Art Harris Exclusive: How Princess Diana Died; Was Driver Henri Paul Drunk, or Was It Murder? The Bald Truth Investigates From Paris to London
By Art Harris, (c) www.artharris.com, all rights reserved
I was in “diplomatic talks” with a girlfriend in Los Angeles, and it was not going well when my cell phone rang with a reprieve to cover a tragic romance much bigger than mine.
“Princess Diana just died in a car crash in Paris,” my then-executive producer at CNN was saying, “how fast can you get there?”
Not fast enough.
Within hours, I was on a plane to join a CNN-Time magazine team scrambling to dig into a mega-mystery that still hangs heavy over the Seine like a river fog.
Ten years later, the fog remains, as competing theories abound about what happened, and tourists still flock to the tunnel crash site in France to remember Diana, and maybe where they were when she died with boyfriend Dodi Fayad.
Across the English Channel, other mourners still lay wreaths and notes in her memory outside London’s Kensington, as they did on the 10th anniversary of her death Friday to remember a “people’s princess” who touched us all.
Armed with all the French papers I could grab, LeMonde, Le Canard Enchaine, Figaro and British tabloids I’d grabbed off the rack at the airport, I jotted notes to myself about holes in French and British accounts, flew into Charles DeGaulle and grabbed a taxi to the palace of justice.
Bluffing my way inside with a press badge and passable French, I learned that Paris investigators had taken over and weren’t talking, started calling police sources and photographers on the scene that night.
The official buzz blamed paparazzi for chasing her black Mercedes into the tunnel, blinding driver Henri Paul with camera lights before he crashed, and buzzing about the bodies before rescue workers arrived. CBS’s Dan Rather beat me to the apartment of one paparazzi, but he was nice enough to give me an interview about what he’d learned.
. I tracked down the first doctor on the scene, a boyish Frederic Maillez, soft-spoken, crewcut. He recalled the driver, and Dodi Fayed were dead; the British bodyguard, the only one wearing a seatbelt, was hanging on barely, and would survive; and for a time, he didn’t know the pretty blond woman in back was a princess. “Someone said, â€˜Speak to her in English,’ and I was able to give her a little comfort,” he told me.
By now, we’d been up about 48 hours, and I had to nudge my cameraman to wake up. He was so exhausted, he’d nodded off mid-interview with Dr. Maillez. Watching the monitor, I noticed the doctor was getting emotional, and he was locked on a medium shot. I turned around. He was snoring.
Maillez was saying that before the ambulance arrived, he leaned close to hear Diana whisper what she wanted conveyed to her sons, William and Harry, and he promised he would, refusing to reveal what she’d said until he’d spoken with Prince Charles, Harry and William. Within hours, Diana was dead from internal bleeding, sparking a debate over crash care for auto accident victims, and much more.
In France, I learned it’s standard procedure for ambulance drivers go slow, to keep patients comfortable enroute to a hospital, while doctors on board try to keep vital signs cooking. In Diana’s case, some argued, had the ambulance driver screamed through the streets like an American madman, specialists might have had time to diagnose internal bleeding and saved her.
But beyond the medical debate, there were question of sobriety: was driver Henri Paul drunk, or was he set up to crash? Was it murder? So far, official police investigations have concluded the crash an accident, caused by an impaired driver.
To check that out, I headed for the Ritz Hotel bar, and found a waitress and bartender who remembered they’d served Paul at least three Pernods, an aperitif, before he headed for out the doors to drive Dodi and Diana.
I then walked about 16 blocks, past Harry’s Bar, to Paul’s apartment, to see if anyone answered the door. A woman, possibly a girlfriend, refused to open up, so I hit the streets, looking for watering holes nearby he might have frequented.
He was indeed a creature of habit, and locals told me he’d done a regular pub crawl that night. One bar I stopped at was packed with a working class mix of guys and couples, and remembered Henri as a jovial guy, who had one, maybe two drinks earlier that night.
Around the corner, I stumbled upon another bar, went inside and found only women, dancing with each other, holding hands, nuzzling at banquettes, everyone friendly and cozy. No way, I thought, they’d know him here, but I asked anyway, and the manager said, indeed, the lesbians loved Henri Paul, that he was polite, friendly, a gentleman who never hit on the girls, but offered to walk them home late at night, for security, and usually closed the place down.
That’s why she remembered him that night, because he’d come in early and mentioned he had to go work, drive someone at the Ritz. He only had time for a couple, she said. By now, I’m counting at least 4 drinks before he gets to the Ritz, and another 2-3 or more Pernods there. You do the math.
Paul may not have been sloshed, but even a big guy, ex-military, a pilot, noted for holding his sauce, might have his timing thrown off a little, especially if you imagine Dodi Fayad barking at the driver to go faster and outrun the paparazzi, acting macho as he sometimes did, friends told me.
Despite the impaired driver as a likely factor in the crash, Mohammed Fayad, Dodi’s father, still believes it was a royal conspiracy, insists his boy was murdered by a palace-MI5 cabal to stop the princess from marrying an Arab, albeit an Egyptian at the top of the commercial class, and bearing his son’s child once they did. Convinced they were on the brink of tying the knot, he’s funded one investigation after another, and sources who have worked for him tell me there are lots of questions among the claims he’s unearthed. I haven’t been able to confirm them first hand, but he claims there were:
–high carbon monoxide levels in Henri Paul’s blood, paint found on his black Mercedes some suggest came from a mystery Fiat that pushed him into a deadly spin, curious deaths of people like a nurse Fayad claims Diana told she was pregnant before she died.
Pregnancy? Marriage plans? While close Diana friends have scoffed she’d marry Fayad, his his friends and family say he’d picked out a $200,000 ring…that the couple was excited and heading back to Dodi’s apartment, where champagne was on ice that night, the stage set for romance and a proposal.
In Paris, I interviewed his powerful uncle, legendary arms dealer Adnan Khashogi and his sons, Dodi’s cousins, who all believed the romance was the real thing; they’d never seen their Hollywood playboy- producer so happy. He’d won an Oscar for co-producing the inspiring movie, “Chariots of Fire,” about an underdog track team, and was now ready to give up his thrill of chasing beautiful starlets, if Diana would have him.
Indeed, he’d just dumped his last girlfriend, LA supermodel Kelly Fisher, who’d told me at the time she was hurt and angry, She’d given up her career to be with him, she said, only to discover he’d been chasing Diana behind her back. After she saw the paparazzi photo of Dodi and Diana embracingâ€”The Kiss!â€”screamed the tabloids, she tried to confront him, calling and calling, no answer, until his father, Mohammed, came on the line, she told me, and ordered her never to call again.
“He was so cold,” she told me, “it frightened me.”
She retained mega-plaintiff lawyer Gloria Allred to sue Fayed for lost wages in a modeling career she claimed she gave up to be with him; she dropped the suit when he died.
So what do you think? Was it a tragic accident, or something more sinister? Do you support the conspiracy theory Diana had to die because she might have been pregnant with a non-British child, or perhaps had antagonized major arms makers, governments and defense contractors with her anti-land mine campaign?
Send us your comments and theories and let us know where you were and what you thought when she died.