Monday, July 10, 2017
DEATH OF PRINCESS DIANA REVISITED: HOW WE GOT THE STORY
On August 31, 1997, just after midnight, a black Mercedes bearing Princess Diana and her lover Dodi Fayed struck the 13th pillar of Paris's Alma tunnel, spun around, and crashed into a concrete wall. Within minutes, I was awakened by an urgent call from TIME's news desk in New York. As the magazine's Paris Bureau Chief, I was responsible for our coverage of this stunning event.
My fellow correspondent Scott MacLeod, who lived just across the Seine from the crash site, was already standing outside the blocked off Alma tunnel, notebook in hand, interviewing eyewitnesses even as French medics worked desperately to save Diana's life and extract her from the crumpled wreck. (It was already too late for Dodi and driver Henri Paul: both had died instantly.)
Meanwhile, I worked the phones and followed live TV coverage from my suburban home in Le Vesinet. Like millions of people around the world, I was shocked and saddened by the news bulletin that Diana had died on an emergency room operating table at 4:00 a.m. Working well past dawn, Scott and I filed our reports to New York, caught a few hours sleep, then headed into the TIME bureau just off the Champs-Elysées to plan our continuing coverage of the event and its aftermath.
The Diana story was our unique focus for the next three weeks, as the magazine probed the background of the accident, the role of the pursuing paparazzi, and the conspiracy theories that began to circulate almost immediately after the accident. Along with our colleagues in the U.K., and a team of writers and editors in New York, Scott and I contributed to no fewer than three successive cover stories on Diana's death. Circumstances had put us at the epicenter of this event and the reporting we accumulated over those three weeks had made us some of the most knowledgable observers outside the French police investigators.
It was at that point that, with the encouragement of super-agent Andrew Wylie, Scott and I proposed to do a book on what was then the hottest subject in the news business. To our amazement, Andrew sold it in 14 countries within a week or so. That was the good news. The bad news was that the publishers wanted the first half of the book by the end of November and the rest by December 15. Less than two months from our signing date. We both took leaves of absence from TIME and plunged into what remains the most daunting assignment of our careers. The result was DEATH OF A PRINCESS, which became a New York Times and international bestseller.
This year, for the 20th anniversary of Diana's tragic end, my publisher, Dutton, asked us to prepare a revised and updated edition. Again there was only a short time available for this job, but journalists live by deadlines and this one was more manageable than the week-to-week rhythm we'd had to deal with on the magazine. There was relatively little to change in the main body of the book, but bringing the story up to date meant delving into the results of the French investigation, and the subsequent British inquest, and tracing the lives of the various protagonists—Prince Charles and his sons, Mohamed al-Fayed, the paparazzi, et al.—in the years since 1997. The result is now available on Amazon and iBooks. Anyone interested in this dramatic and historic story should click on those links now: we don't plan to do a 40th anniversary edition!
To buy the e-book edition of Death of a Princess, click on the links below: