Next week, ‘the most famous woman in the world’ would have turned 60.
For a landmark series and podcast that re-examines Diana’s last days, the Mail has spoken to a host of crucial eyewitnesses and members of her inner circle, many of whom have not spoken before.
Yesterday, using their testimonies, we reconstructed the night of the crash in Paris and the futile battle to save Diana. Today, we tell the story of the shattering aftermath.
Paris: 7.06am local time, Sunday, August 31, 1997
Sunrise on the last day of the French summer holiday season. But this is no ordinary dawn. Overnight, the City of Light has become a powerful, dystopian vortex, irresistibly drawing the attention of the world and compelling the sombre presence of senior figures of state on both sides of the Channel.
French President Jacques Chirac is on the move, having cleared his schedule for the day. His prime minister, Lionel Jospin, is hurrying back to the capital after abandoning the Socialist Party’s summer conference in the Atlantic resort of La Rochelle.
At Balmoral Castle, 800 miles to the north, the Prince of Wales is preparing to fly from Aberdeen to Paris on a hastily arranged aircraft of the Royal Flight. His two former sisters-in-law will also be aboard.
This vortex has its axis in a first-floor room with blue walls and large, uncurtained windows, situated on a corridor close to the emergency department of the huge and historic Pitié-Salpêtrière University Hospital in the 13th arrondissement.
Iconic: Diana, the Princess of Wales (pictured visiting the Royal Brompton Hospital in London), was loved worldwide
The room is large enough to hold three beds. Today, it has only one. But this bed contains the body of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Three hours and six minutes have passed since she was declared dead in one of the hospital’s basement operating theatres after a hopeless battle to save her from the catastrophic internal rupture she suffered in a high-speed car crash next to the Seine, a little after midnight.
The westbound carriageway of the tunnel under the Pont de l’Alma bridge is still closed to traffic and will stay so for three hours yet. The marks on the 13th pillar of the central reservation will remain there far longer.
This is the spot where the black Mercedes S280 carrying the Princess and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, and driven by Henri Paul, deputy security manager of the Ritz Hotel, impacted the concrete at an estimated speed of 65mph.
The crash killed Dodi and Paul and grievously injured Dodi’s bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, who is being treated elsewhere in the Pitié-Salpêtrière. The French interior minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement has been at the hospital for several hours. So, too, the British Ambassador Sir Michael Jay and the Consul-General Keith Moss.
Since Diana’s body left the operating theatre, a vigil has been kept over it by Catholic priest Father Yves-Marie Clochard-Bossuet, the duty chaplain who on being summoned from his bed by phone to attend to ‘Princess Diana’ at first thought he was the victim of a drunken prank. Dawn confirms the sober reality of a world that has been stood on its head.
Frederic Mailliez, the off-duty doctor first on the scene after the crash while driving home from a friend’s birthday party, is waking to find that the ‘beautiful’ stranger to whom he had given first aid is not only dead but the most famous woman in the world. ‘I was astounded,’ he recalls to the Mail.
His surprise is presumably not unlike that of the owner of a white Fiat Uno that bears the scars of collision damage. ‘Horrified’ or even ‘terrified’ might be a more suitable description of what this Parisian felt when he also, belatedly, discovers who was in the crashed Mercedes in the Alma tunnel. He will then, allegedly, arrange for his car to be resprayed red. Immediately.
Prince Charles and French President Jacques Chirac are seen at the Pitie Saltpetriere Hospital in Paris on August 31, 1997, where Diana died following a car crash
London is one hour behind Paris. But the reverberations of what has happened are being felt there too. Someone is hammering on the doors and windows of the Notting Hill flat belonging to Diana confidante and Daily Mail royal correspondent Richard Kay. He is the last person Diana ever spoke to on her mobile phone, in a conversation the previous evening. Afterwards, he had dutifully obeyed her final instruction: to switch off his phones and get some sleep.
And so he has heard nothing of the tragedy. No one has been able to reach him on this night of nights. Not until the Mail’s chief reporter David Williams goes to Notting Hill. Eventually, Kay appears in his dressing gown.
‘What’s up?’ he asks.
