THE BODYGUARD'S STORY of Diana's death The sole survivor of the crash which claimed the lives of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Fayed,...
The sole survivor of the crash which claimed the lives of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Fayed, has finally decided to speak. And Trevor Rees-Jones is adamant they died because their driver was drunk and drugged. Jerome Reilly listens to The Bodyguard's Story
It was a lavish engagement ring of yellow and white gold, with triangles of fire-bright diamond clusters, surrounding an emerald cut diamond of some heft. Price tag £130,000.
This was the ring that ``proved'' the engagement of Diana and Dodi. Chosen from the legendary gem house of Repossi from their line `Dis-moi Oui' (Tell Me Yes), it is the basis of Mohamed Al Fayed's continuing claim that his son Dodi and the Princess of Wales were murdered because they planned to marry.
This ring was the ``proof'' that the ill-starred couple were victims of a conspiracy at the highest echelons of the British establishment and assassinated with the connivance of the secret service.
But the bodyguard who nearly died with them in the Paris crash on that August night in 1997 the sole survivor plucked from the wrecked, tangled Mercedes says the Diana/Dodi engagement is a myth.
Trevor Rees-Jones is aware that the rather gaudy chunk of gold and precious stones exists, but insists that Dodi and Diana didn't buy it.
During those frenetic, absurd and almost ludicrous days before Diana's death, as an unlikely romance did indeed blossom amid the pop pop of paparazzi flash guns in the South of France, he is adamant the couple did not choose the ring in Monte Carlo on August 23, as claimed by Fayed, or in St Tropez the previous night.
The couple did indeed visit the Repossi store some three weeks earlier on August 5, but that visit does not serve Fayed's theory as it was too early in the fledgling romance to be even notionally convincing as the date they might have ordered an engagement ring. If there was no engagement then there was no conspiracy and no murder and Fayed's theories of sinister state craft, fuelled by disbelief that the incalculable loss of a beloved son was merely an accident of negligence, fail any test of plausibility.
It's just one of the explosive revelations in the new book by the former soldier and bodyguard who has maintained a virtual code of Omerta in the years since the bizarre last days of Diana.
Virtual silence, that is, but for one interview with the Daily Mirror shortly after the crash which he now says he agreed to give only under duress from his employer. In that newspaper interview he spoke of the ``last words of Diana'' in which she called out for Dodi with her dying breaths.
This happened because Rees-Jones, constantly badgered by the huge personality that is Mohamed Al Fayed, had recollected a dream to the man who paid his wages in which there were snatches of conservation in the seconds after the crash. Fayed took these dreamy meanderings as gospel testimony because they suited his own theories of a deep love and betrothal between his son and the princess and a deadly plot to stop it in its tracks.
In his subsequent interviews with the French judiciary, whose indecently long investigation concluded drink, drugs and speed caused the crash, he recanted the ``last words'' testimony. He could never swear that they had been uttered and he never did.
The Bodyguard's Story demolishes most of the outlandish conspiracy theories put forward by the Harrods boss and reveals the confluence of many different factors which ultimately brought tragedy.
It also proves that events were totally out of control from the moment the most famous woman in the world entered the Fayed circle and that the drunken, drugged up driver Henri Paul was merely the final deadly piece of a chaotic jigsaw.
It was an absurd throw of the dice of fate which brought together the royal outsider, neurotic and self-professed Queen of Hearts, and the feckless but good natured son of a billionaire merchant prince who would always be merely a boy in a man's world dominated by his overbearing father.
COURTSHIP'S CLUMSY START
It was July 14, 1997, when Trevor Rees-Jones rode a tender out to Fayed's $20 million yacht, Jonikal, recently lavishly refurbished and now anchored in the gentle azure swell off St Tropez.
Trevor had seen the princess before in Harrods when she visited the boss, but she wasn't in Dodi's circle of friends and he hadn't had to protect her before.
Now, as he arrived alongside the yacht, he spotted her on the rear deck. For this 10 day holiday she and the two princes, William and Harry, would be based at Castle St-Therese, the family's cliffside estate at St Tropez, a heavily secured compound with more than a dozen security personnel and snarling guard dogs.
