It was just past midnight at the end of a very long day. Dodi had his arm around Diana.
The security men, Henri Paul and Trevor Rees-Jones, were ready to escort the world's most
pursued couple to Dodi's apartment off the Champs-Elysées. With Paul as the driver, they all
got into the Mercedes S-280 and drove into the Parisian night.
What happened then is already in dispute and may always be. The accident that killed Diana and Dodi may have been caused - possibly provoked - by a pursuit squad of paparazzi on motorcycles. It may have been caused by a slow-moving white car that forced the Mercedes to swerve and then vanished. Or it may have been caused by the fact that Henri Paul, according to initial police reports, was very drunk. All this will be sorted out in the French courts as time goes by - although it is unlikely, given the deep emotion that Diana's death has provoked, that everyone will ever agree on the precise sequence of events or a single cause.
Still, and sadly, there is no question that the Mercedes, traveling very fast through the heart of Paris, collided with a concrete pillar under the Place de l'Alma and collapsed from front to rear, crushing everyone inside. Henri Paul and Dodi Fayed were killed instantly. Trevor Rees-Jones, the only one wearing a seat belt, was seriously injured but survived. Diana was still alive an hour later, when rescue workers finally estricated her from the wreckage. Unconscious and near cardiac arest from a massive loss of blood, she was rushed to Pitié Salpétrière Hospital, where doctors worked furiously to save her for nearly two hours. It was no use - and shortly before 4 a.m., she died.
In Britain and all around the world, the news of her passing touched off a spontaneous outpouring of grief that started large and grew to epochal proportions. Kensington Palace was engulfed in flowers left by the common folk who loved her. Thousands stood in line at St. Jame's Palace and at British embassies on all continents to sign books of condolence. Part of the reason for this mass bereavement, as her brother, Earl Spencer, said in his eloquent eulogy, was that Diana at 36 had died "at her most beautiful and radiant." Part of it was the memory of her charitable work, and part of it was her status as heroine in a fairy-tale royal marriage and soap-opera royal divorce. But at bottom lay the fact that Diana was unique - simultaneously glamorous, charming, flawed and vulnerable. The multitude of mourners who surrounded Westminster Abbey - and filled Hyde Park and the Horse Guards Parade - was by some estimates the largest crowd since VE Day, 1945. And no one could guess how many millions more watched the solemnities on TV.
What they saw was a stately ritual of Britannic mourning - but one that, like Diana herself, gracefully violated tradition to declare an essential humanity. The London tabloids started it, prodding the queen and the royal family to loosen the bonds of protocol. When Buckingham Palace declined to fly the Union Jack at half-mast there in Diana's honor (the reason; the flag flying over the palace is not the Union Jack but the royal standard, signifying that the monarch is in residence), the tabs jeered and forced the monarchy to yield. When 10 Downing Street pointed out that the processional route was far too short to accommodate the millions expected to show up, the palace reconsidered and again gave in. On Friday, the queen went on television to express her family's grief, praising Diana as "an exceptional and gifted human being." It fell to Charles to fly to Paris to escort Diana's body back to England - which he did, sniffling and red-eyed. And it fell to Charles, as their father, to tell Prince William, 15, and Prince Harry, 12, that their Mummy was dead. The Windsors did what they do so well; they coped.
And so on a brilliant September morning, a horse-drawn gun carriage bearing Diana, Princess of Wales, emerged from Kensington Palace for the three-and-a-half-mile drive to Westminster Abbey. The coffin - small somehow - was draped in the maroon-and-gold royal standard and crowned with three bouquets, one from each of her sons and one from the Spencer family. Earl Spencer, Prince Charles and Prince Philip accompanied William and Harry as they walked behind the gun carriage. Britons by the thousands stood silent as the procession passed, and the tenor bell at Westminster tolled the national grief. Outside Buckingham Palace, the queen and other members of the royal family stood by the road to pay their respects; Elizabeth bowed as the coffin passed.
At Westminster, a squad of red-coated Welsh Guards carried the coffin into the nave. The historic pews were filled with the rich and famous, including Hillary Clinton, Tom Cruise and Luciano Pavarotti. Outside, mourners as far away as Hyde Park watched the service on giant television screens set up for the occasion. Prime Minister Tony Blair read the sonorous prose of I Corinthians 13 ("And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love") with polish and evident feeling. Elton John, a longtime friend, performed a new version of "Candle in the Wind" written especially for Diana. "And your footsteps will always fall here, along England's greenest hills," he sang. "Your candle's burned out long before your legend ever will." The crowd outside burst into applause as the last chord died away; inside, Prince Harry wept.
Earl Spencer's outspoken eulogy also captured the feelings of the moment. He remembered Diana's compassion and "natural nobility," acknowledging that for all her glamour, she "remained throughout a very insecure person at heart, almost childlike in her desire to do good for others." She had wanted to leave England, he said, "mainly because of the treatment she received at the hands of the newspapers." He skewered her tormentors. "I don't think she ever understood why her genuinely good intentions were sneered at by the media, why there appeared to be a permanent quest... to bring her down," Spencer said. "My own, and only, explanation is that genuine goodness is threatening to those at the opposite end of the moral spectrum." Outside, the crowds burst into thunderous applause.
Diana's journey ended at Althorp, the Spencer estate 77 miles north of London. There, after a private service, she was buried on an island in a small lake that will be closed to the public most of the year. Choosing an inscription for her headstone is a family matter, but the Spencers could do worse than steal a line from Elton John and his lyricist Bernie Taupin. To them, Diana will always be England's golden child.
Diana - Princess of Wales - Front Page
A young Diana
Diana's married years
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