‘I’ve got bad news,’ says Williams. ‘Let’s go in and turn on the television.’ When Kay switches on his mobile he will hear a series of increasingly anguished messages left for him through the night by Paul Burrell, Diana’s butler. He wanted Kay to go with him to Paris to help bring Diana’s body home.
But it is too late for that now. Burrell is already at Heathrow airport about to board the first plane to the French capital. He is accompanied by the Princess’s driver-minder Colin Tebbutt.
Tebbutt left school aged 15. He then served around the world in 45 Commando Royal Marines before joining the police in 1969 and rising to the rank of detective inspector in royal protection. He retired in 1993 and was recruited by Diana three years later after she ditched her official police protection following her divorce because she thought they were spying on her for the Palace. It is likely that this ‘paranoia’ was heightened by BBC journalist Martin Bashir’s fraudulent claims made to her via Diana’s brother, which secured his scoop 1995 interview with her.
‘There was no question of leaving Diana’s recovery to the Establishment, as far as we were concerned,’ he recalls to the Mail. ‘She had nothing to do with Buckingham Palace any more, or the Prince of Wales. She was our boss and we would look after her still. [Diana’s private secretary] Michael Gibbins said to me that night, “Colin, would you get yourself on the first plane to Paris?” And I said, “Yes sir, no problem.” ’
‘Then he said, “Colin, switch on to being a policeman, a DI, again, and go out there and be my ears and eyes.” ’ They start to make calls. ‘Nobody is thinking of ringing Diana’s office,’ Tebbutt says. ‘Everybody’s thinking of Buckingham Palace.
‘Everyone’s being told what’s happening apart from us. So we started to put things together. First thing I did was to lock her home. It’s an enormous space.
‘Everything [of value] of hers that was lying around I collected and put in the safe and locked it. We taped some doors too.
Scrum: Photographers at the hospital on August 31, 1997, following Princess Diana's death
‘Then I handed the keys to Michael Gibbins. At that time my partner Liz, who’s now my wife, was working in the VIP suite at Heathrow and she was trying to get me on to the first flight out to Paris, which was already full, we were told. But she managed to book me two seats. And so me and Paul Burrell were taken to the private side of the airport and we were able to get on that plane with no fuss or interference.’
The flight leaves at 7.30am Paris time and it seems half of Fleet Street are on the plane too. ‘Paul was in a dreadful state,’ recalls Tebbutt. ‘I couldn’t get him out of it. He was in deep shock. On board I recognised a police officer from the Prince of Wales’s team but [it was so full] he had to sit up front on one of the crew jump seats. I was quite sharp if anyone approached us.’
But they are not entirely on their own. Gibbins has contacted officials in Paris and Tebbutt and Burrell are picked up at the airport by British diplomatic staff and taken to the embassy. It is now around 8.45am, local time.
Tebbutt is nervous about how they will be received. ‘When we pulled up Sir Michael and Lady Jay came down to meet us and I said to Paul, “They’re expecting government officials, not a driver-minder and a butler.” I was beginning to worry what (the ambassador) was going to think or say: “Why have they sent you? What are you doing here?”’
‘But Sir Michael shook my hand and said, “Mr Tebbutt, thank you very much for coming. You are the first people we have met from the Princess’s side. Would you come with me?” And Paul went off with Lady Jay to try to put some clothes together [for Diana]. We didn’t take over anything with us.’
Tebbutt was taken by the ambassador into a large office, ‘like a Cabinet room, full of French people in uniform and officials sitting around a table, and they all stood up when we walked in and he [the ambassador?] said to me, “Can you brief this assembly?” ’
Tebbutt is horror-stricken. He cannot speak French and his concern at that moment is simply to source stationery and pens to make notes and take phone numbers. ‘Then, suddenly, a voice behind me says, “I’m awfully sorry I’m late, do excuse me,” and I turn and its Brigadier Charles Ritchie, the military attaché. When I was Princess Anne’s protection officer he was her equerry. So here is someone I know well in the middle of all this chaos, which was a massive weight off my mind.
