Diana, Princess of Wales

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The most famous woman in the world died in a car crash on the streets of Paris in the early hours of August 31st, 1997. Diana's death caused unprecedented scenes of public mourning in Britain.

Millions were stunned by the news that the woman dubbed the "people's princess" had met such a shocking, untimely end.

Conspiracies soon swirled - could it be that the death of Diana was no accident?

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Diana was born in 1961 into an unhappy home. Her parents’ messy divorce and the subsequent disruption to her family life left Diana with severe insecurities and a craving for approval.

Diana started dating Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, in the summer of 1980. After only a few months - and after she had been approved by the Queen - Charles proposed.

Diana accepted, and, in 1981, they married in one of the grandest - and most viewed - wedding ceremonies of all time. 

Lady Diana Spencer became Her Royal Highness Diana, Princess of Wales. A shy girl, she was thrust into the full glare of royal celebrity. The future Queen of Great Britain, she would forever more be the subject of unrelenting media attention.

The marriage of Charles and Diana was not a happy one.

The couple had little in common, and Charles maintained a mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles, throughout most, if not all, of his marriage.

Diana, alone, rejected by her husband and iced out by her in-laws, was miserable a lot of the time. She developed a serious eating disorder and attempted suicide.

But she found solace in two things: her children and her charitable work.

In particular, she devoted herself to the cause of raising awareness of HIV/AIDS, at a time when there was so much ignorance about the disease and prejudice against those who had it.

Her public work was also part of her rivalry with Prince Charles. Diana knew that he was jealous of the attention given to her by the media, which overshadowed everything he did.

Lacking romance within her marriage, Diana had many affairs. In 1992, a leaked recording of a private phone call between Diana and one of her boyfriends shattered the carefully crafted image of the princess.

The embarrassing details of the call caused a scandal. But it wasn't long before another secret recording - this time of an intimate phone call between Charles and Camilla - was leaked to the press, causing further embarrassment for the royal family.

These leaks also hinted at the presence of darker forces involved in the troubled relationship between the Prince and Princess of Wales. Royal phone calls were snooped on by British secret service agents, ostensibly for security reasons. If recordings of the most intimate conversations were made and then leaked then it indicates that forces within the government were picking sides in what the media dubbed the War of the Waleses. 

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By the early 1990s Diana was actively planning her exit from her marriage and the royal family. However, a divorced Diana would create an unprecedented moment for the British Establishment. She was a star - not just in Britain, but around the world - and she outshone every other royal.

As mother to Prince William, the second in line to the throne, she would remain a royal figure. But divorced from Charles and independent from all the strictures of the royal family, Diana would be freer to do and say what she liked.

Her home in Kensington Palace, with her sons, would inevitably become an unofficial royal court - and one with considerably more glamour and media attention than the stuffy House of Windsor. 

Prince Charles was, at that time, very unpopular. People were speculating that the throne would skip a generation, going straight to William.

Could the British Establishment tolerate two rival courts? That was a thorny enough question as it stood. But it became even more controversial in the summer of 1997 when Diana started to date Dodi Fayed, the playboy son of Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Fayed. 

The Fayeds owned an international business empire that included luxury hotels and retail stores, including the famous Harrods department store in London, where Diana and other royals often shopped.

Theirs was a whirlwind romance, and within two months there was talk that Diana and Dodi might get married - and even that Diana was pregnant.

This scenario set alarm bells ringing. Newspapers in Britain were rife with speculation as to what would happen if Diana really did marry into the Fayed family. Mohamed Fayed was a somewhat controversial figure. Rather an eccentric character, he had been embroiled in a political scandal in which he, and others, were caught paying Members of Parliament to ask questions in the House of Commons.

In addition to these concerns, there were also clear anti-Muslim and racist overtones to some of the commentary about the Fayed family. In particular, the London commentariat wondered if it was appropriate for the foreign, Muslim Dodi to be the stepfather of the future King of Britain.

It was rumored that Prince Philip, the husband of the Queen, was especially incensed by the prospect of his grandchildren being raised by Dodi. The Queen and other senior royals were briefed by MI6, Britain's foreign intelligence service, about the Fayeds.

 Dodi Fayed had a whirlwind summer romance with Princess Diana. The pair died in a car crash in Paris. There was widespread speculation that Dodi had proposed, or was just about to do so, on the night of their deaths.  

Dodi Fayed had a whirlwind summer romance with Princess Diana. The pair died in a car crash in Paris. There was widespread speculation that Dodi had proposed, or was just about to do so, on the night of their deaths.  

The tragic demise of Diana, Dodi and also the driver of their car, put an abrupt end to any concerns about the Fayeds marrying into the British royal family and establishing a rival royal court.

Rumors and conspiracy theories about the death of Diana instantly started to swirl, and only grew louder as more details of the deadly night in Paris came out. There were many witnesses to events that night, some of them giving conflicting accounts. Multiple people claimed to have seen vehicles interfering with Diana's limousine in the moment before it crashed, though French police did not pursue that potential line of inquiry. 

The French and British investigations of the events around the crash raised as many questions as they answered. There were several glaring gaps in the evidence as well as unexplained official decisions. In particular, there were irregularities around the embalming and autopsy of Diana's body.

In the end, the entire blame for the crash was pinned on the driver, Henri Paul, who was found to be over the alcohol limit. But there were other controversies: questions about the blood sample taken from Paul, evidence that he had received very large cash payments in the days before the crash, and claims that he had worked with both French and British intelligence agencies.

Her death caused an unprecedented outpouring of emotion in Britain, with hundreds of thousands of people flocking to London to pay homage to her memory and line the route of her funeral cortege. 

It was a defining moment for all who witnessed it, and for the British monarchy. Faced with a popular backlash against the way they had seemed to mistreat Diana - both in life and in death - the royal family was forced to learn some lessons in order to survive. 

 The sea of flowers left in front of Kensington Palace, the London residence of Diana, Princess of Wales, following her death.     Attribution for music used in this episode:  Assassinations Podcast Theme Music (Intro, Outro, and Transitions) written and performed by  Graeme Ronald    "Day 1"  by  R. Cole  is licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0  / A derivative from the  original work    "Day 5"  by  R. Cole  is licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0  / A derivative from the  original work    "Day 11"  by  R. Cole  is licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0  / A derivative from the  original work    "Day 10"  by  R. Cole  is licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0  / A derivative from the  original work

The sea of flowers left in front of Kensington Palace, the London residence of Diana, Princess of Wales, following her death.

 

Attribution for music used in this episode:

Assassinations Podcast Theme Music (Intro, Outro, and Transitions) written and performed by Graeme Ronald

"Day 1" by R. Cole is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 / A derivative from the original work

"Day 5" by R. Cole is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 / A derivative from the original work

"Day 11" by R. Cole is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 / A derivative from the original work

"Day 10" by R. Cole is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 / A derivative from the original work