Episode three of the final season of The Crown, “Dis-Moi Oui”, deals with a deeply tragic moment in history: the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Over the course of 60 minutes, showrunner Peter Morgan reimagines the final hours of Diana and Dodi Fayed’s lives in Paris. Everywhere they go, they are besieged by paparazzi – fleeing the restaurant at the Ritz because of all the attention they receive. Eventually, they make a spur-of-the-moment decision to head back to Dodi’s apartment through the back door of the hotel after Diana (gently) rejects his proposal. The viewer knows what happens next: their car, tailed by photographers and with an intoxicated driver at the wheel, crashes inside the Pont de l’Alma tunnel.
While the private conversations between Diana and Dodi are, of course, a product of Morgan’s imagination – and a question mark remains over whether or not Dodi actually proposed – much of the episode does closely mirror real events.
In 2004, the Metropolitan Police launched Operation Paget, an official investigation into the death of Diana and the many conspiracy theories that surrounded it. Dodi’s father, Mohamed Al-Fayed, alleged that there had been a plot to murder the couple, suggesting that the royal family “could not accept that an Egyptian Muslim could eventually be the stepfather of the future King of England”, according to the operation’s 871-page report in 2006. The police issued their findings as part of a court inquest between 2007 and 2008, with the jury concluding that Diana died unlawfully due to the “grossly negligent driving” of the paparazzi and “of the Mercedes driver, Henri Paul”. Al-Fayed accepted the verdict.
Over the course of the investigative process, they pieced together a timeline of Diana’s final night in Paris.
On August 30 1997, the Princess of Wales and Fayed flew from Sardinia to Le Bourget airport outside Paris. They landed around 3:30pm, and paparazzi were waiting for them on the tarmac.
Philippe Dourneau, a driver for Dodi, picked up the couple as well as their bodyguard and drove them to the Al-Fayed home of Villa Windsor in the 16th arrondissement. Their luggage, however, was dropped off at another Al-Fayed apartment in Rue Arsène Houssaye. After a short visit, Diana and Dodi left for the Ritz, which Al-Fayed owned, arriving at 4:30pm. They stayed in the hotel’s Imperial Suite.
At 7pm, they returned to the apartment on Rue Arsène Houssaye. They stayed there until around 9:30pm, when they left to go to the restaurant Chez Benoît for dinner – before changing their minds about their destination. “There are differing accounts of how difficult the paparazzi were on this journey,” the report found, claiming that Dodi told Dourneau to abandon the original plan and “drive to the Ritz Hotel instead”.
The Ritz had not been expecting their arrival, which “did not go smoothly”, the report continues. “Some paparazzi upset the couple with their intrusive behaviour.” After initially going to one of the restaurants, they decided to have dinner in their suite instead “because of the attention”, Paul Handley-Greaves, the head of Al-Fayed’s security team, later recalled.
At 12:20am, the two left the Ritz with the intention of returning to the Rue Arsène Houssaye apartment. They departed via the rear exit on the Rue Cambon, where Henri Paul escorted the couple into a Mercedes, while Dourneau waited in a car by the main entrance, attracting a sizeable crowd. “Once the paparazzi realised that the couple had left by the rear exit, they were quickly in pursuit,” says the report. “Indeed a small number of the paparazzi had been covering the rear exit in any event.” Paul crashed the Mercedes into a pillar while driving above the speed limit in the Pont de L’Alma underpass, killing both Dodi and himself at the scene. Diana and a bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, were taken to the hospital, where the princess was pronounced dead at 4am local time. A toxicology report showed Paul had been drunk at the time of the accident.
This article was originally published on British Vogue.