‘He said to me, “Colin, what can I do for you?” So I said, “If I brief you about what I’m hoping to do, could you address these gentlemen for me? And could I have a driver and policeman to take me to the places I need to go to?” And that was done. I was given a car and an escort [in fact, the British Embassy’s press attaché rather than a French policeman].’ He and Burrell set off for the Ritz Hotel.
‘I’m thinking on my feet now,’ Tebbutt says. ‘I’ve been up since just after 1am and a lot of things have happened since then. I’ve lost my boss and my job. I went to the Ritz next to get the boss’s property back. You should never lose their luggage. I expected it to be there because [I knew] she had been at the hotel that night.
‘But when we arrived they [the senior staff] treated me with immense suspicion. Dodi had just died and there was a lot of shock and they didn’t know me from Adam. Paul and I sat there waiting for some considerable time. It was very awkward. They would not let me go anywhere (in the hotel) or do anything.
‘In the end, I had to ask the hotel office to phone the Fayed control room in London and tell them a password that I knew, which would prove I was who I said I was. And as soon as they did that and it came back OK they began to speak to me.’
Princess Diana with trusted driverminder Colin Tebbutt. Tebbutt and Paul Burrell, Diana's butler, were picked up at the airport by British diplomatic staff and taken to the embassy
But only to tell Tebbutt and Burrell that any of Diana’s property that had been in the hotel had already been taken away and was being flown back to London with Dodi’s body. ‘I was very upset about that,’ recalls Tebbutt. ‘But there was nothing I could do. So I said to the driver, “To the hospital as fast as you can.” ’
Father Clochard-Bossuet has volunteered to work as duty chaplain at the Pitié-Salpêtrière this weekend partly because he had thought, ‘I will have nothing to do’. Now he finds himself having to interact with the great and the good as they respond to a tragedy of global interest. Some are easier to deal with than others. The French interior minister Chevènement, is ‘pushy’, he recalls to the Mail ‘[He behaved] like I was [trying] to take over. He was telling me to stay in my place.’
The President’s wife is different. ‘Madame Chirac must have [first arrived] around 9-10am and stayed the longest,’ he says. ‘She prayed and asked me to pray with her in Diana’s room. She was the one who asked me, “Can you stay [with Diana] until a member of the Royal Family arrives?”
‘So I told her that, apart from the Mass I was supposed to celebrate in the hospital later that morning — not for Diana but because it was a Sunday, remember — I could. And that’s why I stood guard over Diana until the end. At the request of Madame Chirac.’
11.45am: The priest is about to be joined in his vigil by Tebbutt and Burrell, who have with them a black, woollen cocktail dress and a pair of black shoes, selected from the wardrobe of Lady Jay.
‘That journey was very strange,’ Tebbutt recalls. ‘The streets were busy but when we got to the hospital it was like a football match outside. Total chaos.’
They fight their way through and ‘were taken upstairs to a nursing office where he found Keith Moss [the British Consul-General) and the “wonderful” nursing sister from the French Caribbean [chief nurse Beatrice Humbert] who was in charge of Diana.
‘I told Mr Moss that I was a former inspector in the Royal Family’s protection and was now representing the Princess’s private secretary. Mr Moss said, “I’ll take you to see the Princess.”
‘In the corridor there was a policeman and people were going in and out of a particular room and I’m asking myself, “What’s happening here?”
And I walked into that room and there is a guy bowing at the end of a bed. And people [like that] were just walking in to pay their respects. And, bang, there was the boss, in an ordinary bed, covered by a sheet up to her chin looking like she was asleep.
‘She had a slight mark on the right of her face and her hair was a little dishevelled. It was a shocking moment. But I had to pull myself together and I said, “I don’t think people should be coming in and out of her room. It should be kept totally clear. Could you tell me what is supposed to be happening [to her]?” ’
It is explained to Tebbutt that Leverton & Sons, of Camden, North London, the royal undertakers, will be arriving later this afternoon. ‘It wasn’t even lunchtime then. So I said her room had to be secured.’
Tebbutt also commandeers a room across the corridor, which he will use as an office and communications centre. His concerns are shared by Ambassador Jay, who would later recall: “I agreed with the Royal Household staff we should try to keep those paying respects to a minimum but we should not offend against strongly held French traditions. I explained [to French officials] that paying last respects was not a strong British or Anglican tradition.’
