Princess Diana: Did She Know She Was Going to Die?

In his latest book on the Princess of Wales Christopher Andersen takes an in-depth look at how Diana's death affected the Royal family. The best-selling author previously wrote a book about Diana's life and death. Now, he discusses the many times Diana predicted her own death and why she feared for Camilla's life, too. Andersen even deals with the public pressure William and Harry faced following their mother's death. Here, an excerpt.

Chapter One

Sunday, August 31, 1997

5:35 P.M.

He took a few steps toward the body, gasped, then reeled back as if struck by an unseen hand. Beatrice Humbert, the diminutive head nurse at Paris's Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, began to reach out to steady Prince Charles but stopped herself as he regained his composure.

"He was absolutely white," she recalled, "as if he could not believe what he was seeing." Humbert understood too well. Ever since Princess Diana had been brought in from the operating room where surgeons had tried in vain to save her, nearly everyone who walked into the second-floor room with its bright, freshly painted robin's egg blue walls struggled to keep from fainting.

"It was just too much to take in," Humbert said, "too much, too much" "Charles was "crushed," said another nurse on the scene, Jeanne Lecorcher. "I had always thought of him and all the royals as very cold and unfeeling, and like everyone else I knew that he really loved Camilla. So I was very impressed by how emotional the Prince became. Very impressed."

No one was more surprised by this reaction than Charles. He thought he had had ample time to rebound from the initial shock. After all, it had been thirteen hours since he was awakened at Balmoral Castle in Scotland with the shocking news that his ex-wife had been injured and her lover, Dodi Fayed, killed in a Paris car crash. The first person Charles called was not the Queen, who was also at Balmoral enjoying the summer holiday with her children and grandchildren, but his longtime mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles. As she had done so many times over the years, Camilla reassured Charles that all would be fine. Diana was a young woman, Camilla pointed out, and they both agreed that she was in the best physical shape of her life; whatever her injuries, she was bound to pull through.

But she didn't. "My God, Charles," Camilla said, weeping, when he called back with the terrible news. "The boys!" She then grabbed a pack of cigarettes off the nightstand, lit up, and puffed away nervously as her lover sobbed over the phone. It was to be expected that Charles would be devastated over the loss of his sons' mother. They agreed that it would do no good to wake William and Harry now; best to let them get their last good night's sleep before hearing the news.

Charles and Camilla were also weeping for another, less selfless reason. "My darling,' Charles asked her through his tears, "what is going to happen to us now?" In the nearly five years since then-Prime Minister John Major announced before the House of Commons that the Prince and Princess of Wales were officially separating, the public had shown signs of finally warming to the long-despised Camilla. Just a few weeks earlier, in the wake of a highly publicized fiftieth birthday party Charles threw for Camilla, surveys showed that 68 percent of Britons thought it was time for the couple to marry.

With Diana and her new Egyptian-born boyfriend grabbing headlines that summer, Charles was more confident than ever that the tide was about to turn in Camilla's favor. On September 13, Camilla was to keep up the momentum by cohosting a celebrity-packed charity ball to benefit the National Osteoporosis Society. It was to be their debut as a couple at a major public event.

The ball was immediately canceled on news of Diana's death, as were the couple's plans to vacation at Balmoral in late September. In a single stroke, the chances of their ever marrying were obliterated. "If Charles intended at some future time to marry the woman who has been his mistress for twenty-five years," the Daily Mail wasted no time editorializing, "he knows, and Camilla knows, that this must now be put off to a date so far in the distance that some of their circle are actually using the word 'forever.'"

Once again Camilla, who finally divorced her husband Andrew Parker Bowles in 1995, had become the most hated woman in the realm. After all, it was Camilla who had destroyed the Prince of Wales's marriage and driven the much-admired Diana to suicidal despair. 'They've got to blame someone," Camilla told one of her neighbors in Wiltshire, where she lived at Raymill, a converted mill house. "That someone is going to be me, I'm afraid."

