The final season of The Crown is upon us, and once again writer Peter Morgan has been accused of playing fast and loose with the truth about events involving the Royal family.
With no fewer than four episodes dedicated to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Fayed, the Netflix drama is firmly in the territory of events that much of the audience will be able to recall, which makes any invented scenes all the more controversial.
The newly released episodes have already drawn widespread criticism for Morgan’s depictions of what happened in Paris in 1997, and run the risk of reanimating conspiracy theories that had largely faded into the background.
Perhaps the most controversial scene of all places Dodi Fayed on one knee in his suite in the Ritz Paris hotel, proposing to Diana hours before they were both killed.
Dodi, the son of the then Harrods owner Mohamed al-Fayed, had spent the summer of 1997 wooing Diana aboard his father’s yacht in the Mediterranean, despite being involved with Kelly Fisher, an American model, who claimed they were engaged at the time.
Mohamed claimed in the years following the fatal crash that Diana had accepted a proposal from his son, and used this as the motive for his accusation that the couple had been assassinated on the orders of Prince Philip. His reasoning was that the Royal family could not accept a Muslim as the stepfather of Prince William, a future king.
While The Crown avoids recreating the crash itself (the couple’s Mercedes is seen speeding into the Alma tunnel but no more) Morgan creates a narrative in which the whole reason for Diana and Dodi’s presence in Paris that night was in order for Dodi to collect an engagement ring and put it on her finger – and that a proposal did happen.
In episode three, the couple go ashore from their yacht in the South of France, but after being recognised by tourists and photographers they flee into a jewellery shop where Dodi asks Diana if she sees anything she likes.
She jokingly says “Well that’s quite nice” with a nod to a picture of a diamond-encrusted ring from a range called “Dis-Moi Oui” or “Tell Me Yes”.
Dodi later calls the shop, is told they do not have the ring in stock but that they have it in their Paris store, and after briefing his father on the latest events, Dodi persuades Diana – due to return to London the next day – to break her journey in Paris, where he secretly plans to propose.
In truth, the couple did go ashore in Monte Carlo on August 23 1997, but their bodyguard Trevor Rees (formerly known as Trevor Rees-Jones) told the inquest into their deaths that they did not go into a jewellery shop or do any window-shopping.
It is true that when they got to Paris a week later Dodi bought an £11,500 ring from jeweller Alberto Repossi, described as an engagement ring on the receipt later found in his apartment, though Repossi said he had no idea whether it was intended as an engagement ring (Diana had also been given a gold Bulgari ring by Dodi that she wore on her right hand).
Diana’s driver Colin Tebbutt and other friends have said the real reason for the Paris stopover was that the Princess had decided to delay her return to London because of a political row in the UK over comments she had made about foreign policy on landmines.
In The Crown, Dodi proposes to Diana but she rejects him, saying she is not ready to remarry. In real life, Mohamed’s butler explained to investigators that Dodi had told him he planned to propose that night when the couple returned to Dodi’s flat after dinner, but they were killed before he had a chance to do so.
Another key pillar of Diana death conspiracy theories involves the sobriety, or otherwise, of Henri Paul, the acting head of security at Mohamed’s Ritz Paris hotel.
Henri was the man at the wheel of the Mercedes S280 in which Diana and Dodi were killed, and he was pronounced dead at the scene after hitting a concrete pillar in the Alma tunnel at speed.
In The Crown, he is depicted sitting at the bar of the Ritz, being told that he needs to drive the couple to Dodi’s flat from a rear hotel entrance while decoy cars leave from the front to confuse waiting paparazzi.
As he gets up, the camera fleetingly shows an empty glass next to one that is half full of a cloudy drink, like the Ricard Pastis that Henri was drinking that night – but no other reference is made to his drinking, even though there is evidence that he had several other drinks while off duty that night before he was told to return to work.
Security footage from the Ritz also showed Henri struggling to park his Mini in a large empty space when he got back to the hotel, but The Crown does not reference this.
According to Operation Paget, the Metropolitan Police report into allegations of a conspiracy to murder the couple, Henri’s blood/alcohol level was 1.87 grams of alcohol per litre of blood, almost four times the French drink-drive limit of 0.5g/l and more than twice the UK limit of 0.8g/l.
But Mohamed claimed that Paul was not drunk and that his blood sample was switched with that of someone who had been drinking in order to falsely implicate him.
Hervé Stéphan, the examining magistrate who investigated the deaths, personally accompanied a toxicologist to the mortuary on September 4 1997 to take a second sample which he placed under seal and which confirmed the findings of the original tests.
Diana’s new life in California
According to Diana’s former butler Paul Burrell, she was making plans to move to California to live with Dodi at the time she died.
Dodi had bought a villa previously owned by the film star Julie Andrews, and Burrell claimed that she had shown him the floor plans and told him: “This is our new life, just won’t it be great, think of the lifestyle [for] the boys – nobody’s judgmental here in America, you don’t have the class system, you don’t have the Establishment.”
Prince Harry has since suggested that his own move to California means he is now “living the life that she wanted us to be able to live”.
Any truth in the suggestion that Diana was going to move to Malibu would lend weight to Mohammed’s claims that the couple were going to marry.
The Crown leans heavily into this idea, telling Dodi she wishes she could move away, start afresh and live in another country. “California,” he suggests. “Exactly,” she replies.
Close friends of the Princess have suggested her summer fling with Dodi was no more than a holiday romance, and that she had not given up hope of marrying heart surgeon Hasnat Khan, whom she hoped to make jealous.
The final phone call
Diana’s final conversation with her sons is filled with significance in The Crown.
Prince William asks her: “Mummy, are you going to marry Dodi? All the newspapers are saying you are.”
She tells him she is “emphatically not going to marry Dodi”, but cryptically adds: “Mummy just needs to make some changes to her life, that’s all. But that’s not your problem, that’s mine.”
Coming so soon after her conversation with Dodi about California, the clear implication is that she is thinking of moving abroad.
Yet the real final phone call was brief and unremarkable. In a 2017 documentary, Prince William said: “Harry and I were in a desperate rush to say goodbye, you know, ‘see you later’.
“If I’d known now obviously what was going to happen I wouldn’t have been so blase about it and everything else.”
Harry said: “I can’t really necessarily remember what I said but all I do remember is probably regretting for the rest of my life how short the phone call was.”
The final journey
The Crown suggests that Diana sealed her own fate by telling Dodi she wanted to return to his flat in the Rue Arsène Houssaye, rather than staying overnight at the Ritz where they had dined, because she had left her belongings there.
Dodi then came up with the ill-fated scheme to get there in a car driven by Henri, against the wishes of his bodyguards but approved by his father Mohamed.
The evidence suggests, however, that the fateful decision to return to the flat was very much Dodi’s rather than Diana’s.
Rene Delorm, the Fayeds’ butler at their Paris flat, told Operation Paget that he had been told by Dodi hours earlier that the couple were going to return from dinner at around midnight and Dodi said to him: “Make sure that we have champagne on ice when we come back from dinner. I am going to propose to her tonight.”