``Which one's she scoring with?'' the security lads at the villa joked as the holiday progressed. The paparazzi were already ensconced and the faxed press clippings daily flowed in from London for the Fayeds and their royal guest to devour.
Dodi began his courtship of Diana clumsily while at the same time playing a tricky and secretive game with his American model girlfriend Kelly Fisher, who after his death claimed to be his fiancée.
While he spent his days with his royal guests, sipping Dom Perignon as four top chefs served up their specialities, Kelly was secreted away on one of the family's other vessels. Soon she disappeared back to America, even though she would later claim that her marriage to Dodi was to have taken place on August 9.
Meanwhile the wooing of Diana had got off to an inauspicious start. After dinner one evening Dodi suddenly led the troupe to a nightclub in St Tropez a little cellar club on a back alley just off the water front, followed by photographers.
``It was dingy and there was no-one there.'' Trevor cringes at the recollection. The little group sat alone on the small dancefloor sipping their drinks. They danced a bit in this ``empty tacky little place''. It was such an embarrassingly sterile environment. ``What a way to impress a princess.''
But that wasn't Trevor's only concern. ``Talk about bad security. I'm with three people now (Dodi, Diana and Fayed's wife Mrs Heini) on my own. If anyone said that was a complete shambles I would totally agree with them. You can respectfully suggest that this plan is crap, that you need more blokes, which I did, but if they don't listen to you, then your hands are tied.''
The Princess and the princes flew home to London on Sunday July 20 with the two boys immediately leaving their mother and joining their father at Balmoral. Mother and sons would never meet again.
On August 6, Trevor returned to work after 10 days leave to find the man he had once anonymously drove around London was now a worldwide celebrity because of his burgeoning romance with Diana.
Since St Tropez the couple had been alone in Sardinia, on board the Jonikal, the second of two short breaks they'd taken since returning from France.
``I was absolutely gobsmacked when I found out that they'd been alone on holiday together.'' The unlikely romance was now being played out behind the grey facades of two buildings, 55 and 60 Park Lane, London, well disguised above an anonymous Lexus dealership.
The following night Diana arrived by Mercedes with no security except her driver. Flashbulbs started popping as photographers who had learned of the rendezvous spotted the car. He dashed to the rear right door and blocked it for the princess as this breathtaking woman emerged from the back seat still sun tanned from the Cote d'Azur all legs and high heels in a very glamorous, skin tight short blue cocktail dress.
``We never got into any major conversations, but the conversations we did have were like talking to any sort of person. It could be about anything. One time we talked about the film Men in Black which she'd taken the boys to see. She didn't like it while I thought it was quite a funny film. She may not have been a rocket scientist, but then neither am I. These were nice conversations.''
Suddenly, for Trevor at least, the action stopped on August 15. The princess flew to Greece for a long planned break with her good friend Rosa Monckton. Dodi flew to Los Angeles to try and calm his American girlfriend. Tabloid pictures had shown him kissing the Princess of Wales and were causing a global sensation. Now Kelly Fisher was threatening to sue for breach of contract.
GOOD MOOD SLIPPING AWAY
In Paris on Saturday August 30, two vehicles a Mercedes and a Range Rover waited at the airport with their drivers. One was Phillippe Dourneau, Dodi's regular driver in Paris and a licensed chauffeur of Etoile Limousine, the other, Henri Paul, a fortyish man with thinning hair and glasses, was the assistant head of security for the Fayed owned Ritz Hotel.
Dodi walked directly up to him, shook hands and chatted. Trevor had met Henri Paul before. ``He didn't click with me as a person. He was, perhaps, a little too chatty ... but obviously Dodi had a lot of faith in him.''
They took off for the hotel surrounded by screaming motorcycles, chasing and darting around the target vehicles, sometimes two to a bike so a photographer could focus the powerful zoom lens. Trevor heard the princess express her concern that one might fall under the wheels and be killed.
He could feel the good mood slipping away. Dodi gave orders for the driver to put the foot down and they lost the photographers before they arrived at the Ritz. The restlessness that had begun during the last few days became almost manic during the next few hours.
