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Today in History... Nation mourns death of Princess Di

12:00am | & Tips and Advice

Britain was plunged into a state of shock and mourning when news broke of the death of Princess Diana on August 31st, 1997.

Despite her separation from Prince Charles, Diana remained a favourite of the British public, dubbed 'the people's Princess'. She died after the Mercedes car she was travelling in at high speed crashed into a concrete pillar in a tunnel under the Place del'Alma, in the centre of Paris.

Also in the car were Diana's boyfriend, Dodi Al Fayed, plus a chauffeur, Henri Paul, and bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones. Both AlFayed and the chauffeur were killed in the collision, but the princess and her bodyguard were cut from the wreckage and rushed to hospital.

Surgeons tried for two hours to save 36-year-old Diana's life, but she died at 3am. Only the bodyguard survived the crash, despite suffering serious injuries. They included a head injury which meant he had no memory of the crash or the events leading up to it or in the days following.

The car was being pursued by several 'paparazzi' photographers on motorbikes, and initially their actions were cited as contributing to the crash. Diana's new relationship with Al Fayed – the son of prominent Egyptian business tycoon Mohamed Al Fayed – was big news at the time and the couple were tailed by photographers everywhere they went.

However it later emerged that the chauffeur had taken both drugs and a large amount of alcohol before the crash and was driving a reckless speed not warranted by any pursuit. He was Deputy Head of Security at the Hotel Ritz, Paris (owned by the Al Fayeds) and had been off-duty on the evening of the crash, but was called back in to drive Diana and Dodi back to their apartment after dining at The Ritz.

Diana's sons, Princes William and Harry, were aged 15 and 12 at the time and staying at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where the Royal family had been spending the summer. News of their mother's death was broken to them by Prince Charles.

An unprecedented outpouring of grief erupted in the UK, with more than a million people lining the streets to see Diana's funeral cortege pass on the way to Westminster Abbey, and more than 32 million people watching on TV. It also marked a low point in the popularity of the royal family, which was criticised for its traditional British reserve, which came across as cold and uncaring.

The fatal crash also sparked several conspiracy theories claiming the increasingly outspoken Diana had been deliberately killed by "the establishment", the rumours fuelled by a decade-long campaign by Mohamed Al Fayed to prove the deaths were murder.

When the British inquest finally concluded in April 2008, it recorded a verdict of "unlawful killing", attributing the accident to grossly negligent driving by Henri Paul, with the role of the paparazzi judged a contributory factor. Although no charges were brought against seven members of the paparazzi questioned by police, the behaviour of the press came under close scrutiny and the voluntary code governing the British media was tightened in December 1997.

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