Once the plane touched down in Paris, Charles and Diana's sisters were whisked in a silver Jaguar limousine to Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, where French President Jacques Chirac waited outside to greet them. Then they made their way through the maze of narrow corridors to Diana's small room on the second floor. In the hours since learning of Diana's death, Charles had steeled himself for the sight of her lifeless body lying beneath a crisp white hospital sheet. Instead, Charles was, he would later confess, "completely unprepared" for the grim tableau that awaited him. Diana was already lying in her coffin, clad in a black shawl-collared cocktail dress and matching pumps borrowed from Sylvia Jay, wife of Britain's ambassador to France, Sir Michael Jay. The Princess's hair and makeup had been done to resemble a recent photo of her in Paris Match, and in one hand she held one of her most treasured possessions -- the rosary Mother Teresa had given her just two months earlier.
The lid of the bizarre-looking gray metal casket, which had a window in it so that the deceased's face could be viewed by French customs officials at the airport, was propped open. The smell of fresh paint and formaldehyde mingled with the scent of roses and lilies—roses from the Chiracs and lilies from Charles. Oddly, no one else had sent flowers to the hospital.
Struggling to keep from fainting, Charles gasped when Diana's hair rustled in the breeze from the air-conditioning. Then he turned to comfort Diana's sisters, who by now had both dissolved in tears. The trio of mourners sat on chairs that had been brought into the room, hung their heads, and followed a newly arrived Anglican priest in reciting the Lord's Prayer.
When they were done, Charles made a point of meeting with the doctors and nurses who had treated Diana. He thanked them all in flawless French but appeared to grow tongue-tied when he met the two cardiovascular surgeons who had worked frantically to revive Diana by massaging her heart. "Congratulations!" he blurted out to the confused-looking physicians, who might well have interpreted the remark as sarcasm. Startled at his mistake, Charles hastily assured the medical team that he realized they had done all they could. While he chatted with hospital staffers in a room down the hall, Charles was spared the sight of pallbearers from a funeral home jostling Diana as they struggled to lift the gray metal coffin and place it in a large oak casket for the flight to England.
Once back on the plane bound for Northolt Air Base in North London, members of Diana's staff who had come to Paris to assist with the transfer of her body were shocked to see Mark Bolland, a general in Charles's media war of attrition with the Princess. "I wondered," one recalled, "what on earth he was doing on the plane."
Throughout the brief flight, Charles was on the phone to Camilla, this time sobbing to her about the "bloody awful" sight of Diana lying in her coffin. "It was so shocking seeing her like that," he said. 'It was so . . . final." He allowed that the corpse looked beautiful, but then fixated on the fact that Diana was not wearing her favorite gold earrings. "The nurse told me that when they brought her in, she was only wearing one earring . . . ," Charles told Camilla, his voice trailing off. "They never found the other earring. It's sad, really. . . . That she only had the one earring . . ."