More than two decades after her death, there are still a lot of questions about how Princess Diana died and what her cause of death was. Princess Diana, the mother of Prince William and Prince Harry and the ex-wife of Prince Charles, died on August 31, 1997.
The Princess of Wales has been mourned by millions of people around the world, with many blaming the paparazzi and the British media for their part in how she died. In an interview on CBS’ Oprah With Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special in March 2021, Harry opened up about how he feared that Diana’s death will “repeat” itself with him or his wife, Meghan Markle, which is the reason he moved his family from London to America in 2019
“My biggest concern was history repeating itself,” Harry told Oprah referencing Princess Diana’s death. “For me, I’m just really relieved and happy to be sitting here, talking to you with my wife by my side. Because I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for her [Diana] going through this process by herself all those years ago. Because it has been unbelievably tough for the two of us, but at least we have each other.”
As many royal followers remember, Princess Diana was under intense media and paparazzi attention at the time of her death, which occurred a year after she finalized her divorce from Prince Charles. In an interview with People in 2016, Harry talked about how he just wants to make his late mother “proud.” “All I want to do is make my mother incredibly proud,” he said at the time. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
He continued, “When she died, there was a gaping hole, not just for us but also for a huge amount of people across the world. If I can try and fill a very small part of that, then job done. I will have to, in a good way, spend the rest of my life trying to fill that void as much as possible. And so will William.” Though Harry is motivated by his mother, he also confirmed that he makes his own choices in his life separate from what Diana would want from him. “I enjoy what I do. But I don’t do things because I feel as though my mother would want me to do them,” he said. “I know I’ve got a lot of my mother in me. I am doing a lot of things that she would probably do.”
So how did Princess Diana die? Read on for what we know about the Princess of Wales’ cause of death and the “rare” injury that caused her to lose her life.
How did Princess Diana die?
Princess Diana died in the early hours of August 31, 1997, after her car crashed in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris, France, following a chase from the paparazzi. She was 36 years old. Her rumored boyfriend, Egyptian businessman Emad “Dodi” Fayed, and the driver of the Mercedes-Benz W140, Henri Paul, were pronounced dead at the scene. Diana’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, survived the crash with serious injuries. Diana, who was still alive at the scene of the crash but was in critical condition, was rushed to the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital where she died. According to Oprah magazine, Diana suffered from a concussion, a broken arm, a cut thigh and massive chest injuries. After a two-hour operation to save her, the doctors failed to get Diana’s heart to beat properly and she never regained consciousness. She died from internal bleeding at 4:53 a.m. on August 31, 1997.
Diana and Fayed, who arrived in Paris after a 10-day getaway on the French Riviera, got into Paul’s car a few minutes after midnight on August 31, 1997, before their car crashed. It’s believed that Diana and Fayed planned to travel to Fayed’s private estate in Paris. According to Oprah magazine, the posted speed limit for the road for 30 miles per hour, however, Paul approached the entrance of the tunnel at around 70 miles per hour, which led him to lose control of the car and collide with a pillar in the middle of the highway. According to a report by the Telegraph at the time, a French investigation found that Paul, who was the deputy head of security at the Hôtel Ritz, had been intoxicated by alcohol and under the effects of prescription drugs, including anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs, at the time of the crash. The investigation found that he was solely responsible for the accident. Investigations also revealed that Rees-Jones survived because he was wearing a seatbelt, while no one else in the car was wearing one.
For more about Prince Harry, read his upcoming memoir, Spare. Told for the first time in his own words, the book takes readers through the Duke of Sussex’s life with the British royal family, from the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997 to how the moment led to his decision decades later to move to America with his wife, Meghan Markle, and leave Buckingham Palace for good in 2020. “With its raw, unflinching honesty, Spare is a landmark publication full of insight, revelation, self-examination, and hard-won wisdom about the eternal power of love over grief,” the publisher’s description reads.
How did Prince Harry and Prince William learn about Princess Diana’s death?
How did Prince Harry and Prince William learn about Princess Diana’s death? Harry and William were 12 years old and 15 years old respectively when their mother, Diana, died. In his 2023 book Spare, Harry revealed that he and William learned their mother had died after their father, King Charles III, woke them up the morning of her death to tell them what happened. “He sat down on the edge of the bed,” Harry wrote. “He put a hand on my knee. Darling boy, Mummy’s been in a car crash.” He went on, “They tried, darling boy. I’m afraid she didn’t make it.”
He continued, “None of what I said to him then remains in my memory. It’s possible that I didn’t say anything. What I do remember with startling clarity is that I didn’t cry. Not one tear. Pa didn’t hug me. He wasn’t great at showing emotions under normal circumstances, how could he be expected to show them in such a crisis? But his hand did fall once more on my knee and he said: It’s going to be OK. That was quite a lot for him. Fatherly, hopeful, kind. And so very untrue.”