But this isn’t the only question concerning Diana’s privacy and dignity. ‘I looked out of the windows and I could see people on nearby roofs,’ Tebbutt recalls. ‘I couldn’t believe it. I don’t think they knew exactly where we were because it was a big hospital, but they were trying to get photos and there weren’t any curtains in the windows.’
Once again, Diana is denied privacy and dignity, even now in death. As a result, the tragedy will be given a further, macabre, twist. ‘I immediately called for blankets and we put them up across the windows,’ recalls Tebbutt. ‘But it was a damn hot day. It was August and . . . extremely hot. And when we got the room covered [from view] of course it . . . became hotter [still].
Diana's sister Jane leaves the hospital in Paris where the Princess of Wales died on August 31
‘I asked why the Princess was in this bed and not in the mortuary [as I had expected] where she would be secure in every way and I was told . . . the Palace has said she must not be touched or moved until Levertons arrive.’
Tebbutt asks for portable air-conditioning units to be moved into the room urgently.
‘So they brought them to me on tall stands. But when I plugged them in and turned them [to point at the bed] I thought, just for a second, that the Princess was still alive. Because her hair was moving and her eyelids too. And just for a fraction of a second my heart stopped and I had to turn away to the wall, and Paul did too.
‘We were both absolutely . . . we couldn’t talk. In that flash, [it looked like] my lady’s still alive. I pulled myself together. Of course she wasn’t alive, it was just the air pumping out of the fans. But that was the worst moment. Probably the worst moment of my life apart from my own mother and father dying.’
Tebbutt and Moss are constantly having to brief officials in London and Balmoral. Tebbutt is also taking calls on his mobile phone, including one from his son, who is checking his father is still alive.
The media is reporting that Diana’s driver has been killed in Paris. His son did not know that the dead driver is Henri Paul. His father has different concerns.
Tebbutt is growing increasingly worried about the preservation of his boss’s body. He recalls that he asked Consul-General Moss why the French undertakers hadn’t been allowed in. ‘Everyone else gets looked after in that way after they die, but not this lady . . .’
Moss is under orders and unbending, he recalls. ‘So I then rang Mr Gibbins and lobbied him for the hospital undertakers to be allowed to “tidy up” Diana. I’m thinking, the Prince is coming, her family’s coming, I want the boss to be in good form.’
He recalls that permission was finally given ‘from Balmoral’. ‘There was a lady and a gentleman undertaker and Paul [also] went in to do her hair and they did a good job. It was the first time I’d drawn a breath since 1am.’
This will lead inadvertently to one of the most toxic Diana conspiracy theories. While Tebbutt recalls that he anticipated only a superficial arresting of the natural processes — a cosmetic makeover — the hospital undertakers decide to embalm the Princess.
Their judgment is approved by the French authorities. The embalming process duly takes place. Mohamed Al Fayed will later allege the procedure is done to hide the fact that Diana was pregnant by his son.
A picture of her two boys is placed in her hands, with rosary beads from Mother Teresa... but one earring is missing
Now, it is late afternoon. The corridor outside Diana’s room has been secured. Aside from the police guards, there is a permanent presence of just Colin Tebbutt, the Consul-General, the nursing sister, Paul Burrell and the priest.
The priest, Father Yves-Marie Clochard-Bossuet, recalls that he could tell that butler Burrell was genuinely devastated by Diana’s death, unlike some of the ‘hypocritical’ officials who had paid their respects. ‘He felt the need to tell me how much she meant to him.’
But then ‘suddenly down the corridor comes this tall man and his wife and they just walked into Diana’s room with the policeman saluting,’ recalls Tebbutt.
‘I’m like, “What the hell’s happening now?” I went to call him back when I suddenly realised it was President and Mrs Chirac [again]. Mr Chirac bowed at the end of the bed and walked out. After that, we sat in the office and waited. They knew that the VIP party from Britain was close.
