August 31, 1997
She grips her seat as the driver opens the throttle. The black Mercedes S280 is built for speed.
As the two-ton sedan pulls away from the Ritz Paris hotel, photographers’ flashbulbs explode in the night like gunfire. More cameramen, on motorcycles and scooters, are in pursuit.
Earlier this month, pictures of her and her boyfriend kissing while on a yacht in the Mediterranean sold to the tabloids for millions. The couple has only been in Paris a few hours, but the photographers following her won’t stop until they get another image worth a fortune.
It’s after midnight, but she’s still dressed for a summer dinner in white jeans and a dark Armani jacket, her red lipstick bright against skin tanned from a season in the sun.
She looks around at the three men in the car: her boyfriend, Egyptian film producer Dodi Fayed, is beside her in the back seat; their British bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, is directly in front of her.
At the wheel is Henri Paul, the hotel’s deputy chief of security. Paul is an experienced tactical driver, trained at a Mercedes-Benz course in Germany.
When her boys, William and Harry, were younger, they played with toy cars and once waved from a BMW motorbike that a kind policeman let them pretend to drive.
Henri Paul is driving too fast.
There’s an established route from the hotel to Dodi’s apartment, over a Cartier store on rue Arsène Houssaye near the Arc de Triomphe, but Paul doesn’t take it. He turns sharply onto Cours Albert 1er.
Only a few hours ago, she spoke with her sons, a few quick words between games with their cousins at Balmoral Castle. At twelve and fifteen, they’re still young enough to need her.
Henri Paul shields his eyes with a visor against the bright lights of the cameras. As the driver glances at the rearview mirror, she turns in her seat to look out the back window.
They’re traveling away from City Center, west along the north bank of the Seine. Across the river, the sky around the Eiffel Tower shines midnight blue with pockets of red and purple reflected by the lights of the monument.
Men on motorbikes are trying to overtake them.
She looks at the speedometer: 160 kilometers per hour and climbing.
If the boys were here with her, the three of them would be traveling together with a lead car and a tail car, the kind of first-rate protection afforded to the queen and those in immediate line to succeed her.
But since she divorced, she’s refused the royal protection squad.
She’s got a flight back to London tomorrow. She’ll see William and Harry at home, at Kensington Palace. I’m going to give Harry the PlayStation I bought for his birthday.
The Mercedes swerves to the right, toward the entrance of the tunnel under the Pont de l’Alma. The burst of speed whirls her surroundings into a dizzying, kaleidoscopic blur.
The bodyguard shouts and points.
Out the front window, she sees a white car that has stopped short of the tunnel.
Henri Paul loses control. He hits the Mercedes’s brakes, sending it skidding wildly into the white car’s left rear quarter panel, then spins out, crashing first into a concrete pillar and then into an embankment wall.
As her body lurches forward, there’s a sensation of dropping headfirst from a great height.
Like when she rode Disney World’s Splash Mountain, Harry in the front, screaming with delight at the speed of the descent.
She’s alive. Somehow, she’s still alive—and fighting for breath. The pain inside her head—she’s never felt anything like it. A concussion? Has to be.
Like that awful time when William’s skull was accidentally fractured by a golf club.
William survived, and I will, too. I’m going home, and I’m going to hold them in my arms and smother them with kisses and tell them again and again just how much I love them.
April 20, 1978
Lady Diana Spencer takes a deep breath.
She clutches her bouquet of roses and ducks her head, aware that all eyes are on her. She straightens her spine, then steps lightly, the way her ballet teachers have taught her.
Diana spots the beaming faces of wedding attendees, including the Duchess of Kent, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester—and the Queen Mother, standing beside Diana’s own maternal grandmother, Lady Ruth Fermoy.
Slowly, she begins her walk down the aisle, moving through the nave toward the chancel as she glides to her place at the altar.
Inside Guards’ Chapel, a few hundred yards from Buckingham Palace, attention shifts from her to the bride: her sister Jane, lovely in her form-fitting high-necked long-sleeved embroidered lace gown and veil.
The real eye-catcher of Jane’s bridal ensemble is an heirloom: the Spencer Tiara, which has been in the family for more than a century. A wedding present from a Spencer cousin to Lady Cynthia Hamilton, their paternal grandmother, the tiara is an ornate diamond headpiece embellished with a flower-shaped centerpiece. Diana dreams of wearing it on her future wedding day.