Later Trevor got a call saying the couple would be going back to the apartment in the narrow Rue Arsene Houssaye, just off the Champs-Elysees, to dress for dinner. To counteract the growing tension, Trevor put the couple in the Mercedes with Phillippe at the wheel, while he and his colleague Kez Wingfield followed in the Range Rover.
``We could see the situation was winding them up, and we thought we'll just give them a bit of privacy.''
They were followed by journalists but Trevor had asked them not to take any photos during the journey, especially at traffic lights and junctions. ``They did what we asked.''
The paparazzi, who had been waiting outside Dodi's apartment, surrounded the entrance door as the Mercedes nosed into the street. They had become aggressive and Gerard the security man at the apartments confronted a photographer and pushed him. The princess was shaken, Dodi angry.
As soon as they got the couple upstairs, Trevor and Kez came down to try and calm the photographers. ``Look, get your shots as they come and go without hassling them and hold off from any pictures while they are in transit,'' Kez said. René the butler had laid out Dodi's clothes: a casual brown suede jacket, blue jeans, a fine checked grey shirt and cowboy boots. As he set out chilled wine and caviar before they left for dinner, Diana changed into skinny white jeans, high heeled black Versace sling back pumps, and a tank-top under a beautifully cut black blazer. She put on gold earrings and a pearl bracelet Dodi had given her.
``Where are they going?'' Trevor asked René again and again, while the two were dressing, desperately trying to find out what their evening plans were. ``I'd just had it. Zero information coming from Dodi. I couldn't go knocking on their apartment door saying, `hey, where are we going tonight?' It was so frustrating.'' Forty minutes later the couple were on edge when they saw the number of paparazzi. Again Trevor and Kez followed in the Range Rover while the Mercedes with Dodi and Diana was surrounded by scooters and motorbikes.
In the Mercedes a decision was made not to go out to dinner and Trevor got a call to say they were heading for the Ritz. There were cameras everywhere, with a crowd of several hundred jostling at the entrance.
It was 9.50pm as the two car convoy pulled up close to the entrance of the hotel. The mob was waiting and Trevor raced to the car's rear door and opened it, ready to block for the couple as they pushed through the revolving doors and inside.
Dodi paused. The couple didn't move. Inside the car, it was like a freeze frame in the movies. No action. For Trevor ``this was the final straw''. ``What was Dodi bloody doing?'' By the time Dodi moved cameras were all over the car. The couple were engulfed. Dodi's hand went up to shield his face the princess looked anguished as she took a running stride towards the door.
The results of Dodi's delay had enormously bothered the couple. Dodi turned on Kez and gave him ``the mother of all bollockings''. ``How the f*** did this fiasco happen? Why didn't you have the reception arranged?'' Dodi stormed.
``You never told us where we were going. If you had we would have been able to phone ahead and get it sorted out,'' snapped Kes.
At 10.01pm the two bodyguards hustled the pair up to the grand staircase to the door of the Imperial suite. ``We'll be eating in, go get yourselves some food,'' Dodi told them.
Back at the bar the bodyguards sat near the entrance, where they had a view of the staircase. Now for a club sandwich. The next job would be to get the couple back to the apartment after dinner if that is what Dodi decided to do.
Just a few seconds before 10.08pm Henri Paul came through the revolving doors of the Ritz in suit and tie, a jovial smile on his face and a cigar between the fingers of his left hand.
Although he was off duty he had returned to the hotel of his own initiative. He joined Trevor and Kez who presumed he was on duty. The key element of the jigsaw was in place but another few pieces of a fatal puzzle still had to be slotted home.
There was nothing in Henri Paul's behaviour that raised a red flag though he was in the two bodyguards' company for a matter of five minutes. The rest of the time he patrolled the floor.
By the time Henri Paul left the bar, the barman had served the hotel's assistant head of security his second Ricard Pastis.
Trevor Rees-Jones told Weekend Review this week that he still cannot fathom how Henri Paul could be three times over the legal limit and yet Rees-Jones didn't notice he had drink taken.
``I accept the evidence of the post mortem but there was not a single suspicion that he had any drink taken let alone was actually drunk,'' he said.
