Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Twenty years ago in Paris

Twenty years ago this week, and it feels like the proverbial yesterday, I bought a Paris MATCH magazine from my local newsagent, Sam. I live in San Francisco and he stocked all the European newspapers, magazines and international as well. He even had the Charlie Hebdo issue after the terrible tragedy. Sadly, Sam closed a few months ago...just too tough for the printed word and glossies these days.
Paris MATCH always has great pictorials and the gossip, too. A guilty pleasure I admit. Towards the rear of the magazine was an article and paparazzi photos of Princess Diana sunning on a yacht deck in the turquoise Mediterranean with her new squeeze a Doti Fayed.
Paris MATCH always had the celebrati, aristo, billionaires etc often caught in flagrant delicate somewhere in the Mediterranean or South of France. So did the Guardian.

Well, Doti was new to me, whoever he was, she looked amazing, relaxed and really hadn't been on the front pages or on the news burner for a while (this was August 1997). Just another royal celeb with a new secret boyfriend caught by the paparazzi.  It stayed in my mind since I felt happy for her.
Diana and Doti flew back to Paris, stayed at the Ritz on August 30 and 31, and you know the story, left the Ritz late that night. I had literally opened the newspaper the day after I'd read Paris MATCH to headlines of Diana's death.

Here's is the Telegraph UK's timeline using CCTV footage and photographic evidence from which they built up an accurate timeline of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed's final hours.
4.35pm Princess and Mr Fayed enter Ritz by rear door with Trevor Rees-Jones,bodyguard. Take lift to first floor suite.
5.42 Mr Fayed and Mr Rees-Jones drive to jewellery shop, returning seven minutes later. Member of staff later takes two rings to Mr Fayed's room.
6.53 Couple driven to Mr Fayed's apartment near Arc de Triomphe.
7.05 Henri Paul, chauffeur, goes off duty.
9.51 Couple return to hotel via front entrance.
10.08 Henri Paul returns to hotel.
10.20 Mr Fayed talks to night duty manager, who spends six minutes talking to Henri Paul and two Ritz chauffeurs.
10.30 Henri Paul makes first of five trips to Place Vendome in front of hotel, speaking to paparazzi on last three occasions.
11.51 Mercedes and Range Rover sent on "dummy run" to test reaction of the paparazzi.
12.06am Princess and Mr Fayed go to exit at back of hotel. They hold hands and cuddle.
12:12 Henri Paul waves to paparazzi who have gathered at the back of the hotel.
12.17 Mercedes leaves hotel, driven by Henri Paul, with princess and Mr Fayed inside.
12.22 Mercedes crashes in Alma underpass
Here in the Mercedes, Diana, her bodyguard who is also in the de-planning photo, Doti and the chauffeur who has been said was drinking at the Ritz bar.
 These photos were from the paparazzi trailing them leaving the back entrance of the Ritz and then to underground tunnel.

