When Princess Diana died in a Paris tunnel on August 31, 1997 it shook the entire world. But as Britain grieved for one of its most beloved public figures rumors of a conspiracy started to spread. Had Diana’s death really just been a tragic accident? Well, two people who were there on that night have their own theories.
The crash happened almost a year to the day after Diana officially divorced from her royal husband Prince Charles. She was moving on. And on the night she died, she was out with a new boyfriend, Dodi Fayed. He was the son of billionaire businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed, the owner of the Ritz Paris.
Now, Fayed was with Diana in the car that night, as was her bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones and their driver Henri Paul. The princess and Fayed had dined at the Ritz before fleeing in their car, but they had been worried about the vast number of paparazzi around. So Fayed’s security team made sure a decoy vehicle distracted some of the photographers before they left.
Tragically, not long after midnight, the fatal crash took place. Paul, who’d been drinking, lost control and the car struck a wall of the Pont de l’Alma tunnel. It then swerved and hit one of the pillars supporting the ceiling, before spinning into another wall. At the time, the vehicle was travelling at over twice the speed limit.
Furthermore, photographers had been following Diana’s car, and according to witnesses they reacted in different ways to the crash. Yes, some of them tried to get to the car and save the victims. But others stood back and took photos. In any case, the emergency services, including police, soon arrived and five of the photographers were detained.
Astonishingly, the car’s airbags had gone off, but three of the people inside, including Diana and Dodi, hadn’t been wearing seatbelts. And although Diana apparently had no visible marks on her, she was clearly badly hurt. Witnesses would later recall the princess’s last words: she said “Oh my God” a few times and, more sadly, “Leave me alone.”
Fayed and Paul were so badly injured that both passed away in the immediate aftermath of the crash. However, Rees-Jones, the only one to have been wearing a seatbelt, had a head contusion and serious wounds, but he lived. The same could not be said for Diana who was taken to the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital and later died.
And Diana’s death was announced by the hospital at 6:00 a.m. When it came to telling her sons William and Harry, the royal family decided that they shouldn’t be told until they woke up the next day. Remarkably, televisions and radios were apparently removed from the household so the princes wouldn’t have to see the news coverage.
Many years later, the adult princes spoke on a documentary about the moment they learned what had happened to their mother. For the 2017 BBC doc Diana, 7 Days Prince Harry said, “One of the hardest things for a parent to have to do is to tell your children that your other parent has died. How do you deal with that? I don’t know. But you know, he [Prince Charles] was there for us.”
And in the same program Prince William recollected, “I remember just feeling completely numb, disorientated, dizzy. You feel very, very confused. And you keep asking yourself, ‘Why me?’ All the time, ‘Why? What have I done? Why? Why has this happened to us?’” And there was still the funeral to get through.
Indeed, and Diana’s funeral was watched by around 2.5 billion people – a tremendous number. Furthermore, in London where the ceremony took place, around one million people took to the streets to watch the cortège go by. Prince Charles, Prince Philip, Diana’s brother Charles Spencer and both her young sons walked behind the coffin, which was covered in white flowers.
Gradually the outpouring of grief died down. The thousands of flowers that had been placed around Buckingham Palace in memory of Diana were removed by volunteers, and the cards attached to them were collected together. But in February 1998, Mohamed Al-Fayed announced to a newspaper that he believed the car crash was no accident.
Astonishingly, Al-Fayed told The Mirror, “I believe in my heart 99.9 percent that it was not an accident. That car didn’t accidentally crash. There was a conspiracy. I will not rest until I have established exactly what happened. I have great confidence in the investigators in Paris and I believe that we will find the truth.”
And he also said, “Everybody wants to blame the driver. It suits everyone to say it was just a drunken driver. But you have to remember that drinking is part of the French lifestyle. Many people drive over there with alcohol in their blood but it doesn’t mean they are incapable of driving. Nothing in his performance in the hours leading up to him driving the car suggested he was drunk or incapable of driving.” And the astonishing claims kept coming.
You see, years later Al-Fayed told the Daily Express that he believed Diana had been pregnant with Dodi’s child before she died. And he claimed that the royal family were unwilling to accept that Diana was romantically involved with an Egyptian Muslim. As a result, he claimed, they decided to murder the princess, her lover and her unborn baby.
However, spokespeople for the royals and Diana’s family implied they were not impressed with Al-Fayed’s claims. And indeed, there’s never been anything to back it up. Firstly, Diana’s body was given a post-mortem, and there was no indication she was pregnant. Furthermore, she had never brought up the possibility to any of her inner circle.
Then there’s the fact that Diana and Dodi hadn’t actually known each other for that long. They’d been together for a mere seven weeks, and Diana’s family assumed the relationship wasn’t likely to last. What’s more, marriage was also off the cards, as reportedly Diana had told her friend Lady Annabel Goldsmith the week before the crash, “I need marriage like a rash on my face.”
However, there is evidence that Diana believed people were out to get her before her untimely death. Whether you believe it or not is another thing. So in 1996 Diana allegedly sent a letter to her one-time butler and friend Paul Burrell. And it claimed that Prince Charles wanted her out of the way so he could marry the family nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke.
At the 2007 inquest into Diana’s death, the note was read out. And it said, “I am sitting here at my desk today in October, longing for someone to hug me and encourage me to keep strong and hold my head high… This particular phase in my life is the most dangerous – my husband is planning ‘an accident’ in my car, brake failure and serious head injury in order to make the path clear for him to marry Tiggy.”
