I was in Paris with my family in August of 1997 when tragedy struck near us…
My husband and I, and our two daughters, arrived in Paris from New York early in the morning on a clear day in mid-August. We had rented a summer home in Mougins, a quaint village in the South, and slept that night at the Ritz Hotel, to catch a flight to Nice the next morning.
From Nice we drove to Mougins, where our days were long, sunny and relaxed. When we were not at the beach, in nearby Cannes, we were touring the region with the children, in no hurry. I would go to the market every morning, to buy fresh bread, and would glance at newspapers showing pictures of Princess Diana and her new boyfriend, Dodi Al Fayed, who were on vacation nearby. She appeared to be in great shape, diving off their boat anchored near Saint Tropez. But I thought that her eyes seemed sad, in the pictures.
After 10 days enjoying the South of France, our vacation was over. We left Mougins early, and had planned to spend one more night in Paris, before catching our flight to New York the next morning. But the Ritz was booked solid, and instead we stayed at Hotel Powers, a comfortable 4-star hotel not far from the Ritz we knew well.
For dinner that night we decided to go to Ma Bourgogne (pictured above), a bistro in the Marais that a friend had recommended; our baby-sitter Tatiana was with us then. Ma Bourgogne was a typical Parisian bistro, with a beautiful view of the Place des Vosges. But we were all too tired from the trip to really appreciate the view, and by 11 o’clock we took a taxi to go back to the hotel. On the way to the hotel we passed by the Pont d’Alma tunnel; about one hour later, a car carrying Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed would crash right there, killing both plus the driver.
We only learned about it the next morning. Tatiana had been outside before us, and came back agitated, almost in tears: “Princess Diana died near here last night,” she said. I remember the silence that fell upon us.
The same strange silence permeated the hotel lobby, when we checked out. No one was saying more than necessary, there was a very eerie feeling in the air. The same silence persisted in the taxi, going to the airport: it felt like all of Paris was in mourning. My ten year old daughter Clara commented on how quiet things were, and asked about Princess Diana’s death. I replied with something like, “She was a beautiful person and died in the most beautiful city.” I felt too drained to say more.
When we arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport, we found it taken over by security guards, and learned that Prince Charles’ Royal Air Force jet was landing that very moment, to claim Diana’s body. I felt a strange sadness; after all, I didn’t know Diana personally. And if we had stayed at the Ritz, where she and Al Fayed had slept the night before, we would have been near her again, like in the South of France. I am glad we didn’t, or I would have felt even stranger.
We were still in a somber mood when we got home to New York, but no one said a word about Princess Diana. The days that followed were almost unreal: her sad funeral, her kids walking solemnly behind her coffin, the feeling that Diana left too early. Some people capture our hearts more than others, I guess, and she was one of them. Diana had something different – she was real.
Each time I return to the Marais in Paris, or eat at Ma Bourgogne, or drive through the Pont d’Alma tunnel again, I remember the night Diana died.
And I feel that we all lost someone special that night.
Who was Lady Diana Spencer:
Princess Diana, born Diana Spencer, was the wife of Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of queen Elizabeth II and heir to the throne of England. The couple divorce in 1996 and Diana died in a car crash in Paris in 1997.
Suggested reading on Lady Diana:
Diana: The People’s Princess: A Celebration of Her Life and Legacy 20 Years On by Nicholas Owen