At 11.40pm on that last night Trevor and Kez were at the door of the suite. They had no idea of the ultimate plan, if there was one, about how to evacuate Dodi and Diana away from the hotel, now besieged by photographers. Outside the the front entrance the official licensed driver Phillipe Dourneau was waiting in a car as was his superior, the director of Etoile Limousine, in another high performance model.
DODI INVOKED THE MAGIC WORDS
The bodyguards did not know that Dodi had called the hotel's night manager to tell him of the earlier mess with the paparazzi. As the two men waited outside the suite Henri Paul arrived (stinking of cigars, Kez noted) and told Trevor and Kez that the plan had been changed.
``We'll be leaving from the back of the hotel with just one car. He (Dodi) wants me to drive. The two other cars will leave from the front to divert the paparazzi. Dodi doesn't want a bodyguard.''
This was a terrible plan. Henri Paul was a security man not a chauffeur. They needed a two car convoy. And a bodyguard. Trevor shot back to Henri Paul, ``No f****** chance is he leaving without a bodyguard no way in a million years it's going without me. I'll be coming with you if we go with this.'' ``It's Mr Dodi's idea,'' insisted Henri Paul. The bodyguards said they would have to report this to London but Henri Paul told Kez, ``It's been okayed by Mr Mohamed,'' Kez remains sure of this phrase ``Mr Mohamed'' standing out from the ubiquitous ``the Boss'' of the lads.
Trevor had heard the second in command of security at the Ritz say this plan had been okayed by Fayed. Both men felt there was no way to check without causing offence.
Minutes later Dodi popped his head out of the suite and confirmed it all. Trevor argued it was safe to leave by the front but Dodi insisted the party should leave from the back with one car only.
Dodi relented on the bodyguard question Trevor would go with them but still insisted on one car only. As Trevor went downstairs to find Henri Paul, Kez was alone with Diana and Dodi and gave it one last try. ``But two cars are best ... '' Dodi then invoked the magic words, ``It's been okayed by my father.''
Fayed would later admit to talking to Dodi 15 minutes before he left the Ritz but ``concerning the decision to ask Henri Paul to drive. I am a total stranger to this decision'', he would state. In fairness to Fayed, even if he had approved Henri Paul to drive his son and the princess, he could not have known or guessed that Henri Paul had consumed any alcohol, let alone a deadly cocktail of drink and prescription drugs.
So why had Dodi chosen Henri Paul to drive? Trevor believes that Dodi trusted Henri Paul, just as he trusted Dourneau who would drive the decoy car at the front. After the tension of the trip Dodi was trusting an ever smaller band of people.
Kez chatted with the couple. ``It's just a 10 minute drive. I'll see you back at the apartment.'' Then he slipped in lightly, ``So, it's straight back then. Not to a nightclub?'' ``No straight back,'' said Diana laughing.
Trevor was at the back entrance and looked out. ``There was a small white hatchback type of car a three door car which was either white or light in colour, with a boot which opened at the back and perhaps a scooter, or a motorbike, I believe, with two, perhaps three journalists.''
He was relieved that there weren't more but he knew the pack would be upon them within seconds.
The Mercedes arrived and Henri Paul stepped towards the car to switch with the driver. Trevor preceded the princess out the door followed by Dodi about 10 feet behind. Flashbulbs popped when they walked around the back of the car to get to the rear right door, the princess taking huge strides in her delicate high heels, eyes down as Trevor briskly ushered her into the back seat.
The time was 12.20am and some seconds as the Mercedes engines gunned and left at speed, from the back of the hotel.
Trevor's clearest and last memories of the night are the Mercedes pulling away. He again saw the white or light coloured car that ``crossed the road and followed us. I do not remember if the motorbikes followed us, but I do know that journalists were following us.'' He recalls mentioning this to Dodi and the princess. ``There are a couple of photographers at the back, but not many.'' After that Trevor Rees-Jones remembers nothing of the car crash, which he is still trying to come to terms with.
``The fact is that I was paid to look after Dodi and his guest, and they died on my shift. I've got this hanging over me for the rest of my life.''