But a friend of the princess disputed at the inquest that the letter was even real. Yes, Lucia Flecha da Lima said, “Paul Burrell was perfectly capable of imitating Princess Diana’s handwriting. I don’t believe she was fearing for her life, especially from Prince Charles, the future king of your country.”
And Burrell himself conceded at the 2007 hearing that it was “impossible” for Prince Charles to have been involved in Diana’s death. He said, “I could not possibly see the father of her children murdering her… Knowing the members of the royal family as I do, and knowing them so well, I think that’s impossible.”
Some of the conspiracy theories surrounding the princess’s death are complicated and outlandish to put it mildly. There’s one school of thought that believes Henri Paul, Diana’s driver, wasn’t drunk behind the wheel but caused the crash on purpose. He was, people have suggested, being paid off by whoever it was wanted Diana dead.
But again, there’s little evidence to support that idea. And tests done on Paul’s body showed that he was actually three times over the drink drive limit. There’s also the fact that the crash obviously resulted in his death, too – something few people would consider a fair exchange for money.
In actuality, three out of four people who traveled in the car that night are dead. And the one survivor, Trevor Rees-Jones, suffered such severe head injuries that he has little memory of what happened. But there were witnesses who were in the tunnel at the same time as Diana’s vehicle. And two in particular have been open about what they saw.
Indeed, American couple Robin and Jack Firestone witnessed the crash, and it turned their whole lives upside down. You see, in the aftermath of the tragedy they spoke to NBC News Channel 4 about what they’d witnessed. Jack said, “These photographers were all over the car like sharks would be after raw meat.”
And Robin too revealed what she saw to the news station. She said, “There was a body that was slumped over, a woman’s body, with her head turned to her shoulder almost up against the window. Nobody approached the car but photographers, eagerly going for every angle they could possibly go.”
Now, the Firestones always maintained that the photographers at the scene were more interested in getting shots of the accident than helping. The pair were later called to the 2007 inquest in London, but only Jack was needed to provide any testimony. Then, in 2008, the couple released a book called Chasing Diana about what happened to them that fateful night.
And on a website the couple set up to promote the book, they said, “You never want to believe that what happened to Princess Diana was anything more than an accident, but the more we saw, the more we couldn’t help but believe that there’s something deeper here. The French investigation, the two British inquests, the ultimate verdict, the book… it’s all closure for us.”
In 2011 the Firestones put a video on YouTube in which they further discussed their experience. In it, Robin said that she and her husband had heard “some inconsistencies with the stories that were being told on the news.” They added, on a separate note, that they’d been written off by the French police when they attempted to talk to them in 1997.
Eventually, in 2019, the Firestones spoke to the British press about everything they saw on the night Diana passed away. And they had some ominous words to share. For instance, Robin explained to the Daily Express, “We still live in fear today because of what we saw and what we were told.”
And then her husband spoke up, claiming Diana’s death had been a conspiracy of sorts. He said, “I think the crash was a royal thing and other forces were involved. Something bad could still happen to us. There are enough nuts out there who may try to silence us.” However, Robin did add, “Of course, as time goes on the fears become less and less.”
Weirdly, Robin claimed that as the taxi carrying her family drove past the crash, she saw two black vehicles at the scene of the wreckage. These cars, she told the Daily Express, looked “formal” and they left an impression on her. She said, “It stands out in my mind so vividly to this day.”
The 63-year-old went on, “I could not understand why they were there. They looked at odds with what had happened… They were just awkwardly parked, and I don’t recall anyone being in them. The two cars had to be driving ahead of Diana’s car. They [authorities] then buried all reference to them, but they were there.”
And Jack claimed that there weren’t many emergency personnel at the scene either. He said, “There was only one police officer stood at the car and a lot of photographers. He was acting as if it didn’t seem like an emergency at all. We thought the survivors had already been taken off to the hospital.”
What’s more, the couple said that the police “appeared to be being purposely unprofessional” when they spoke to them. Jack said, “When they finally took my statement they handed it back to me in French. They knew I could not read it, and I refused to sign it. I had no trust in them and didn’t know what they had put down.”
Jack continued on, “It was because my statement was then given in English we later found out it was not presented at the French investigation. It was a disgrace. Why were they not investigating what Robin had seen? It appeared there was a reason why they didn’t want to know.” And the couple had some further complaining to do about the 2007 inquest.
Yes, Robin said that the judge at the inquest, Lord Justice Scott Baker, had dismissed her. She claimed, “Lord Justice Scott Baker didn’t even want me there…. After ten years I finally had a chance to say what I saw, help the Princes [Harry and William] find out what happened to their mom, and he didn’t want to hear from me.”
She continued to explain to the Daily Express, “He didn’t want to hear from me as Mr.[Al-]Fayed’s team told me it was because of the dark cars I’d seen. They didn’t want me to take the stand. I was treated like it was me who had committed a crime. They made me feel like a criminal.” Robin even claimed the judge treated her “like a mosquito.”
At the end of the article Jack said, “I hope that one day, as William and Harry grow older that they want to take responsibility to find out what really happened to their mother. If it was my mother I would definitely want to know. I hope that someday they will find out the truth.” Ultimately, the inquest ruled that Diana’s death was an unlawful killing on the part of the photographers which had followed her and driver Henri Paul.
Furthermore, Lord Justice Scott Baker also announced there was “not a shred of evidence” that a conspiracy had been involved. And while the Firestones might disagree, the 2017 press release for their book, which had been updated and reissued, didn’t exactly support their cause. For you see, it acknowledged that Chasing Diana was a novel of “historical fiction” and that the couple, “incorporated real facts, with dramatic license, to imagine what might have actually occurred.”