By DOUG SAUNDERS
Toronto Globe and Mail
August 29, 2005
After eight years during which Diana, Princess of Wales, was an untouchable idol here, Britons have spent the summer owning up to her less savory traits - the spoiled hard-partying lifestyle, the ego, the promiscuity.
And Friday, the dethroning accelerated, as British papers reported what counts for conspiracy theorists as a stunning revelation: that her death in 1997 was the simple result of a drunk and reckless driver after she had spent a night on the town in Paris with a fleeting boyfriend.
After years of detailed forensic investigations in France and Britain, police have concluded beyond a doubt that her death was not the result of a plot; that she was not being pursued by spies, mobs of photographers or agents of Prince Charles; and that nobody was out to get her, according to detailed accounts provided to the Evening Standard and Telegraph newspapers by police, who aren't due to officially release their report until next year.
The notion of Diana as an innocent victim of forces beyond her control has fallen apart. And with it has some of the romance of the "people's princess," a term coined by Prime Minister Tony Blair shortly after her death. Recent polls show that the British public has instead warmed somewhat to Prince Charles and his new wife, the former Camilla Parker Bowles.
In a final fizzle of Dianamania, the billionaire owner of Harrods department store, Mohamed al-Fayed, whose son Dodi was on a date with Diana when they died together in the crash, has this week erected a statue of Dodi and Diana outside his store. "Innocent Victims" is the name of the statue.
It shows her in a revealing skirt and him in an open-neck shirt that reveals his chest hair. An albatross soars above their heads.
It is one of dozens of memorials that dot London today. But, increasingly, the underlying sentiment is only for the tourists, as police reports and memoirs reveal a Diana who was neither innocent nor a victim of a plot.
The investigators, who have already spent $5-million and used advanced new forensic techniques that were not available to earlier investigators, were following a detailed French inquiry that concluded that Diana was the victim of an extremely drunk driver, and that no other factors were involved.
But the widespread belief that she must have been the victim of a conspiracy, fueled by the families of the unfortunate couple, had taken on such a dramatic public life in Britain that the government felt it necessary to launch two separate investigations.
Police scientists have reportedly concluded with some certainty that her Mercedes-Benz was traveling alone, not pursued by a black Fiat as held in many reports; that there was no bright light flashed in the face of the driver; that the brake cables had not been cut; that Diana was chatting leisurely on her cell phone at the moment of the accident, not engaged in a panicked chase; that she was definitely not pregnant at the time of her death; and that she had no intention of marrying millionaire playboy Dodi Fayed.
Many of the theories stemmed from Diana's own belief that someone, probably Charles, was out to get her. During the height of their divorce, she wrote an infamous note that read, in full:
"This particular phase of my life is the most dangerous - my husband is planning 'an accident' in my car, brake failure and serious head injury in order to make the path clear for him to marry."
With the new police revelations, it looks like this note will become part of another, increasingly popular Diana narrative in Britain, one that involves her mental instability and her mercurial lifestyle.
This summer saw the publication of a tell-all memoir by Diana's therapist and friend Simone Simmons, full of sordid accounts of multiple affairs with married men and political celebrities, use of hard drugs and acts of petty vengeance.
Nine months ago, an actor friend of Diana's released a series of videotapes of private conversations from the early 1990s in which the princess comes off as a shallow, cynical opportunist with few interests beyond self-promotion. When asked why she did so much charity work, she answered, "I've got nothing else to do," and shrieked with girlish laughter.
To add a certain piquancy to these reports, the Simmons memoir revealed that Diana, shortly before her death, had urged the queen to allow Charles to marry Camilla.
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