Thursday 27 June 2019

Pain and panic on the day Diana died

The most controversial book yet on Diana was published this week in the US. John O'Mahony reports from New York on The Day Diana DiedThe new book about Princess Diana's final hours, The Day Diana Died, paints an extraordinary and revealing picture of the Royal Family. Queen Elizabeth comes off as an insensitive monarch and a loutish mother-in-law. But Prince William is shown to have the heart, guts and style to be a future king of Britain.

In the book, US journalist Christopher Andersen writes that Queen Elizabeth's first concern after being told of Diana's death was to retrieve any royal jewels the princess might have been wearing.

And he reveals that the Queen refused to address the nation about the death until Prince Charles and Prime Minister Tony Blair twisted her arm to do so. Prince William, on the other hand, was his mother's champion in death and even helped arrange some of the more sensitive details of her funeral, the book says.

As well as demanding to know why the flag at Buckingham Palace wasn't at half-mast in his mother's honor, he also questioned why the royal family stayed hidden in its bunker at Balmoral, Scotland, while Diana's body was in London. Andersen's book, published in the US this week by William Morrow, mostly chronicles the hours after Diana was fatally injured with her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, in a Paris car accident in August 31 last year.

The author's account is based on interviews with palace sources, hospital workers and staffers at the Ritz hotel in Paris and those at Buckingham Palace in London as well as ``sources in high places,'' many of them unidentified.

The book has proved to be extremely controversial because when dealing with Queen Elizabeth's behaviour in the hours and days after the tragedy, Andersen goes for the jugular. In the hours immediately following the death of the princess, he writes, the Queen cared little about consoling her family, but, instead, dispatched the British Consul General in Paris, Keith Moss, to recover any royal jewels Princess Diana might have had with her when she died.

In his haste to obey the royal decree, Moss is reported to have blundered into the hospital room where Diana's body lay under a sheet to demand that French officials turn over any jewelry found on the princess.

``The Queen is worried about the jewelry,'' Moss is said to have bellowed at chief nurse Beatrice Humbert in the Paris hospital. ``We must find the jewelry quickly. The Queen wants to know, `Where are the jewels?'''

The consul was relieved to discover Diana had not worn any royal jewels because her possessions, including her clothing, had been shipped to Britain by Harrods' store owner Mohammed Al Fayed, Dodi's father.

Incidentally, because Diana's clothes had been shipped to London, the elegant Princess's body had to be clothed in a black dress borrowed from the wife of Michael Jay, the British ambassador to France, the book reveals.

Andersen, whose previous book on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Jackie After Jack, was an international bestseller, claims that when Prince Charles was told at the royal estate in Balmoral, Scotland, that his ex-wife was dead, he ``uttered a cry of pain that was spontaneous and came from the heart before breaking down in uncontrollable sobs.''

But Andersen writes that Charles's mother ``betrayed an astonishing lack of emotion even for the notoriously reserved monarch.''

When Charles told her he planned to fly to Paris to retrieve the body, she told the heir to her throne, ``it would be inappropriate for him to be at RAF Northolt (air base) to meet the plane, much less fly to Paris to claim her body.''

But Andersen reports that Charles stood firm, and with the backing of Tony Blair, argued there would be a public backlash if no royal family member went. Charles and Blair also told the Queen that if she did not address the nation, they feared she would be booed at the funeral.

The book says the Queen eventually made the necessary address only after Charles told her he would go on TV and publicly apologise for her ``apparent callous disregard for the people's suffering.'' The dispute between the Queen and her son was not the end of the battle royal that erupted in the hours after Diana's death, according to The Day Diana Died.

Anderson also reveals that the Queen insisted Prince Charles not wake his children William and Harry to tell them of their mother's death the night of the accident. Charles had to wait until morning to break the news to the boys, at which point they all ``wept unashamedly.''

Later, at breakfast, according to Andersen, neither the Queen nor Prince Philip hugged their grandsons, but, with typical Royal reserve, told the children how ``terribly sorry'' they were.

The Queen also insisted that the two boys go to their scheduled morning church service at Balmoral rather than go to London, where hundreds of thousands of people were mourning Diana's death in the streets.

``The Queen insisted that they all go to church as usual, and they were forced to go in a daze,'' Anderson said during an interview when the book was launched. The Balmoral church service too, at the Queen's orders, made no mention of Diana's death, but had a sermon that contained a number of jokes. ``It must have been the only church on the planet where Diana's name was never mentioned, and Harry turned to his father and asked, `Are you sure Mummy is dead?''' Andersen said.