Devoted: Diana, the Princess of Wales, with her two sons Prince Harry and William in 1995
‘I knew little about the Royal Family tree,’ recalls the priest to the Mail. ‘I knew Diana’s husband was called Charles . . . I had no idea that the whole world would be talking about this for years to come.’ He is bemused by the deferential anticipation of his British companions. ‘The people of the embassy warned me an hour before he arrived that Charles was coming. We French and English are different. They were asking me if I felt OK, was I prepared in order to meet His Royal Highness [their attitude]? It was absolutely as if Christ Himself was about to descend [on us].’
First to arrive are the royal undertakers’ party. ‘The coffin was carried shoulder-high by these four big guys accompanied by Mr Leverton himself, all in morning suits, marching down the corridor as if it were a military parade,’ recalls Tebbutt. ‘I told Mr Leverton that the French undertakers had been and hoped that everything was OK. And he went in and looked at her and came out and said: “Mr Tebbutt, they’ve done a fine job, thank you,” which was a huge relief to me.’
Now Prince Charles arrives, accompanied by Diana’s sisters, Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes. President Chirac is at the hospital entrance with a 12-strong guard of honour.
‘I had known [the Prince] since 1978. He said to me, “Colin, thank you very much for coming,” ’ says Tebbutt. ‘I explained to him what had been happening and he asked, “Are there any members of the clergy here?” I said there were and he replied, “I would like to go into the [Diana’s] room with the clergy and her sisters. Is that alright?” I said, “By all means, Sir.” ’
An Anglican clergyman is also on hand, at last. ‘He arrived five minutes before Charles,’ recalls Father Clochard-Bossuet. ‘A nice man named Martin Draper (the serving Anglican Archdeacon of France). And it was he who told Prince Charles, “This is the Catholic priest who has been watching over Diana for ten hours.”
‘And Prince Charles was very amiable, very simple, very nice. He thanked me and invited me to come and pray with them. And so there was a prayer, the Anglican prayer for the dead, with Prince Charles, the two sisters, maybe a nurse, and the two priests, me and the Anglican. There was no one else in the room.’
The prayers last a quarter of an hour. The priest notices that Diana’s appearance has changed since he last saw her. Diana has been prepared and dressed in Lady Jay’s outfit. ‘They had put on eye-shadow and make-up,’ he recalls. ‘She didn’t have the naturalness she had before. She looked like a doll, whereas before she was just a very beautiful woman.’ A picture of Diana’s two sons, which was in her handbag, has been placed in her hands together with rosary beads given to her by Mother Teresa. She is wearing the jewellery that has been recovered from the Mercedes, although one earring is missing. (It will be recovered from the wreckage.)
Afterwards, ‘Charles thanked me,’ recalls the priest. ‘He was very, very moved. Yes, I saw tears.’
‘But [when the royal party was praying in the room] someone from Charles’s entourage, a gentleman who I didn’t know, asked me, “How are you getting back then?” ’ Tebbutt recalls.
‘And I said, “I haven’t given it a thought, Sir. I haven’t got a shilling in my pocket.” And he said, “Well, you won’t be going on the royal plane, of course.” And I thought that was a little strange. They’re taking over. But the boss is mine. She’s still mine. Are they going to shove me on [the Eurostar] or something? But then the Prince came out and thanked me again and said, “You and Mr Burrell will be coming back with me on the plane.” ’
6.35pm: Draped in the Royal Standard and led by Archdeacon Draper, Diana’s coffin is carried to a dark blue hearse. The royal cortège departs the hospital for Villacoublay military airfield, where the coffin is transferred to an aircraft from the Royal Flight.
‘As we drove through the streets of Paris, everyone was applauding,’ Tebbutt recalls. ‘It was amazing. Very, very moving. When we got to the plane the two sisters decided they wanted to sit with Paul and me.’ The Prince and his staff sit in a different compartment.
6.51pm BST: A TV audience of 19 million watches the plane’s arrival at Northolt in West London. Six RAF pallbearers from the Queen’s Colour Squadron lift Diana’s coffin on to their shoulders. Prime Minister Tony Blair is there to meet the royal party, along with the Lord Chamberlain and Diana’s private secretary Michael Gibbins.
Police outriders from the Special Escort Group now lead the hearse out on to the A40. Too late, Diana is getting the police protection she had disastrously rejected. As the hearse passes under bridges, bystanders drop flowers on to the road. Back at Northolt, Prince Charles re-boards the RAF plane to return to Balmoral and his heartbroken sons.