Raymill, which Camilla had purchased for $1.3 million after her divorce, was conveniently situated just sixteen miles from Highgrove, the Prince's country residence outside of London. "If Camilla's car is seen near Highgrove for the next six months," said veteran journalist Judy Wade, "it could be the end of them. The public simply won't tolerate it." Toward that end, Charles and Camilla made a pact not to be seen together in public for the foreseeable future.

Camilla would indeed be held accountable for ruining Diana's marriage and causing the Princess untold heartache. But blame for the crash would initially -- and falsely -- be laid at the feet of overzealous paparazzi who pursued Dodi and Diana into the Alma Tunnel. Camilla was not entirely convinced. "Are they certain it was just an accident, Charles?" Camilla asked him point-blank. "Could it have been intentional?" "Whatever are you talking about?" Charles shot back. "Those bloody reporters are responsible."

While Camilla would never raise the issue again, Dodi's father was determined to. The flamboyant tycoon Mohamed Al Fayed, who counted among his trophy properties Harrods Department Store in London and Paris's Ritz Hotel, had long been at odds with Britain's establishment. The moment he received word of the crash at his palatial country house in Oxted, Surrey, Al Fayed echoed Camilla's sentiments: "Accident? Do you really think it was an accident?"

In the Arab world, this theory soon gained traction. Predictably, Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi wasted no time pointing a finger at both the English and the French for "arranging" the accident. But even respected journalists like Anis Mansour cried conspiracy. "The British intelligence service killed them," Mansour wrote. "They could not have let the mother of the future king marry a Muslim Arab."

Diana herself would have found it hard to believe. As a longtime thorn in the side of the monarchy and more recently the world's most visible crusader against the deployment of land mines, the Princess had made enemies of entire governments—including, it was suggested, her own. She had always numbered among her sworn enemies the faceless "Men in Gray" who wielded immense power behind the scenes at Buckingham Palace. But even more troubling, Diana had been warned that there were also rogue elements inside Britain's domestic and ¬foreign intelligence agencies—MI5 and MI6—who deeply resented the idea of a future king's mother being romantically involved with a Muslim.

In 1995, after dismissing her royal bodyguards, Diana was driving alone through London behind the wheel of her green Audi convertible when she approached a traffic when she approached a traffic light. She put her foot on the brake, but nothing happened. Frantic, she kept slamming the brakes as the car rolled into the intersection. Unharmed, she jumped out of the car and took a cab back to Kensington Palace. Then she dashed off a note to her friends Elsa Bowker, Lucia Flecha de Lima, Simone Simmons, and Lady Annabel Goldsmith. "he brakes of my car have been tampered with," Diana wrote. "If something does happen to me it will be MI5 or MI6."

Just ten months before she arrived in Paris with Dodi, Diana predicted the circumstances surrounding her own demise with uncanny accuracy—in writing. "I am sitting here at my desk today in October," she wrote, "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 Charles to marry."

Incredibly, the woman Diana believed Charles was ready to commit murder for—the woman Scotland Yard would later confirm Diana identified in the letter—was not Camilla Parker Bowles. At the time, Diana was reportedly convinced that her husband had fallen in love with and intended to marry someone much younger and more attractive than Camilla—someone who had not only grown extremely close to Charles, but to William and Harry as well: the boys' nanny, Alexandra "Tiggy" Legge-Bourke. To accomplish this, Diana believed there was a conspiracy to remove both Charles's wife and his mistress from the scene. "Camilla is in danger," Diana told her lawyer, Lord Mishcon. 'They are going to have to get rid of us both."

In her October 1996 letter, Diana decried what she viewed as sixteen years of mistreatment at the hands of the Men in Gray. "I have been battered, bruised, and abused mentally by a system for years now," she wrote,""but I feel no resentment, I carry no hatred. I am strong inside and maybe that is a problem for my enemies." The Princess made it clear how she felt about her ex-husband. "Thank you Charles," Diana went on, "for putting me through such hell and for giving me the opportunity to learn from the cruel things you have done to me. I have gone forward fast and have cried more than anyone will ever know. The anguish nearly killed me, but my inner strength has never let me down. . . ."

