed over the police barriers and waded into the anxious crowd, "I picked out the ones that seemed to be ringleaders," he said, "and told them that Prince Charles was about to arrive and I didn't want to hear a word, not a murmur, nothing. To my total astonishment, they agreed. No one wanted to do anything that might upset the family."

By 4:30 p.m., in strict accordance with protocol, a red carpet had been rolled from the curb to Pitie-Salpitrire's main entrance, flanked by officers of the French President's colorfully garbed Republican Guard. The rest of the hospital was not so pristine. In the wake of a wave of bombings by Algerian terrorists, trash receptacles throughout the hospital had been sealed. To make matters worse, the maintenance staff had not yet arrived to clean up the mess that had accumulated over the weekend. As a result, the hallways and stair landings were strewn with discarded plastic coffee cups, candy wrappers, and cigarette butts. Members of the nursing staff were dragooned into picking up brooms and hastily tidying up before the arrival of His Royal Highness.

The British Royal Squadron BAe 146 carrying Charles and Diana's sisters, Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes, touched down at Villacoublay at 5:00 p.m. Thirty minutes later, their silver Jaguar limousine pulled up in front of the entrance to the hospital's Gaston Cordier wing. Meresse's admonition to the crowd had worked. "All you could hear was the whisper of the luxury car's tires," he said. "A vibrating silence." The trio emerged from the car, Charles wearing a double-breasted dark blue suit, Lady Jane in a tan coat draped with a floral print scarf, and Lady Sarah dressed all in black, her glasses hanging from a chain around her neck. French President Chirac bent down and took Charles's hand as he offered words of condolence. The Prince, smiling bravely, thanked the French President and Madame Chirac in his perfect French, then placed his right hand into his jacket pocket as he was led inside.

Chirac accompanied them to the second floor, but stopped short of accompanying them to Diana's body. Instead, Chief Massoni, the British protocol chief, and Beatrice Humbert escorted Charles and his former sisters-in-law down the hall. As they reached the two uniformed police officers guarding the room, Humbert recalled, "the British protocol chief turned to me and said, 'Madame, ici s'arette mon role, c'est vous d'introduire son Altesse royale' -- 'Madame, my role ends here. It is up to you to introduce His Royal Highness.'"

Humbert was stunned; she had been told that Charles and Diana's sisters would enter the room alone. What shall I say to him? she thought to herself. What will happen?

She forged ahead. "Your Highness," she said in French, "if you will, please follow me." They went to the door, and Charles entered first. Lady Jane and Lady Sarah followed. "Prince Charles stopped, frozen before the casket," Humbert said. "Lady Jane burst into sobs."

Even after hours of watching grief-stricken dignitaries pay their respects, Humbert was astonished by Charles's reaction. As he looked for the first time at Diana's lifeless body lying in her coffin, a breeze from the air conditioner lifting a lock of her hair, Charles's head snapped back as if hit by some unseen force. "The Prince of Wales recoiled," she said. "He drew back his head in one involuntary motion, as though he had actually been stricken. As though he simply couldn't take it in. He couldn't believe it. You could feel his immense sorrow."

Two chairs had been set up on either side of the coffin. Charles pulled one of them over from the other side, and beckoned Diana's sisters to sit down on either side of him. All three bowed their heads in silent prayer. Lady Jane -- "utterly devastated," Humbert observed -- was crying loudly now. Charles put his arm around her and whispered something in her ear.

"I was all alone with them," said Humbert, who waited, wondering what to do next. Charles, his pale blue eyes brimming with tears, turned to her.

"Madame, could we have an Anglican priest?" he asked.

Within minutes, Reverend Draper and Father Clochard-Bossuet joined them and, Humbert said, "Together, we all prayed." In English, Reverend Draper led them in reciting the Lord's Prayer.

"I knew the Princess of Wales through the prism of the media and found her very sympathetic," said Meresse, who observed Charles from the sidelines. "She liked to, as we say in French, 'kick the anthill'--stir up trouble with the Establishment--and we loved that about her. She was much more sympathetic than the Prince. But he surprised me. I think he surprised us all. He was so totally broken up by what he saw, it was very moving. At one point he came very close to fainting, but managed to steady himself at the last minute. Charles was clearly devastated by the sight of Diana's body."

The hospital staff was no less impressed by the way Charles treated Diana's sisters. "He was extremely kind, very caring toward them," Meresse recalled. "He was a very gentle man who did not conceal his pain. It was something none of us had expected."