Years after Diana’s death, Harry revealed that he asked to see the secret police files related to the crash. His private secretary at the time obtained the files, though he removed the shots that would be the most “challenging” for Harry to see. In Spare, Harry slammed the paparazzi for taking photos of his dead mother. “[They] never stopped shooting her while she lay between the seats, unconscious, or semiconscious,” he wrote. “Not one of them was checking on her, offering her help, not even comforting her. They were just shooting, shooting, shooting.”
In an interview with 60 Minutes in January 2023, Harry revealed that he didn’t believe Diana’s death until he was 23 years old and thought it was fake. “For a long time. I just refused to accept that she was gone. Part of [it was] she would never do this to us. But also, part of it maybe [felt like] this is all part of a plan,” he said. “For a time [I believed she was alive] and then she would call us, and we would go and join her.”
He continued, “[I was looking mainly for] proof that she was in the car. Proof that she was injured and proof that the very paparazzi that chased her into the tunnel were the ones that were taking photographs of her lying half dead in the back [of the car]. The pictures showed the reflection of a group of photographers taking photographs through the window and the reflection on the window was them.”
During the interview, Harry also thanked his private secretary and advisor at the time for not allowing him to see more “gruesome” images of his mother dead. “All I saw was the back of my mom’s head slumped on the back seat,” he said. “I will be eternally grateful to him for denying me the ability to inflict pain on myself by seeing that. Because that’s the kind of stuff that sticks in your mind forever.”
What were Princess Diana’s last words?
In Tina Brown’s book, The Diana Chronicles
, Dr. Frederic Mailliez, an EMT who had been driving through the tunnel at the time of the crash, told her that Diana woke up in pain from the crash. “She kept saying how much she hurt,” Mailliez told Brown.
In an interview with the Times of London, Mailliez said: “If there were other words from the Princess, I cannot remember them and would not repeat them if I could; there is a duty between doctor and patient,” he said. “I hope she felt comfortable. I hope she heard my words. I don’t know if she did, but at least I tried to make her feel better.’”
Early reports said she was unconscious throughout, but one French newspaper said she had shouted, “Oh my God, leave me alone, leave me alone!” Mailliez said he was aware of photographers at the scene, but “hey were there but not intrusive or troublesome,” he said. “I could not let these charges of bad behavior and interfering with the body stick. They simply weren’t true.”
In an interview with The Independent in 2018, Sergeant Xavier Gourmelon, who led the response team in Paris, revealed that Diana’s last words were: “My God, what’s happened?”
In The Diana Chronicles, Brown reported on Diana’s last moments awake after the crash: “She turned her head and saw the lifeless Dodi just in front of her, then turned her head again toward the front where the bodyguard was writhing and where Henri Paul lay dead. She became agitated, then lowered her head and closed her eyes.”
What was Princess Diana’s cause of death?
In Dr. Richard Shepherd’s 2019 book, Unnatural Causes, the top British forensic pathologist revealed that Diana died of a small, badly placed tear in the vein of her lung. “Her specific injury is so rare that in my entire career I don’t believe I’ve seen another,” Shepherd wrote in his book. “Had she been restrained, she would probably have appeared in public two days later with a black eye, perhaps a bit breathless from the fractured ribs and with a broken arm in a sling,”
When was Princess Diana’s funeral?
Princess Diana’s funeral was held on September 6, 1997. More than 2.5 billion people watched the procession as it aired on TV. The funeral saw Harry and William walk beside their mother’s coffin as they traveled from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Cathedral.
Harry talked about the moment in a 2017 interview with Newsweek. “My mother had just died, and I had to walk a long way behind her coffin, surrounded by thousands of people watching me while millions more did on television,” he said at the time. “I don’t think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances. I don’t think it would happen today.”
In the 2017 documentary, Diana, 7 Days, William called his mother’s funeral “one of the hardest things” he had ever done. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, that walk,” he said. “It felt she was almost walking along beside us to get us through it.”
At the funeral, Diana’s brother, Lord Spencer, blamed the media for the crash and called his sister the “most hunted person of the modern age.” Elton John, a close friend of the royal family, performed his 1973 song, “Candle in the Wind,” with re-worked lyrics about Diana. Queen Elizabeth II also bowed her head as Diana’s coffin went past. After the funeral, Diana was buried at Althorp, her family’s estate in Northamptonshire, England.
For more about Princess Diana, read Andrew Morton’s biography, Diana: Her True Story — In Her Words. The New York Times bestseller, which was first published in 1992, is the only authorized biography about Princess Diana. The book, which Diana collaborated on, includes raw and unfiltered quotes from the Princess of Wales about her unhappy marriage to Prince Charles, her relationship with Queen Elizabeth II, her life in the House of Windsor, and her hopes, dreams and fears for her children, Prince William and Prince Harry, before her death in 1997. The biography, which has been described as the “closest we will ever come” to a Princess Diana autobiography, was republished with new material in 2017 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the People’s Princess’ death.
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