Diana 1961-1997: Death of a Princess


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She was the princess of the world, a title no British monarch could claim. Many nations expressed shock and dismay, mourning in public more than politeness required. President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, still on vacation in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., were told of the accident while at a clambake. Later, a White House deputy press secretary phoned the President with the news that the princess had died. "Hillary and I knew Princess Diana, and we were very fond of her," the President said. "We are profoundly saddened."

But what of the sons she loved and was prepared to sacrifice her happiness for? What of the heir she produced to save the dynasty--and to perpetuate her own spirit?

On Sunday, Diana had been scheduled to return to London and her two sons. She had always been a doting mother: at least some of her fury at paparazzi over the years sprang from a desire to protect her children. If her marriage had been a disaster, it was generally agreed that William and Harry were coming out remarkably well. Wills especially sometimes seemed preternaturally mature, his mother's youngest adviser. The received wisdom--the received hope, at least--was that one day he might be the sort of attractive, level-headed heir who could repair his parents' damage to the monarchy. In the meantime, as an official photo op with his father and brother two weeks ago at Balmoral attested, the tousled boy had turned into a striking young man, with Diana's eyes and complexion.

He was just entering a period during which he might have moved somewhat from her orbit, both as an adolescent and as the center of royal training from which she was excluded. The process should have been a little sad, but exhilarating too. Instead, early on Sunday morning Prince Charles informed his sons that their mother was dead. Their last extended time with her had been as guests of Al Fayed in St.-Tropez in July. Vanished now was any prospect of William's bittersweet maturing; the mother was from her son untimely ripped. The young, burdened future king of England, in what may be his first great totemic act, will grieve Diana's death not only for himself, but for his country, and the world.

--By Howard Chua-Eoan, Steve Wulf, Jeffrey Kluger, Christopher Redman and David Van Biema. Reported by Scott MacLeod/Paris and Helen Gibson/London

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