Now I bring this up because whether you dislike the royals, the hoo ha, the massive outpourings of grief or feel the royals changed or became more approachable after the tragedy, it happened in Paris. A French woman told me that when Diana's body left the Hospital on the Left bank, people stood up at the cafe's and Parisians paused on the street in respect as the hearse drove by. She said in some awful way they felt responsible.  You might have followed the story, or not, or were touched by the funeral or followed the investigation. Yet still it was a shock, unexpected, seemingly random that left two young boys without a mother. And the aftermath seemed to go on forever, right? All these theories, a conspiracy of the MI-6 or is MI-5? The Queen's vendetta for an embarrassing Princess, the paparazzi's on motorcycles, the phantom white Fiat Uno that might have engineered the accident?...on and on.
But it happened in Paris and Paris police were in the eye of the storm. All the world was watching. 
The police, like most Parisians, had just returned from the August holiday and were gearing up for la rentrée back to school and work and opening up the city again.
In 2007, I met Jean-Claude Mules head of a unit in the Brigade Criminelle, the elite Paris homicide squad, for lunch. I'd known Jean-Claude for three years at this time. He'd agreed to lunch and was late. He apologized in his way saying 'uhh I just got off the Eurostar, what a morning.' I asked if he'd been in the UK and why. He proceeded to tell me he'd had to speak English all morning - so fatiguing - he only spoke French with me- and all these men wore their funny wigs. I pressed him do you mean like judges wearing wigs? Ah yes, such a morning I had to give evidence, yet again, in this final court hearing. But what trial is this I asked since he'd never talked about an English trial. Ah, it's been ten years, you know and this was it we had to settle this case of Doti's father. Then it hit me, it had been ten years since Diana's death in the car crash with Doti and his father had brought a criminal trial. But why were you there? Ok, I'm slow to the game I admit but I felt particularly stupid when he said 'but I was in charge of the Diana investigation, for ten years and it's taken ten years off my life.' Open mouthed I asked why didn't you ever tell me? He replied 'you never asked.' Call me dumb.
Jean-Claude told me when he'd been called so late that August night in 1997, he was angry at the dispatcher, demanding to know why he was being called out to a 'traffic accident' as it was relayed to him. But when he arrived and saw the reality, his life changed.
But this was too good a chance to get the 'real' scoop with him right at the table and my mind whirred, my next book was set in 1997 why couldn't I set in September with the fresh backdrop of the Diana tragedy and investigation? I did. It's used as background in that book, but I was always thinking what a great thriller this would make - beloved foreign royal dead by accident or plan and the British secret service covering up.
Any way it must have been in 2009 or 2010 when Leighton Gage and I happened to be in Paris at the same time (Eide and some of his family too) that we were doing a reading event together at Shakespeare and Co bookstore. I remember Leighton rushing in - Metro snafu- and telling him and the audience we'd have a special treat at our reading because Jean-Claude Mules, now retired, formerly of the Brigade Criminelle and in charge of the Diana investigation would make an appearance since he had so kindly helped me in research for this book.
 Here's Leighton reading at Shakespeare and Co.
Then it was my turn. We both talked about our books and there is Jean-Claude in between us. Needless to say the audience went nuts to hear the added treat. Jean-Claude held them spell bound. I had to apologize to Leighton later, because he sort of became the star of the evening.
Here's a 2007 article from the Express with the same content that basically Jean-Claude told us that evening.
Jean Claude Mules, who ran the initial French investigation, said his officers found compelling evidence that the car carrying Diana and Dodi Fayed collided with the Fiat seconds before it crashed. 
If officers had been able to trace the driver they would have “had their killer”, he added. As Britain today marks the 10th anniversary of Diana’s death, Mr Mules’s comments will re-ignite anger that the Fiat Uno driver has never been traced.    
They will also intensify claims that both the French and British investigations into the crash were failures. And they will fuel the fears of those who believe that Diana, Dodi and driver Henri Paul were killed in an Establishment plot. MI5 and MI6 agents were known to be on the ground that night.    
The Fiat was spotted entering the tunnel at the same time as Diana’s car. The failure to find the driver – or the Uno itself – has given rise to numerous theories, including the possibility that the Princess’s car was targeted by a secret service assassin who forced her vehicle to crash.   
Two men were named as possibly being the drivers – paparazzi photographer James Andanson, who has since died in mysterious circumstances, and French-Vietnamese security guard Le Van Thanh, who continues to deny any involvement.   
Mr Mules said yesterday: “It’s a good thing that we didn’t actually find the owner of the white Fiat Uno, otherwise he would have become the Princess’s killer.”    
Mr Mules was senior commander of the elite Paris Criminal Brigade, which originally gathered evidence into the crash in the French capital. In the early hours of August 31, 1997 – soon after Diana’s Mercedes ploughed into a pillar in the Alma tunnel – Mr Mules found compelling evidence that the luxury saloon had collided with a white Fiat Uno seconds before impact.   
Yet, 10 years on and despite extensive searches all over France, the Uno and its driver are still unaccounted for. “We found that there were approximately 7,000 to 8,000 Fiat Unos and we examined 5,500 of them,” said Mr Mules, who was speaking in Paris where he is now retired.   
“We checked all their cars and their owners, who had to tell us exactly where they were on the night of the crash, but we never found it.”   
The inability of the French police to find the Uno driver was highlighted in the British report into Diana’s death, published last December.   

Until now, that Fiat Uno has never been found. At this time of year I think of Leighton, who's left us and I miss him. I still see Jean-Claude and think how in some ways the world changed after this. 

 And of Diana who touched a universal chord in her troubled, glamorous life. Whatever you believe, the Fiat Uno, a conspiracy or an over the limit driver, here's thinking of Diana and her boys,  who'd she'd probably think of as her best accomplishment, today.

Cara - Tuesday
Oh, and before I forget, if you're in Paris this fall please come on by. I'll be doing some events and would love to see you.

Thursday Sept 28, 6-7PM
at WHSmith on rue de Rivoli

Tuesday Oct 10, 3-5PM
at Café de la Mairie on rue de Bretagne in the Marais


  1. What a fascinating, informative post! Thanks, Cara. I can't believe it's been twenty years. The memories it brings back.

    I remember precisely where I was when I learned of the crash. I was where I am now, in the lobby of a hotel in Mykonos. Back then, I saw a group of Brits huddled around the TV. I asked what's up and they told me about the crash. I joined them in watching TV coverage and remember saying, "You're looking at what will become your JFK assassination story. It will never end."

    A couple months later I was back in NYC at a bar I owned with a few others, and a customer asked me where I was when I learned of their deaths. I told him, and then two of my partners told him where they were:
    Sitting at the bar in the Ritz having just watched Dodi and Diana pass through the door leading outside the bar to their Mercedes. They were among the last to see the couple alive!

  2. This is fascinating, Cara. And the conspiracy theory is compelling. But I wonder: would professional killers really stage an automobile accident to do away with someone? Accidents aren't guaranteed to kill the people in the car. Right?

    Channel 13 in New York has been airing a very sympathetic biography of Diana in the past week. I found that story compelling since it includes video of her with the coach who was teaching her public speaking. It characterizes her as the victim, of a murderer, but as a character assassin. It shows her as a broken hearted young wife, whose husband married her despite the fact that he was in love with another woman--one who was totally inappropriate to be his wife. The documentary states quite directly that all the talk about how unstable she was was an attempt to discredit her, and blame her for the failure of her marriage, when the real trouble was Charles's relationship with Camilla. This part I really believe.

    1. Annamaria, yes, I've heard her sons are finally talking about how they felt, too. An assassin would be much more on target, I agree leaving no element to chance!

  3. That's amazing, Jeff. Must have sent chills through your partners when they realized the next day!

  4. Yes it was. They were grand admirers of Diana and having seen her in the flesh in one moment only to learn that moments later she'd perished, most definitely haunted them...in fact it gave chills to all of us.

  5. This is a compelling post...thank you for going behind the scenes.