Diana signed the letter, put it in an envelope, and sealed it before handing it to her butler and confidant, Paul Burrell. "I want you to keep it," she told him, "just in case." A few months later, Diana would offer a different scenario for her demise. "One day I'm going to go up in a helicopter," she said, "and it'll just blow up. The MI6 will do away with me." (Diana was convinced that MI6 had already done away with her devoted Royal Protection officer Barry Mannakee when it was suspected he might be having an affair with the Princess. He was killed in 1987, when a Ford Fiesta swerved from a side street and struck his Suzuki motorcycle. "It [the affair] was all found out" Diana told her voice coach Peter Settelen in 1992, "and he was chucked out. And then he was killed. And I think he was bumped off. But there we are. I don'twe'll never know. He was the greatest fella I've ever had.")

This sad day in Paris, Mohamed Al Fayed knew nothing of Diana's prescient letter. Yet there was no doubt in his mind that Dodi and the Princess had been targets of an assassination plot. Flying his Sikorsky S-76 to Paris, Al Fayed arrived at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital at 3:50 on the morning of August 31 and was told his son had already been taken to the morgue. Ten minutes later, Diana was pronounced dead. On Al Fayed's orders, Diana's belongings were gathered up and shipped back to Surrey with Dodi's. Even as Al Fayed's helicopter whisked Dodi's body off to be buried before sunset in accordance with Islamic law, Diana, whose son would someday head the Church of England, was given the last rites by the only cleric on duty at the hospital--a Roman Catholic priest.

In another odd twist, British Consul-General Keith Moss would give the nod for Diana's body to be "partially embalmed" -- preserved from the waist up. The process was ostensibly done for cosmetic purposes. Given the lack of adequate air-conditioning inside the hospital and the nature of the Princess's injuries, French embalmer Jean Monceau told Moss that the body would soon be in no condition for viewing by the family unless action was taken. "It seemed," Moss later said, "the right thing to do under the circumstances."

Charles had, in fact, taken a keen interest in his ex-wife's appearance even before he left for Paris. At one point, he called Nurse Humbert at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital to tell her the Princess "would want to look her best" for the dignitaries coming to pay their respects that day. Whether or not Charles's intentions were entirely innocent, the go-ahead for a partial embalming -- made with the full approval of St. James's Palace -- would add fuel to the conspiracy bonfires. The procedure makes a full autopsy impossible, since the formaldehyde used in embalming corrupts many toxicological tests. Specifically, it would be impossible to determine if, as was widely rumored, Diana may have been pregnant at the time of her death.

"We did nothing wrong," insisted Dominique Lecomte, one of the pathologists who did the embalming. But because of the procedure, Lecomte and fellow forensic pathologist Andre Lienhart were only able to confirm Diana's injuries instead of performing a full autopsy. Since Prince Charles had seemed genuinely concerned about helping the Princess maintain her glamorous look even in death ("He was so sweet, he surprised me"), Nurse Humbert thought nothing of it when, over the phone from Balmoral, he asked if Diana was wearing her favorite gold earrings. "But there was only one earring, on her left ear, Your Highness," she replied. "We cannot find the other." (The missing earring would eventually be found—eight weeks later, when forensics experts dug it out of the dashboard of the black Mercedes S280 in which she had been riding.) "And there was no other jewelry—no bracelets? No necklaces?" "No, Your Highness. No jewelry at all."

In asking the question—albeit in a far more diplomatic manner—Charles was eliciting the same information the Queen had already sought. Earlier that day, the Queen had placed her first call to Paris, but not to ask for medical details or about what might have caused the accident. She wanted to know if any of the major pieces of state jewelry that Diana sometimes traveled with were in her possession. "Where are the jewels?" an official from the British Consul's office had demanded of Humbert. "Madame," he repeated, "the Queen is worried about the jewelry. We must find the jewelry quickly! The Queen wants to know, 'Where are the jewels?'" 'The Queen had every right to ask that question," Charles told Camilla, still holed up at her home in Wiltshire. Diana still possessed several pieces of jewelry that belonged to the Crown, as well as Windsor pieces he had given her over the years, worth millions. "We can't"" Charles said, making a none-too-subtle reference to the Fayeds, "have them fall into the wrong hands."