The hearse continues on to Bagley’s Lane mortuary, in Fulham. There Diana’s body is formally identified by her sisters and a post-mortem examination takes place. The royal doctor also examines Tebbutt. The bodyguard is 57, physically exhausted and mentally overwrought. His longest, most challenging duty is at an end.
But his attention now turns to Diana’s sisters. ‘How were they to get home? Everyone else was a stranger, save for the royal doctor,’ he recalls. ‘We were still the household of the Princess of Wales. No one was going to help us. So I got my driver to take Sarah home to Lincolnshire that night.’
3am BST: Tebbutt is finally able to return to his bed in Botany Bay, from which he was roused by a call from Balmoral in the early hours of the previous morning. His day of days has lasted 26 hours.
Monday & Tuesday September 1 & 2
Diana’s body has remained under police guard overnight at the Fulham mortuary. It is now lying in a closed casket in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace. By chance the royal residential protection officer tasked to guard her this morning is Garry Smith, whose charitable event she had offered to sponsor a week before she was killed.
‘All the windows in the chapel had been thrown open and I could hear people outside talking about what had happened,’ Smith [not his real name owing to his sensitive current occupation], recalls to the Mail. ‘They didn’t know they were only a few feet away from the Princess herself.
‘[Her death] affected me afterwards more than it did on the night it took place, when I just couldn’t believe it was happening. Forget about all the “Queen of Hearts” nonsense. She was a normal woman who had faults like we all do. She was tricky, but I very much liked Diana as a human being.’
In preparation for the funeral, the casket will later be moved to her apartment in Kensington Palace.
Diana’s Paris luggage has ended up at Mohamed Al Fayed’s office in Harrods department store. Tebbutt goes there to retrieve it on behalf of Diana’s sisters. ‘But they [Al Fayed’s office] would not let me have it just like that,’ he recalls. ‘I was told a member of his staff must go with me and the luggage to Lady Sarah’s home in Lincolnshire. So we drove up there in convoy and when we arrived the Harrods man wanted to go inside and be present when we checked the contents of the bags. But Lady Sarah would not have him in her house. He was made to wait outside.’
The funeral: Saturday, September 6
Garry Smith is on plain-clothes duty, surveying the dense crowds from the ‘wedding cake’ statue of Queen Victoria outside Buckingham Palace. Colin Tebbutt and his partner Liz are not only inside Westminster Abbey, but right at the front of the VIP congregation, next to Diana’s ‘blood family’.
Diana’s coffin, draped in the Royal Standard, is carried out of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris on August 31, 1997
‘We were treated fantastically well by Earl Spencer,’ he recalls. ‘The doors of the abbey were open and I said to Liz, “Listen to the rain, everyone outside will get soaked.” But in fact it was clapping and then the applause entered the abbey and moved up through into the choir. That showed what people thought of the most beautiful woman in the world.’
He accompanies the family mourners to Euston station and boards the Royal Train to Long Buckby, the nearest stop to Althorp. Diana’s coffin is driven to Northamptonshire in a hearse.
‘I was helping direct operations outside the station when to my horror I realised everyone was driving off without me. But then one of the cars stopped and Prince William said “Get in, Colin” and I was taken to Althorp House.’
There is a lunch before the interment. Then the mourners make their way to the shore of the Round Oval, a small lake in the grounds. Diana is to be buried on the island in the middle. Tebbutt is one of the privileged few beside the close family to be allowed to the graveside.
‘No police protection officers; Earl Spencer didn’t want anyone else down there,’ he recalls. ‘The Army had put a bridge across to the island and I walked over it with [Diana’s mother] Mrs Shand Kydd. She held my hand the whole time and we walked across to the island and stood there together. The coffin was lowered and the whole family went forward. I kept my distance.
‘I was just amazed to be there and very emotional. Then we walked back across the bridge and I went with Mrs Shand Kydd to sit on a bench. She had a cigarette. That’s what she wanted. We sat in deep silence as the Army was taking the bridge away. Then we walked back to the house, had coffee and went our separate ways.’