The world awoke to the news that Diana, Princess of Wales, had died as the result of a car crash in Paris on this day in 1997.
Her lover Dodi Fayed – son of Harrods owner Mohammed Al Fayed – and the driver of their car, Henri Paul, were also killed in the crash. The couple’s bodyguard, British ex-serviceman Trevor Rees-Jones, survived the incident despite serious injuries.
As recalled in the video above, the party had left the Ritz hotel, also owned by the Al Fayed family, at around 12.20am to travel to an apartment in another part of the city. Their Mercedes, driven by Paul, was followed by reporters and photographers in cars and on motorbikes
Minutes later, the car entered a tunnel under the Place de l’Alma. It struck a stanchion at high speed and spun across the tunnel into a wall, causing considerable damage.
The pursuing journalists eventually reached the car, to be joined by police and emergency services within minutes. The Princess was eventually freed from the car and taken to the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital; surgeons there worked for an hour to save her, but she was pronounced dead at 0300 BST.
As the news broke in Britain, hundreds of mourners began to gather outside Kensington Palace, the Princess’s London residence, leaving floral tributes that would grow to five feet deep over the following week.
A statement was released by Buckingham Palace which said that the Queen and the Prince of Wales Wales were “deeply shocked and distressed”. Prince Charles broke the news of their mother’s death to Princes William and Harry, before he travelled to Paris to recover the Princess’ body.
Later the same morning, newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair addressed the nation, declaring Diana “a wonderful and warm human being” and dubbing her “the People’s Princess”, a sobriquet that stuck over the days, weeks and months of mourning to come.
French authorities began an immediate investigation into the crash which would last for 18 months. In 1999 they would report that Henri Paul, who was deputy head of security at the Ritz Paris, had caused the fatal crash while driving under the influence of alcohol and anti-depressant drugs.
The report exonerated the pursuing paparazzi, but questioned the “moral and ethical conditions” of the photographers’ work and that of their employers. It also stated that the Princess and Mr Al Fayed would probably have survived the crash if they had been wearing their seatbelts.