Diana 1961-1997: Death of a Princess


  • She lived a fabled life and a cautionary tale, a princess of irreducible splendor yet one who bore testimony to the commonality of loneliness and heartbreak. On the day 16 years ago that Charles, the Prince of Wales, married Lady Diana Spencer, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared, here is "the stuff of which fairy tales are made." That fairy tale ended even before their divorce was announced, a love story that was false, it was shown, from the very beginning. Diana emerged scathed, but she had other causes to tend to--her sons, the sick, the war-ravaged, her own heart. The marriage was dead, but long live the princess.

    And now she is gone.

    With her go the hopes of a world that had turned her life into part of its own projected biography, a fragile hope for a happy-ever-after even in the face of adversity. To many, her struggles blended into the hobbling steps of this 20th century as it limped toward some vague promise of millennium. The crash in Paris that took her life and that of her rich playboy friend Emad ("Dodi") al Fayed is a tragedy so overpowering that it becomes a torrent of feelings. There is no clear significance. There is only loss.

    Beyond that there is guilt--that our desire for her was so strong that it set birds of prey to stalk her. Paparazzi. Even the word has claws.

    And now she is gone.

    There was little sound for the first two minutes after the crash except for the hoarse wail of the mangled car's horn. The noise emanated weakly from both ends of the tunnel on Paris' Place de l'Alma--from the east end, which the black Mercedes with the silver trim had entered just moments before, moving at least twice the 35 m.p.h. the local traffic laws allow; and from the west end, where the narrow tunnel opened onto a spectacular view of the left bank of the Seine. On the still busy streets above--where the lights of the Eiffel Tower had yet to be shut off for the night--the muffled sound of one car horn might not even be noticed.

    But seconds earlier there had been a tremendous noise. Tom Richardson and Joanna Luz, visitors from San Diego, were walking near the mouth of the tunnel when they saw the car enter, feverishly pursued by a swarm of motorcycles and scooters, then heard what sounded to them like an explosion. Just inside the 660-ft. tunnel, the car struck the concrete divider that separates the eastbound lanes from the westbound and then apparently cartwheeled, rolling over a full 360[degrees] and spinning around nearly 180[degrees].

    When Richardson and Luz ran into the tunnel, they saw the car facing back in the direction from which it had come, its roof crushed, its windshield smashed and its air bags deployed. The chauffeur, killed instantly, slumped over the wheel, the weight of his body pressing the dead car's horn. In front of the wreck, a paparazzo--the last Diana paparazzo--raised his camera and began to snap. "When I ran into the tunnel, he was already there," Richardson said. "I could see that his equipment was far too sophisticated for a tourist."

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