The Prince reported his findings to the Queen. Indeed, there were no items of Windsor jewelry on Diana at the time of her death—no rings, no necklaces, no bracelets. He then hugged his grief-stricken sons before leaving to board the Queen's Flight BAe 146 that would take him to Paris along with Diana's Spencer sisters Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes.

It was not a trip the Queen had wanted her son to make. Her Majesty had once been fond of Diana; tellingly, the Queen's warmly worded letters of encouragement to her daughter-in-law were invariably signed "Mama." But in recent years, the Queen had come to regard Diana more and more as a reckless, self-centered threat to the monarchy. Since the Queen had stripped the Princess of her royal status when the divorce was finalized the previous year, Diana had no official rank, no status. Therefore Her Majesty deemed it "inappropriate" for any member of the Royal Family to make the trip to claim the body. "The Spencers are her family, Charles," she told him. "They should be the ones to bring Diana back."

But Charles, who had spent years waging a public relations war against the media-savvy Diana, overruled the monarch. Appreciating full well the intensity of his countrymen's feelings toward Diana, Charles ignored his mother's objections and went ahead with plans to accompany the Princess's body back to England. "We must show Diana the respect she is due," he told his mother. "If we don't we will all be terribly sorry, I'm afraid."

By way of damage control, Charles would be taking along only one senior member of his staff: his deputy private secretary and media Svengali, Mark Bolland. A former director of Britain's Press Complaints Commission who maintained warm relations with most of Fleet Street's most powerful editors, Bolland had been hired the year before to boost Charles's standing in the public eye. An equally important part of Bolland's job was to remake Camilla's image. "The press has been terribly cruel to her," Charles told his new spin doctor at a meeting in August 1996. 'I want you to make people see Mrs. Parker Bowles through my eyes, let them see the marvelous woman I see. Once they do, I know they will love her the way I love her." To accomplish his daunting assignment, Bolland hatched a top-secret plan that would be known behind the walls of St. James's Palace as "Operation PB" (Operation Parker Bowles).

Behind the scenes, Camilla had played a key role in implementing Operation Parker Bowles. Just three months earlier, in late May 1997, she had asked Bolland to arrange a secret lunch at Highgrove with Prime Minister Tony Blair's chief image consultant, Peter Mandelson. With Camilla, Charles, and Bolland in attendance, Mandelson mapped out a strategy for the Prince of Wales to win back the hearts and minds of his people—and for Camilla to make herself acceptable to them as Diana's replacement. Within an hour of Diana's death, Charles was on the phone with Bolland again -- this time seeking advice on how to steer public opinion his way in the wake of the tragedy. Although Diana rightly viewed St. James's as "the enemy camp" where Charles's minions actively plotted against her, Bolland was now among those urging the Prince to make a public display of respect for the dead Princess. "Diana was right about one thing," said a former junior staff member at St. James's Palace, "everyone around Prince Charles hated her. The rest of the world may have seen her as a saint, but at St. James's the Princess was thought of as scheming, selfish -- a borderline psychotic. It was considered disloyal to say anything remotely nice about her."

Now, as the royal jet took off across the English Channel, Charles phoned Camilla for the words of comfort and support he would never get from his mother. His voice broke on several occasions during the conversation, and at one point he pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket to wipe his eyes. Once he finished the conversation by telling Camilla how much he loved her, Charles huddled with Bolland in the rear of the aircraft to hammer out a public relations strategy for the day. It was, without doubt, going to be an emotionally taxing journey for the Prince of Wales. But the two men agreed it was also going to be a pivotal time in the monarchy's history—a defining moment in which Charles might win the hearts of his countrymen and, in the process, their blessing to marry Camilla.

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 . . ."

Prime Minister Tony Blair was among the dignitaries waiting on the tarmac when the RAF jet bearing Diana's body in the cargo hold arrived back on British soil. The coffin, covered in the harps and lions of the red, white, purple, and gold royal standard, was then lifted out of the belly of the plane by an RAF honor guard and slowly walked to a waiting hearse.