On this bright Thursday afternoon, though, sixteen-year-old Diana is in a floor-length ruffled pinafore-style pink gingham dress with cream-colored puffed sleeves. Even though she’s chief bridesmaid, her gown is identical to those worn by the little flower girls. At least she’s wearing pearls and has her shoulder-length fair hair fashionably clipped up on one side.
From her spot at the front of the church, Diana casts an eye over the congregation. Jane is marrying Robert Fellowes, the queen’s assistant private secretary. Both the bride’s and groom’s sides are closely tied to the royal family. Queen Elizabeth is even godmother to Diana’s thirteen-year-old brother, Charles. And while Robert possesses a courtier’s prestige, it’s the Spencer earldom that commands an uncommon fortune of $140 million, including the magnificent Althorp estate.
The newlyweds will be moving into the Old Barracks, a cottage on the grounds of Kensington Palace.
Oh, I would love to live at KP, Diana thinks, glancing again over pews filled with the elegantly dressed members of the royal inner circle.
She spots James Whitaker of the Daily Mirror. He’s been reporting on a romance between the eldest Spencer sister, Sarah, and Prince Charles.
All the talk of “a potential match” has really gone to her twenty-three-year-old sister’s head. Diana’s seen the way Sarah revels in the attention, pasting into a scrapbook all the articles and photos about herself and His Royal Highness.
Just before today’s ceremony began, Diana had bounced up to the reporter.
“You’re the wicked Mr. Whitaker, aren’t you?” she asked.
“Who are you, and how do you know me?” he volleyed back.
“I am Diana, the little sister, and I know all about you from Sarah,” she said with a laugh. She stops short of telling the reporter what she’s told friends, which is that she actually feels “desperately sorry” for Prince Charles having Sarah “wrapped around his neck because she’s quite a tough old thing.”
Diana may be the youngest Spencer daughter, but she is the most romantic. She remembers Jane confiding about her new husband: We have known each other all our lives and have gradually grown closer.
Diana breathes a quiet sigh, already looking forward to the reception, where she can’t wait to tuck into all the good food and sweets.
April 20, 1978
Inside St. James’s Palace, the Queen Mother stands with Ruth Roche, Lady Fermoy, her confidante and lady-in-waiting.
The Queen Mother is rather taken with Lady Fermoy’s teenage granddaughter. Though still a little pudgy, the youngest Spencer girl is quite tall, with flashing eyes and a captivating smile.
Diana has told the family that she only wants “to be with people and have fun and look after people.”
Today, she shows it, moving easily among the party crowd, charming her elders and enthralling the children.
Diana was only a child herself when her mother, Ruth’s daughter Frances, caused a public scandal by leaving her husband, the soon-to-be eighth Earl Spencer, for married wallpaper heir Peter Shand Kydd. Even after Frances and Peter divorced their spouses and married each other, young Diana had clung desperately to the hope that her mother would one day return home.
The Queen Mother is less impressed with Johnnie Spencer’s second wife, Raine Legge, Countess of Dartmouth. Is it true that the earl’s children call the woman Acid Raine?
Gazing across the hall now, the Queen Mother feels compelled to compliment the father of the bride, Lord Spencer, on young Lady Diana’s warmth and grace.
The earl gratefully acknowledges her kindness.
“But now you have the most difficult part,” she advises him. “You must think about her future settlement in life.”
The family has been thinking about Diana’s future. They see a fine match for her with the Queen Mother’s second grandson—in fact they’re so sure of it that Diana’s close friends and family already call her “Duch,” for Duchess.
Won’t it be perfect if Sarah Spencer marries Prince Charles and Diana marries his younger brother Andrew?
November 15, 1978
Prince Charles stands in front of his mirror, buttoning his dress shirt.
It’s the day after his thirtieth birthday. Tonight, his parents are hosting a private family dinner, followed by a party for 350 guests at Buckingham Palace, “the big house.”
Charles relishes his reputation as “The Playboy Prince” as well as his moniker of “Action Man.” His military service and his pursuit of daredevil stunts, surfing, and polo prove his boasts that “I believe in living life dangerously.” And if his love of pranks and jokes has also gotten him called “The Clown Prince,” well, at least it’s proof that he’s not dull company.
He’s been dubbed “the most popular man in Britain.” And there’s no question that he’s the most eligible bachelor in the empire these days.
When Charles was twenty-one and visiting the White House, President Nixon’s daughter called him an “excellent dancer.” That’s when Charles realized, as he later said, “They were trying to marry me off to Tricia Nixon.” The American matchmaking didn’t take.
