UK

Princess Diana Documentary Traces Aftermath Of Fatal Paris Crash

Her death shook the world.

27/08/2017 09:12 BST

It is now almost two decades since Diana, Princess of Wales was tragically killed in a high-speed car crash in France.

The former wife of Prince Charles and mother to Princes William and Harry was with her lover Dodi Fayed, their Mercedes driven by chauffeur Henri Paul being pursued by paparazzi as it entered the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in central Paris. 

The vehicle struck the tunnel wall instantly killing Fayed and Paul. Diana died later in hospital, with her bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones emerging as the only survivor.

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Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris on 31 August 1997

On Sunday the BBC will screen the documentary Diana, 7 days, chronicling the unprecedented events which took place during the first week following the princess’s death in 1997.

Featuring interviews with her sons who were just aged 15 and 12 at the time, their uncle Earl Spencer and former prime minister Tony Blair, a number of extraordinary revelations have come to light.

Who the Princes blame 

Prince Harry said: “I think one of the hardest things to come to terms with is the fact that the people who chased her through the tunnel were the same people taking photographs of her, while she was dying in the back seat of the car.

“William and I know that, we’ve been told that numerous times by people that know that was the case.

“She’d had a… quite a severe head injury, but she was still very much alive on the back seat, and those people that… that caused the accident, instead of helping, were taking photographs of her dying on the back seat. And then those photographs made… made their way back to news desk in this country.”

Praise for Prince Charles

Harry praised his father for the care he showed his sons in the aftermath of their mother’s death, describing how Prince Charles was “there for us.”

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The princes have praised their father for his care after their mother's death 

Harry, who at the time of his mother’s death was holidaying at Balmoral with his brother, father, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, said: “One of the hardest things for a parent to have to do is to tell your children that your other parent has died.

“How you deal with that I don’t know but, you know, he was there for us.

“He was the one out of two left and he tried to do his best and to make sure we were protected and looked after.

“But, you know, he was going through the same grieving process as well.”

Protection from their grandmother, the Queen

William said: “At the time, you know, my grandmother wanted to protect her two grandsons and my father as well.

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The Queen with the princes at Buckingham Palace for the Trooping of the Colour in 1988 

“Our grandmother deliberately removed the newspapers and things like that, so there was nothing in the house at all, so we didn’t know what was going on.”

He added: “We had the privacy to mourn and kind of collect our thoughts and to try and just have that space away from everybody.”

How Tony Blair learned of Diana’s death 

Blair, who had only swept to power in a landslide victory a few months before, told the documentary he was woken on the day Diana died by a policeman at the foot of his bed and described the “shock” at learning the “most famous person in the world” was dead. 

Later that day he famously described the royal as the “People’s Princess” and in the documentary he attempted to sum up the historical figure.

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Prime Minister Tony Blair addresses the nation from his home village at Trimdon near Newcastle following the news of the death of Diana

He said: “Today now 2017, you know we see Prince William, Prince Harry as people, people feel a close connection with. They speak like normal people, they act like normal people, you know, people don’t find them hard to relate to.

“It’s really important to wind back 20 years and realise, I mean, she was the first member of the Royal Family that people really felt behaved and acted like a normal human being.”

Making their mother proud 

Harry echoes comments made in another interview where he said he wanted to leave the Royal Family.

Speaking about the aftermath of his mother’s death he said: “Years after I spent a long time (of) my life with my head buried in the sand, you know, thinking ‘I don’t want to be Prince Harry, I don’t want this responsibility, I don’t want this role, look what’s happened to my mother, why does this have to happen to me’.

“But now all I want to do is try and fill the holes that my mother has left, that’s what it’s about for us, is trying to make a difference, and in making a difference making her proud.”

The funeral 

William speaks of viewing the procession through the “safety blanket” of a bowed head and his long fringe. “It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I felt she was almost walking along beside us to get us through.”

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The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince William, Earl Spencer, Prince Harry and the Prince of Wales follow the coffin of Diana

He added: “It wasn’t an easy decision and it was a sort of collective family decision to do that... there is that balance between duty and family and that’s what we had to do.”

The balance, he added, was “between me being Prince William and having to do my bit, versus the private William who just wanted to go into a room and cry, who’d lost his mother”.

In June Harry spoke of the traumatic experience of walking behind his mother’s coffin, claiming no child “should be asked to do that under any circumstances.” 

He has since told the BBC he “doesn’t have an opinion whether that was right or wrong” but that on “looking back on it”, he was glad to have been part of the day. 

A careful balancing act for the Queen 

The Queen faced criticism from the press and public for not returning from her Scottish estate of Balmoral to London quickly enough to acknowledge the huge outpouring of grief. 

A sea of floral tributes had been left at the gates of Buckingham Palace and Diana’s home Kensington Palace in the days after her death and the documentary charts the growing pressure on the monarchy to make a public appearance.

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Prince Charles, Princess Diana and the Queen, pictured at Buckingham Palace in 1981

Harry attempted to explain the situation: “It was a case of how do we let the boys grieve in privacy, but at the same time when is the right time for them to put on their prince hats and carry out duties to mourn not just their mother but the Princess of Wales?”

William sympathised with the dilemma the Queen faced: “I think it was a very hard decision for my grandmother to make, she felt very torn between being the grandmother to William and Harry and her Queen role.

“And I think she, you know again like I said, everyone was surprised and taken aback by the scale of what happened and the nature of how quickly it all happened, plus the fact, you know, she was or had been challenging the Royal Family for many years beforehand.”

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The princes and their mother on Harry's first day at the Wetherby School in Notting Hill, 1989

Blair revealed in his first conversation with the Queen after Diana’s death the monarch was aware of the potential harmful effect events could have on the standing of the Royal Family.

He said: “Princess Diana’s relationship that she had with the monarchy and the relationship with Prince Charles, there was going to be a risk that the country’s sense of loss turned to a sense of anger and grievance, and then turned against the monarchy.

“So the first conversation with the Queen was an important conversation, she was obviously very sad about Diana, she was concerned about the monarchy herself because the Queen has a very strong instinct about public opinion and how it plays.”

The documentary charts how when the Queen, with the rest of her family, decided to return to London the mood among mourners and the wider country changed.

Blair said: “I think in the course of this week the monarchy, and the Queen in particular, showed that they had that capacity to adapt and adjust.

“Realising what from Diana’s life they had to, as it were, keep as part of the monarchy going forward.”

Diana, 7 Days will air on BBC on Sunday 27 August, 7.30pm.