As the days of mourning continued, Diana's eldest son tried to make sure his mother was mourned with dignity. The young royal wanted to know why the flag over Buckingham Palace was not flying at half-mast, ``if that is what the people want.''

And while the Union Jack flew at full-mast for several days after the tragedy, on September 7 the Queen was forced to bow to public pressure and order that for the first time the Union Jack replace the monarch's personal flag over the palace, and that it fly at half-mast.

Diana's son was also disturbed that the Royal Family decided to stay at its retreat in Balmoral during the time Diana's body lay in a London morgue a decision for which the royal family was publicly criticised.

``Why are we here, when mummy's in London?'' he reportedly asked Charles.

As the world struggled to come to terms with Diana's death, Andersen writes that it was her 15-year-old son who guided Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth on details of his mother's final journey to Westminster Abbey.

``Everyone was struck by Prince William's strength of character,'' said a palace source quoted by Andersen. ``He really is a remarkable young man who has shown he has great courage.''

The book says that Diana had realised her son's potential. She always referred to the young prince as DDG, for `Drop Dead Gorgeous,' and was convinced he ``had the makings of a first-rate monarch.'' The two had even discussed how to handle the media, Andersen reveals.

Diana told friends she hoped William would ``be as smart about it as John Kennedy Jr. I want William to be able to handle things as well as John does.''

Of the various heroes and villains in the book, Prince Charles, and even his girlfriend, Camilla Parker-Bowles, come off much better than the Queen in Andersen's straightforward telling of the story. He reveals that the first telephone call Charles made when he was awakened to be told of the accident was to his longtime mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles. Neither knew that Diana was dead and were convinced she would survive the crash because she was in superb physical shape.

Camilla was also the first person Charles called when his ex-wife's death was confirmed. ``As she had so many times in the past, Charles' mistress ... offered her lover a sympathetic ear,'' Anderson says. The woman Diana had christened `The Rottweiler' told Charles, ``Forget about me and concentrate on the boys. They need you,'' Andersen writes.

In France, Diana's body, described by a person who saw it as looking like ``an exquisite china doll,'' was placed in a coffin with a glass window for the trip back to England.

While Diana's face was unmarred by the horrific smashup, grisly evidence that surgeons desperately tried to save her life was visible. ``A scar criss-crossed with sutures ran from her sternum almost to her navel the graphic, Frankenstein-like result of the surgeons' frantic attempts to repair her heart,'' Andersen writes.

Looking at her as she lay in the Paris hospital morgue, Prince Charles nearly passed out cold, the book says. ``Charles' head snapped back as if hit by some unseen force ... as though he actually had been stricken. As though he simply couldn't take it in,'' Andersen writes. ``It was as if he was about to faint.''

But the Prince quickly recovered to help comfort Diana's two sisters, who stood sobbing beside him and who would accompany him and the body back to England.

Among the other new revelations in Andersen's book are the following:

* Dodi Fayed intended to ask Diana to marry him the night she died, but she intended to say no. She was prepared to turn down Dodi's impending marriage proposal, Andersen says, because she didn't want to risk upsetting her sons.

* Diana's butler, Paul Burrell, was so stunned when he first laid eyes on the dead Princess, he refused to believe she was dead. ``He had to touch her skin to believe it,'' Anderson says. The faithful servant placed a simple rosary given to the Princess by Mother Teresa in her hands and a photograph of her sons and a picture of her late father in her coffin.

* Charles had wanted Diana to wear a pair of her favorite gold earrings when her body was flown from Paris, but only one could be found the other was embedded in the crashed Mercedes.But Charles did have Diana's favorite flowers white lilies sent to the room where her body lay.

* Anderson quotes a Paris fire department official as saying that when they tried to rescue Diana from the wrecked car, her last intelligible words before lapsing into unconsciousness were, ``My God, what happened?''

In response to criticism about his unidentified informants for the book, Andersen said that every conversation quoted came from at least two sources. He declined to name them, but said they included some very highly placed figures.

Following the publication of The Day Diana Died, Buckingham Palace condemned it immediately and dismissed the claim that Queen Elizabeth was concerned about retrieving royal jewels from the Princess as ``pure fantasy.''

``We treat this book with the contempt it deserves,'' a palace spokesman said. ``The (book's reported) reaction (to Diana's death) by the Queen is particularly inaccurate.''

The palace also described as ``without foundation'' the book's claim that the Queen tried to stop Prince Charles from flying to France to claim his ex-wife's body.

On the contrary, a palace spokeswoman said, the Queen suggested her son use a Royal Squadron aircraft.

In an angry written statement, Buckingham Palace concluded: ``The allegations are deeply hurtful to the royal family, especially coming as they do near to the first anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.''

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