“A man should sow his wild oats before settling down,” Charles’s “Uncle Dickie,” Lord Mountbatten, once counseled, though he advised discretion in any such affairs. “But for a wife, he should choose a suitable and sweet-charactered girl before she meets anyone else she might fall for.”
Charles agrees. He’s of the opinion that marriage is “a much more important business than just falling in love.” It’s about “creating a secure family unit” to give children a happy upbringing. “That is what marriage is all about, creating a home.”
“I personally feel,” he said at age twenty-five, “that a good age for a man to get married is around thirty.”
Now that he is thirty, his father insists, “You’d better get on with it, Charles, or there won’t be anyone left.” It’s an unavoidable fact that three hundred years have passed since a Prince of Wales—Charles II, the Merry Monarch—remained unmarried at the age of thirty.
But the current Charles, Prince of Wales, really does enjoy the falling-in-love part.
He tugs on his cuffs, straightens, picks up his 50/50 martini. I’ve fallen in love with all sorts of girls, and I fully intend to go on doing so.
Getting an invitation to Prince Charles’s birthday party is simply the most exciting thing that’s happened to seventeen-year-old Diana in ages.
“I hated going to the finishing school except for the skiing,” she writes to her former nanny Mary Clarke of her one term at Institut Alpin Videmanette, in Switzerland. Since leaving, back in the spring, she’s been “at a loose end,” living mainly with her mother in London’s Cadogan Square. Poor Daddy suffered a stroke in September, just as Diana was starting a cooking class, but thank goodness he’s stabilized. She enjoyed the class, but now that it’s finished, she’s still casting about for what to do next.
She’s the first to admit that she’s not “academically interested at all” and hadn’t much liked West Heath, her school in Kent, always feeling unable to live up to the strong academic standard set by her clever older sisters—though it is awfully nice that the school awarded her the Leggatt Cup for Helpfulness and noted her as the sort of “girl who notices what needs to be done, then does it willingly and cheerfully.”
I’ve always loved cleaning, she thinks. Her sisters, Jane and Sarah, are willing to pay her a little to do some chores. Diana also adores children and has done some nannying for a family friend. But these are only temporary solutions.
At boarding school, she’d slip out of bed and go to the performance hall to “dance for hours and hours.” Being a professional ballerina is unlikely because she’s too tall, she’s been told, but she could teach dance to children. At Mummy’s suggestion, she’s taken the initiative to contact the Vacani School of Dancing and inquire about teaching positions.
I might become a famous dancer, Diana still dreams.
As she crosses the immense red-carpeted Ballroom at Buckingham Palace, she intends to dance all night.
She finds her place at the 175-foot-long dining table, lavishly set with the queen’s gilt-edge porcelain and centuries-old pieces from King George IV’s Grand Service. Her dinner companion is Luis Basualdo, a handsome, well-dressed man with thick black hair parted razor-sharp.
Diana knows all about the dashing Argentinian playboy, whom the Daily Mail has nicknamed “the Bounder,” but asks him polite questions about the polo pony he’s giving Prince Charles as a birthday gift.
Luis finds her “very shy, very naive but rather nice,” and makes small talk as they read over the elegant program detailing tonight’s four-course menu, guest list, and entertainment.
Diana feels perfectly at ease in the palace. “I’m not at all intimidated by the surroundings,” she says. “Amazing place.”
After dinner, Luis accompanies Diana to the Picture Gallery, with its full view of the crowded dance floor and of Prince Charles jumping on stage to dance with the Three Degrees, a girl group from Philadelphia. She knows all the words to the group’s number one single, “When Will I See You Again.”
A man who enthusiastically dances! What fun.
Diana watches as His Royal Highness moves from one glamorous partner to the next, from lead singer Sheila Ferguson to actress Susan George to Lady Jane Wellesley.
He even dances with Diana’s sister Sarah, who’s mucked up her chances with him.
It’s her sister’s own fault. Sarah knew that talking to the tabloids would be unforgivable in the eyes of the royal family, yet seduced by the publicity, she gave an extended interview to Women’s Own magazine in which she coyly claimed that the prince is “a romantic who falls in love easily,” whereas she herself “wouldn’t marry anyone I didn’t love whether he were the dustman or the King of England.”
“There’s no question of me being the future Queen of England,” Sarah told reporters. “I don’t think he’s met her yet.”
It was a gamble, acting so modest—a gamble Sarah lost.
Tonight, Prince Charles seems especially taken with a sporty-looking blond woman who keeps leaning over to him and whispering, making him roar with laughter.
