THE haunting CCTV images of Diana entering the Ritz in Paris through revolving doors on the night of August 30, 1997, remain etched on millions of people’s memories.
Clearly impatient and troubled, the 36-year-old princess was followed by Dodi Fayed, the 42-year-old son of the hotel’s Egyptian owner, Mohamed Fayed.
Even more disturbing are the jerky CCTV pictures of the princess and Dodi standing, three hours later, in a corridor at the back of the hotel waiting for a driver to collect them.
By then, Diana’s face reveals a woman exhausted and annoyed.
Pestered by paparazzi photo- graphers and irritated by Dodi’s changing plans to return to his apartment off the Champs-Elysees, Diana desperately wanted to fly immediately back to London to see her sons before they returned to school after the summer holidays.
We all know, as we watch the video of the princess walking out of the camera’s frame into the darkness, that within ten minutes that tragic but wonderful woman would be fatally injured in a horrific crash caused by Fayed’s drunken employee driving recklessly fast.
As the news of Diana’s ebbing life flashed across the globe, people in every country froze in their steps.
Everyone remembers the very moment when the dream turned into a nightmare.
Over the previous two weeks, millions had gazed at the astonishing photos of Diana, alluring and immaculate in her swimming costume, playing for the cameras in the sun-kissed Mediterranean with William and Harry, clearly enjoying Dodi’s magnificent hospitality.
Those who knew the family were agog that Diana could be involved with Dodi, a spoilt playboy notorious for his shady lifestyle.
Insiders knew that their hectic summer romance had been born in troubled circumstances. Diana had accepted Mohamed Fayed’s seductive offer to live in luxury on his yacht near St Tropez. Dodi came as an unexpected extra.
Close to Fayed in those days, I enjoyed a ringside view of his plans and ambitions. In his office at Harrods, he showed me dozens of photos and boasted about his plans for the world’s most famous woman.
Thirty-six hours after the crash, I was in the Ritz, interviewing — with Fayed’s permission — all the staff who had witnessed Diana’s last upsetting hours in the hotel’s Imperial Suite.
She was neither pregnant nor engaged to Dodi, and I have no doubt that if Diana had returned safely to London, the relationship would have swiftly fizzled out.
In the aftermath of the frantic publicity blitz, she would have taken stock and realised that for her own sake and that of her sons, she needed to rebuild her life on solid, conventional foundations.
“Di-mania”, she would have decided, was self-destructive.
The horror of the paparazzi’s chase in Paris would have finally turned her against co-operating with the media to live 24/7 in the spotlight.
She would also have understood that her paranoia had been stoked by fraudulent claims. Wickedly deceived in 1995 by the BBC’s Martin Bashir that she was being persecuted by Britain’s secret service and her closest staff, she would have hired new advisers.
They would have discovered the truth, that the Establishment was not out to destroy her.
Finally, the traumatic memory of those last hours in Paris would have persuaded her to reassess her life.
Diana had fallen into the embrace of Dodi on the rebound of a broken and secret two-year affair with Hasnat Khan, a 37-year-old Pakistani heart and lung surgeon working in London.
Some would describe their relationship as Diana’s happiest. However, after he was secretly brought into Kensington Palace under a blanket in the back of a car, Khan feared the publicity and pressure once he was linked to the world’s most photographed celebrity.
If, on her return, Diana’s attempt to restore their relationship failed, she would have relied on her sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, and girlfriends including Rosa Monckton, to rebuild her self-confidence.
With their help, she would gradually have shed her turbulent lifestyle.
By now, approaching her 60th birthday on July 1, she would still rank as a global icon, not only as a campaigner for the poor and sick but also as a model of reinvention.
FOR HER NEW CHILD
In her quest for a good-looking, sympathetic soulmate, she would have eventually found happiness with another sophisticated, publicity- shy man, possibly a professional New Yorker.
With a partner rich enough to give her sanctuary in a Manhattan townhouse and provide a retreat behind the walls of a country estate, she would have regularly crossed the Atlantic in his private jet to visit her sons when they were still at Eton.
She would live in her new Gloucestershire house over the weekends, and her new husband would also have provided privacy in a seaside summer house, probably in the Hamptons — not only for her, William and Harry, but also possibly for their own child.
Newly married Diana would have wanted a new child to cement her new life.
Secure in an unglamorous but loyal relationship, she would have maturely accepted Charles’s marriage to Camilla and forged a good understanding with the Queen, not least because Prince Philip’s handwritten letters to Diana had shown clear sympathy for her plight.
Gradually, Buckingham Palace’s courtiers — the “vipers” she scorned as “the men in grey suits” — would no longer have featured in her crossfire. Peace would have broken out.
Invited to lead Britain’s most important charitable institutions, Diana and her new advisers would have created a well-funded foundation targeted at helping the most vulnerable.
As she grew older, she would have remained a fashion icon and, more important, a guide to women of all backgrounds, seeking help to rebuild their lives after similarly troubled childhoods and unhappy marriages.
In speeches, TV interviews and visits to homes and refuges, Diana would have encouraged her own generation not to give up.
Sharing her own vulnerability, she would have shown that with resilience and help, women can survive the worst of bad experiences and build a new life based on genuine respect and love.
The most important beneficiaries of Diana’s new life would have been William and Harry.
Once she was settled, they would have visited her regularly.
Protected from the turbulence of their father’s unstable life, they would have grown up in a loving relationship with their mother. The mental torment vividly described later by William and Harry would not have occurred.
The car crash in Paris in 1997 killed not only a much-loved mother but also destroyed those realisable dreams. If alive, Diana would have embraced Kate as the ideal wife for William and eagerly provided a home and haven for her grandchildren.
DESTROYED IN PARIS
Nothing else would have given Diana more pleasure than seeing her elder son enjoying the blissful family life she had been cruelly denied.
Harry’s life would also have been fundamentally different. Stable and secure because of Diana’s presence, Harry would have forged more thoughtful relationships with girls from his own background.
Eventually, he would have found a woman like Kate, eager to take her proper place in the Royal Family.
Harry would never have been entranced by Meghan Markle’s Californian embrace on a blind date in a London club. The current anti-royal crusade directed from Los Angeles would never have erupted.
As a result, with their mother’s ever-loving presence, William and Harry would not have fallen out, and both would have maintained a better relationship with Charles.
If only the Fayed family had not entrusted Diana to the care of a drunken driver, all that goodness and happiness would have been realised. Instead, it was unforgivably destroyed in Paris in 1997.
We were left with sorrow, the debris of ruined lives, a damaged Royal Family and a dream of what could have been.
In truth, there has been good from Diana’s death. Her fragility encouraged society and especially politicians to be more protective towards the vulnerable, while her misery was used by many to interpret their own plight.
Many found inspiration from her life — courage to communicate their fears, mend their sadness and discover worthwhile values to pursue.
The endearing image of Diana laughing is a permanent tonic for everyone adoring her beauty as a character and personality.
Across the globe she lives on as she wanted — as Diana, Queen of People’s Hearts.
- Tom Bower is the author of Rebel Prince, The Power, Passion And Defiance Of Prince Charles.
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