Diana, Princess of Wales
Life was getting better for Diana, Princess of Wales, during the summer of 1997. Approaching her 36th birthday on the 1st July, she was in her prime.
Her sons were happy at school and had accepted the divorce of their parents the previous year.
Diana’s work with the British Red Cross Society, to bring about a worldwide ban on the sale and deployment of landmines, had been hailed as a great success, and she was receiving much praise for her tireless charity work. As the most celebrated and popular woman in the world, she remained the No.1 target for the mass media, but had grown almost inured to the invasions of her peace and privacy.
Publicly the Princess seemed happy, but her private life showed painful voids. She was not on speaking terms with her mother, Frances Shand Kydd, because she considered her interview with a glossy magazine which heavily featured the Princess a betrayal of trust.
Her relationship with her elder sister Jane was fraught because Jane was married to the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Robert Fellowes, with whom Diana had had serious differences with.
Meanwhile, she was on bad terms with her brother, Charles Spencer. Although Charles had succeeded her beloved father as Earl Spencer, the Princess assumed she would still have open access to the family estate at Althorp, Northamptonshire. Yet, shortly after Charles agreed the Princess and her sons could use a house on the estate, overlooking a lake, he changed his mind. His reason: he didn’t want to be inconvenienced by the media attention that his sister’s presence would inevitably attract.
And finally, there was no man in her life. As she had so memorably recounted in her Panorama interview, the Princess felt that the men she had shared her life with had inevitably let her down.
A Ballet full of Promises
The Princess continued with her daily round of public duties. As Patron of the English National Ballet (ENB), she was the Guest of Honour at the Albert Hall on 2nd June for a gala performance of the company’s new production of Swan Lake which Mr and Mrs Al Fayed also attended.
Mohamed Al Fayed’s wife, Heini, enjoys the ballet, and her husband had become a major supporter of the ENB. In fact, his sponsorship of an innovative production of The Nutcracker had been such a success it stayed in the ENB’s repertory for the next seven Christmas seasons at the London Coliseum.
Following the ballet, the Al Fayeds and the Princess went for dinner together at the Churchill Hotel in Portman Square. It was here that Mohamed Al Fayed asked the Princess what she was doing over the summer. She replied that she really did not know. Her brother’s refusal to allow her to use a house she had known since her childhood put her in a difficult position. She had nowhere to take her sons and could only think of Thailand as a possible holiday destination.
Mohamed Al Fayed knew the Princess very well. Sometimes when she was in Harrods, she would call in to Mohamed’s office for a chat after she had done her shopping.
She had known the store since her childhood. A director taking her round the store one day was surprised to find that she knew the shortest distances between departments far better than he did! With her long stride, she could get around Harrods in record time!
When, in 1981, at the age of 19, her engagement to Prince Charles was announced, she made her first official public appearance in a royal blue costume, supplied and fitted by Harrods the previous day. Her father, John Spencer, the most important man in her life apart from her sons was always on the look out for some novelty to buy for his various grandchildren, and whenever he was in London, he would inevitably go to Harrods in search of gifts.
Mohamed Al Fayed and the Princess’s father were good friends. In fact, Earl Spencer would often ask him to look after his daughter Diana, if she ever needed anything. With that in mind, Mohamed Al Fayed told the Princess that she and her sons were most welcome to join Heini, himself and their children at their estate in St. Tropez, France. During that period, the Fayed family always went there in mid July.
Mohamed Al Fayed had extended the holiday invitation in previous years but the Princess had always had to decline, explaining that her husband stipulated how the Princes William and Harry would spend their summers and as their mother, she went where she was told. Even when she managed to persuade Prince Charles to join the King and Queen of Spain in Mallorca, when the Princes were very young, the Prince went under sufferance, complaining that a Mediterranean summer holiday would not suit him.
A Dream Summer
The Princess acted promptly on Mohamed’s invitation. The next morning, she called a member of his staff to find out about the facilities at St. Tropez and replied to Mohamed Al Fayed shortly afterwards, accepting his kind invitation with grace and in a spirit of eager anticipation.
In Mohamed’s helicopter, the Princess and her sons flew from Kensington Palace to the Fayed’s country house in Surrey. After a family lunch, the party took Mohamed’s Gulfstream 4 jet aircraft to Nice, and a yacht from a quay near the airport to St. Tropez.
The Media Interruption
For two days the Princess enjoyed peace., but on the third day she went sailing aboard Mohamed’s magnificent 1912 teak schooner Sakara where a member of the paparazzi spotted her and sold his photograph to a British Sunday tabloid.
For the remainder of the holiday saw the Fayed’s property under siege; the British Media had descended in force. At one stage, in an attempt to trade an interview for some privacy, the Princess went over to a boat filled with British photographers and reporters. If she answered as couple of questions, would they go away?
The Princess spoke for a couple of minutes. The British Media attention lessened a little but their continental counterparts more than filled the ranks, even attempting to penetrate the private estate and spy on the occupants from any vantage point.
It was during this holiday that Mohamed’s eldest son Dodi joined the rest of the family. The Fayed family, the Princess and her sons had ten wonderful days together. There was laughter morning, noon and night. The Princess was having such a good time, she was often doubled over with laughter.
There is an old Finnish proverb: “After laughter, tears”. So it eventually proved to be, and tragically so. But during this holiday, the Princess was happy. She had always wanted a happy and fulfilled family life. In St. Tropez, she saw a real family, all of whose members loved each other and showed it. It was important to the Princess that her sons should see what a fully functioning family looked like: everyone comfortable in the company of every one else, just pleased to be together.
The Princes went diving. Diana rode pillion on a jet-ski behind Jasmine Fayed, Mohamed’s eldest daughter, now a successful fashion designer. The two families took one of the yachts to watch the fireworks over Cannes on the night of 14th July, Bastille Day, the French National Holiday.
After the holiday, the Princess telephoned one of Mohamed’s directors to thank him for the small part he had played in making arrangements for the holiday. She said:
"We are all sitting here in KP (Kensington Palace) suffering awful withdrawal symptoms. It was the best holiday of our lives”.
Dodi had asked the Princess if he might call her when they were both back in London. She said yes. How the love affair began, no one really knows. They both kept the details entirely private. Such was the value they placed in their relationship. It was if they could not bear anyone to know their secret in case that knowledge would somehow spoil things.
Throughout the seven weeks of their love affair’s duration, Dodi and Diana were with each almost every minute. Those who say it was a summer romance, just a holiday fling, fated not to last, do not know the people they are talking about. They have no inkling of the plans that had made for their future together.
A Unique Bond
Dodi adored the Princess and vowed that there would be no other love for him. The Princess confided to a woman, from whom she had few secrets, that Dodi fulfilled her completely.
As an earnest of her devotion, she made a present to Dodi her late father’s favourite gold cuff links. Diana loved her father, and such a gift spoke volumes. It confounds the theories of the Establishment nay-sayers. They claim Diana would never have married Dodi. But they overlook the fact that he had made her happier than any other man had ever done.
Dodi had shown Diana a poem. The poem had been written for him by Frank Sinatra’s youngest daughter, Tina. The Princess liked the poem so much that Dodi instructed the jeweller Asprey to engrave the lines on a silver plaque, about the size of the lady’s hand. The Princess kept the plaque under her pillow when she slept.
When the plaque was found at Dodi's apartment, following their deaths, Mohamed Al Fayed returned it to the Spencer family and asked that it be put in Princess Diana's coffin. It is not known if it was.