Diana notices that the woman doesn’t seem the slightest bit intimidated by the prince. She doesn’t fawn all over him the way Sarah did, nor does she act upset when other women compete for his attention. She seems completely relaxed in his company. It’s as if the woman knows His Royal Highness will always return to her, again and again.
Who could she be?
Diana steps back to admire her handiwork: a sign reading CHIEF CHICK that she’s affixed to her bedroom door.
She couldn’t be happier about having her own place, a three-bedroom flat at 60 Coleherne Court, a few miles southwest of central London. She’s been living here since last year, shortly after her eighteenth birthday, when she received two significant coming-of-age gifts—a three-strand pearl choker with a flower-shaped clasp in the front, and an inheritance from her mother’s paternal grandmother, the American heiress Frances “Fanny” Work, which allowed Diana to purchase the flat.
Diana’s been charging rent—eighteen pounds a week—to three other girls and enforcing the cleaning, but it’s been such fun living with her friends. “You’d be amazed how many times ABBA goes round the turntable in this flat,” flatmate Anne Bolton comments.
What with having easy work she “could do blindfolded” (as an assistant at Young England Kindergarten), attending classes at Dance Centre in Covent Garden, and having a laugh with others in her set, Diana is enjoying her life immensely.
One weekend in July, friends invite her out to their country estate in Sussex, where she knows she’ll spot a familiar face: Prince Charles.
She hasn’t seen him in ages. They’ve been friendly enough in the past but the effect he has on her now is unexpected.
“I sat there and this man walked in and I thought, Well I am quite impressed this time round.”
So is Charles. Diana’s flattered when he compliments her on how much she’s grown up.
“No more puppy fat,” he teases.
“I’m just taller now,” Diana replies. “I’ve stretched the puppy fat.”
The prince laughs.
Sparks fly between them over the weekend, and to Diana’s delight, when she’s back home in London a few days later, Charles rings to ask if she’d like to join him for a performance at the Royal Albert Hall—and dinner afterward at Buckingham Palace.
It’s absolutely thrilling to have the older man’s attentions. Charles escorts her to the opera, invites her to watch him race and hunt and play polo, and takes her aboard the 412-foot royal yacht, Britannia, to the Cowes Week regatta, near the Isle of Wight.
The prince does blow a bit hot and cold, calling her every day for a week, then going silent. Diana tries to play it cool, hoping to project an air of He knows where I am if he wants me.
Her flatmates are unable to maintain that same level of detachment.
“The thrill when he used to ring up was so immense and intense. It would drive the other three girls in my flat crazy,” Diana says of them.
“We’ll help you plot your strategy,” they promise. “It’ll be great fun, a bit of a game!”
When Diana’s friend Simon Berry asks about her life plans, the nineteen-year-old replies, “It would be nice if I could be a dancer—or the Princess of Wales.”
But that’s just a dream. This has all happened so fast that it doesn’t seem quite real.
In 1906, the Ritz was the first hotel in London to welcome unmarried women, unchaperoned—and on November 4, 1980, Diana attends a party there, solo. It’s a belated fiftieth birthday for the queen’s younger sister, Princess Margaret.
Photographers are lined up outside the Ritz, some of them on ladders, documenting the glamorous guests. The object of Charles’s rumored affections has been of particular interest since the Sun declared on September 8, “He’s in love again” and “Lady Di is the new girlfriend for Charles.”
“We must not be photographed together,” Charles has told her, and he’s quite rigid about it. Photographer Jayne Fincher waits until three in the morning before spotting Lady Diana walking alone in her long pink dress and green wool coat.
“Oh, excuse me, can I get through?” Charles’s young girlfriend asks sincerely. Diana’s still getting used to being targeted by the press.
I know it’s just a job they have to do, but sometimes I do wish they wouldn’t.
* * *
Diana’s invited to celebrate Charles’s thirty-second birthday—on Friday, November 14—at Sandringham, the royal family’s country estate. A frenzy of speculation has the prince proposing to her at the party, but the event passes without a hint of “anything imminent.”
Amid newspaper talk of “Lady Diana’s lovely weekend,” the “fresh, friendly and unsophisticated, well-bred, well-spoken and well liked” nineteen-year-old drives a red Austin Mini Metro back to London under police escort.
Charles remains in Sandringham, telling a cluster of reporters, “I know you were expecting some news Friday, and I know you were disappointed.”
With a hint of mystery, he adds, “You will be told soon enough.”
But the engagement that didn’t happen is not the biggest story of the weekend.
On November 16, while Diana was still at Sandringham, the Sunday Mirror led with an explosive front-page headline: ROYAL LOVE TRAIN.