While Charles headed back to Balmoral to be with his sons, the hearse drove to the Hammersmith and Fulham Mortuary in West London for a second postmortem by John Burton, who was then Coroner of the Queen's Household, and his deputy Michael Burgess -- this one conducted according to British law. Diana's personal physician was also there to observe. "I have to attend an autopsy now" he told Diana's sisters, "and it's not going to be easy."

The results of the second autopsy would again raise eyebrows among conspiracy theorists. After they were shown the top-secret English autopsy report, Dominique Lecomte and Andre Lienhar -- the French pathologists who had done the partial embalming of Diana in Paris—wrote a memo critical of the coroner's findings. A decade later, the potentially explosive memo and the autopsy report -- either or both of which might prove a cover-up -- remained under lock and key.

Neither Charles nor the Queen would ever question the circumstances surrounding the crash itself, why ninety minutes had passed before the ambulance carrying Diana arrived at a hospital just 3.8 miles from the crash site, or what either of the autopsies may have revealed. "It is not in their nature to ask difficult questions," a longtime courtier conceded. "They are simply not interested in much more than horses, dogs, and foxhunting. They prefer to keep their heads buried in the sand."

Such was the case in the days leading up to Diana's funeral. Even as a sea of flowers lapped at the palace gates and hundreds of thousands of mourners poured into central London, the Queen refused to interrupt her holiday at Balmoral. Nor would she agree to fly the flag over Buckingham Palace at half-mast, something traditionally done only on the occasion of the sovereign's death. "We did not fly the flag at half-staff for Sir Winston Churchill," she huffed. "We are certainly not going to fly it at half-staff for her." The public's growing resentment was echoed on the front pages of Britain's newspapers. let the flag fly at half mast, trumpeted the Daily Mail. The Mirror pleaded speak to us ma'am -- your people are suffering, while the Sun simply asked where is the queen when the country needs her? where is her flag? and the Daily Express demanded show us you care.

Polls showed that 66 percent of Britons now believed the monarchy was doomed. Fifty-eight percent wanted William, not Charles, to be their next King. "The monarchy must bow its head," warned constitutional expert Anthony Barrett, "or it will be broken."

Britons might have felt even more strongly had they known that the Queen had nixed initial plans to have Diana buried on the grounds of Windsor Castle (as Dr. John Burton, Coroner to the Queen, had been led to believe) and was even resisting Charles's plea for a large public funeral. Her Majesty wanted the Spencers to go ahead with their original plans for a small private service. Again Elizabeth pointed out that, despite her phenomenal popularity, Diana did not qualify for either a state funeral or a royal one. There was simply no precedent for it.

"The Firm," as the Royal Family called itself, seemed oblivious to the people's pain; the public's anger over the monarch's icy indifference was mounting with each passing day. Prime Minister Blair urged Charles to pressure his mother into returning to London immediately to deal with the growing hostility toward the Crown. But how? "She simply will not budge," Charles complained at one point to Camilla. "I don't know what else I can do to make her understand."

Ironically, behind the scenes, Camilla -- now unquestionably the most reviled woman in the land -- played a role similar to Tony Blair's. Charles had always been reluctant to defy his mother, and now, in a series of intense phone conversations, it was Camilla who gave her prince some much-needed backbone. She urged him to give the Queen an ultimatum: either she would return to London and address the people on television -- or he would. "The Queen must be made to understand," she told him bluntly. "You must do this, Charles. The monarchy may come down if you don't." Camilla was not alone in this assessment.

At long last the Queen grudgingly relented on all fronts. She approved plans for a televised public service at Westminster Abbey befitting the young woman Britons now called their "Queen of Hearts." She would return to London and order that the flag over Buckingham Palace be lowered to half-mast. And she would address her people. The Queen's televised speech, in which she paid tribute to Diana "as an exceptional and gifted human being," was the performance of a lifetime. When it was over, Charles phoned Camilla yet again and asked what she thought.

Excerpted from "After Diana" by Christopher Andersen. Copyright 2007 Christopher Andersen. All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold.

Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...