Then Charles asked to be alone with Diana. When he emerged five minutes later to rejoin President Chirac and the rest of the official party in the hallway, it was clear to everyone that he had been crying. "There was great anguish, great melancholy in Charles's face," Meresse said. "His face was transformed by despair."

Charles pulled himself together enough to individually thank Humbert, Lecorcher, Meresse, and other hospital staffers for all they had done. Introduced to two of the surgeons who had tried, in French medical terms, to "reanimate" Diana, Charles groped for the right words but failed to find them. "Congratulations!" he blurted in French as he firmly shook Dr. Riou's hand. Then, regaining his command of the language, Charles thanked the bespectacled Riou and leading French cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Alain Pavie, who by chance had been on duty that night, for their heroic efforts. In the hours since they had finally been forced to acknowledge defeat, both Riou and the balding, gaunt Pavie had shaved and changed out of their blood-spattered green surgical gowns into crisp white hospital coats.

While the casket was being readied for departure, Charles launched into a series of questions. What were the circumstances surrounding Diana's arrival at the hospital? he asked. How she was treated? What had been the role of each person in trying to save the Princess's life? "He was very, very anxious about everything," Humbert said. "He stayed for half an hour and he talked and he talked. He wanted to talk. He needed to talk."

Lecorcher, meanwhile, went into a lounge area that had been set up in the room adjoining Diana's and shared a cup of tea with Lady Jane and Lady Sarah. Again, both of Diana's sisters broke down.

"Tell me," Lady Jane pleaded, "did she suffer?"

"No," Lecorcher replied, "it all happened so fast, she must not have suffered."

Did anyone pray for her?"

The nurse reassured Lady Jane that the hospital priest had prayed for Diana and for her children. "She seemed," Lecorcher said, "very comforted by that."

It was 6:00 P.M.--the appointed time at which, according to the schedule worked out during the hospital staff's afternoon strategy session, Diana's body was to begin her journey home. The casket was carried down the main staircase by four pallbearers hired by the funeral home. The Princess's face would have been clearly visible through the small glass window, had the casket not been draped with the lion-festooned gold, purple, red and white royal standard that had accompanied the Prince of Wales's party on the plane. In front of the coffin was the Reverend Draper, wearing a white cassock over his black clerical garb, a Bible clasped in his hands. Directly behind Diana was Charles, followed by Lady Sarah and Lady Jane, then the French President and Mrs. Chirac. Each face in the funeral party was etched with shock and grief.

A dozen members of the Republican Guard stood rigidly at attention, the late afternoon sun glinting off the gold shields on their red-plumed hats. As a lone bagpiper played, more than two hundred hospital staffers and patients, some trailing intravenous lines, emerged from the Gaston Cordier wing to pay their respects. Charles and Diana's two sisters stopped beneath the canopied entrance and, with their arms hanging straight at their sides, stood motionless as the pallbearers lifted up the coffin and slid it into the black and silver hearse.

Seemingly oblivious to the eerily silent crowd of well-wishers pressing against the police barricades, Charles once again thanked President Chirac and numbly climbed into the back of Ambassador Jay's green Jaguar while his former sisters-in-law were escorted to the silver and gray limousine. No sooner did Lady Jane and Lady Sarah settle into their car than a staffer from the British Embassy bolted toward it grasping a plastic garbage bag in his left hand. It contained the clothes Diana had been wearing when she was brought into the emergency room. He threw open the trunk lid and gently placed the bag inside. As the staffer closed the trunk, the driver glanced in the rearview mirror and saw that the young man was crying unashamedly.

As the cortege began to pull away from the grounds of Pitrie-Salpitrire, the crowd that had been so reverently silent burst into spontaneous, if muted, applause. "Diana we love you!" someone shouted as the applause grew louder. And then another, "WE LOVE YOU! WE'LL NEVER FORGET YOU, DIANA!"

Thirty minutes later, the procession rolled onto the tarmac at Villacoublay airfield. A Royal Air Force honor guard slowly removed the flag-draped coffin from the hearse and carried it aboard the military transport as Charles, the Spencer sisters, and several British dignitaries stood respectfully on the sidelines. She was bound, finally, for England. The world had no way of knowing that in her hands was the rosary from Mother Teresa and pictures of her boys--or that, on her final journey home, the people's princess wore a borrowed dress.

Reprinted by permission of William Morrow & Company, Inc. Copyright 1998 by Christopher Andersen. All rights reserved.

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