When Xavier Gourmelon attends a car crash inside a Paris tunnel, he is initially none the wiser as to who is involved. Then, as the firefighter lifts a blonde woman from the rear of the wreckage, she pulls him a little closer. Maybe she wants to speak to him. But as Princess Diana talks to the man trying to save her, Gourmelon has no idea that these will be the last words she ever utters.
Ten firefighters, including Gourmelon, had raced to the scene in the Pont d’Alma underpass, and the Mercedes-Benz W140 that they had found upon arrival appeared almost completely destroyed from the front. Tragically, one of the men inside seemed as though he had already passed away, too. So, Gourmelon worked quickly to figure out whom he could actually help, and the blonde woman seemed to be his best bet.
Given the woman’s relatively stable condition while she had been in the tunnel, then, Gourmelon was stunned when he later found out that she had died in hospital. That realization was made all the worse when he learned that the individual in question also happened to be none other than Princess Diana. And unbeknown to others, the Paris firefighter chose to keep her dying words to himself for a whole two decades.
Way before Diana’s sad end, though, she had grown up as part of the British aristocracy and was raised near the royal estate of Sandringham. Then, after failing to excel at school, the distant cousin of Winston Churchill found her way with menial jobs. But bigger things soon beckoned for the fresh-faced young woman, and ultimately her life would end up changing forever.
Famously, Diana caught the eye of her sister Sarah’s boyfriend, Charles, Prince of Wales, while she was only a teenager. And before long, she and the heir to the British throne were an item. In 1981 the two then married in a glittering ceremony, with hundreds of millions tuning in worldwide to watch on television.
Now Diana, Princess of Wales, the world should have been the newlywed’s oyster – especially when she later discovered that she was expecting a baby. But there was already darkness in Diana’s life. Owing to feelings of inadequacy, she cast herself down some stairs while pregnant. The paparazzi had begun to plague her, too, with snappers even photographing her in a bikini while she was with child. And further heartache was still to come.
Yes, sadly, what may have seemed to have been a fairy tale union was apparently miserable behind the scenes. Both the prince and princess allegedly had affairs, while Diana suffered from increasing bouts of mental illness and a battle against an eating disorder. Reportedly, the royal felt pushed out of her marriage by Camilla Parker-Bowles, with whom Charles had resumed a long-standing liaison.
Eventually, in 1992, the royal couple separated, and divorce followed in 1996. Worse still, the split had largely led to isolation for Diana, who’d apparently found confidantes hard to hang onto. A Daily Mail journalist claimed, for example, that she had had no more than five close friends at the time she died. Thankfully for Diana, though, her romantic life thrived even after the end of her marriage to Charles.
And it’s been said that the young and attractive princess had many suitors. While still married, she had reportedly enjoyed flings with men such as bodyguard Paul Manakee and dashing cavalryman James Hewitt. Apparently, she had also had to end a relationship with car dealer James Gilbey after tapes surfaced that revealed he called her “Squidgy.” As you can guess, the press had a field day with that particular story.
But it seemed that Diana had found happiness when she hooked up with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan. Their romance was conducted strictly in secret, as Diana sought a life away from the glare of publicity. In fact, the princess apparently told friends that she had never met anyone like Khan. Remarkably, she had first spotted the doctor when visiting London’s Royal Brompton Hospital with a friend.
Furthermore, according to Vanity Fair, Khan and Diana’s relationship even progressed to the point where marriage was on the cards. But while Diana allegedly tried to convince Khan to have a secret wedding, he is said to have dismissed the idea. Instead, he apparently suggested that the two relocate to Pakistan, where the press would not interfere in their affairs – and Diana supposedly gave the idea serious thought.
In addition, Diana reportedly confided in her friend – and now Pakistan prime minister – Imran Khan about her feelings for the surgeon. Ultimately, though, the romance began to falter. And despite that potential disappointment, Diana continued with her engagements, gracing the ballet and visiting Mother Teresa before appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair in July 1997.
That same month, Diana accepted an invitation to St. Tropez, France, to holiday with billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed. She also took her boys, Princes William and Harry, on the trip, with the royals all staying in the businessman’s villa. And perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s said to be there that Diana’s romance with Al-Fayed’s son Dodi began.
Yet even while she was on vacation, the princess had been harassed by photographers, who had captured snaps of her on a jet ski. At an unscheduled press briefing, then, Diana had told the assembled reporters that she would shock them with the next thing she did. Unfortunately, those words would turn out to be darkly prophetic.
Diana was actually already familiar with Dodi before the St. Tropez trip, as both had previously run with the same crowd. Dodi was Al-Fayed’s eldest son and somewhat inevitably had been raised in the lap of luxury as one of the billionaire’s offspring. Even so, he had managed to carve out his own career as a film producer – most notably earning credits on Chariots of Fire and Hook.
So, on her return to London, Diana ended her affair with Khan, as the surgeon would later tell police. He immediately suspected that she had someone new in her life, too – perhaps from the Al-Fayed family’s entourage. And as Khan didn’t think highly of the Egyptian billionaire, he let the princess know that he felt the relationship would bring her harm.
Nevertheless, Dodi was apparently smitten with Diana – even though he was already engaged. And seemingly to make his intentions clear, the business mogul’s son allegedly gave the royal a bunch of expensive presents, including a roomful of flowers, some tropical fruit and a Cartier watch. In any case, he would finally see his affections returned when he and the princess began a relationship.
Still, opinions vary about how strong Diana and Dodi’s romance had been in the late summer of 1997. According to Vanity Fair, for instance, Dodi had planned to give the princess a ring. Apparently, though, Diana told friend Rosa Monckton that she would be wearing the item of jewelry on her right hand. To add to that, Monckton thought that Diana only wanted to make Khan jealous. Dodi’s father, by contrast, believed that the ring was intended to mark the couple’s engagement.
Whatever the truth of the matter, though, Diana and Dodi obviously enjoyed each other’s company. And at the end of July, the pair decided to jet off together to Sardinia for a cruise – although yet again the paparazzi weren’t far behind. Then, in August 1997, while Diana attended an anti-landmine event in Bosnia, photos of the pair cuddling on Dodi’s yacht were published.
And towards the end of the month, the pair were in France once more – this time in Paris, where they took up residence at the Hôtel Ritz. According to a 2019 report by the Daily Mirror, Diana stayed in their suite while Dodi went off to a jeweler to acquire the ring that the princess was expecting. Then, during the evening of August 30, 1997, they planned to eat out at the fancy Benoit restaurant.
The pair changed their plans, however, after being followed by up to 30 photographers on the way to dinner. Returning to the Ritz, they therefore decided to eat at the fabled hotel’s L’Espadon restaurant instead. But on sitting down, Dodi had fears that some of the guests were also paparazzi, leaving him and Diana with no option but to head back to their room.
Then, once they’d finished dinner, the couple decided that they would spend the night at Dodi’s plush apartment by the Champs-Élysées. Even so, they faced a problem: they had already been followed from the moment that they had left the hotel earlier that night. Diana and Dodi were pretty sure, too, that photographers were still lying in wait for them. Ultimately, then, a somewhat elaborate scheme was cooked up.
In essence, it was planned that deputy head of hotel security, Henri Paul, would drive the couple – despite it being his night off. Paul would leave from the back of the hotel with Dodi, Diana and bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones all in tow, while two decoy vehicles would exit from the front. At this point, it was the early morning of August 31, 1997.
So, Paul shot off into the night, but as the photographers got wind of what was going on, they followed the Mercedes. An inquest later heard that paparazzi had tried to “block” Paul to slow him down – although ultimately to no avail. Instead, the limo continued on its journey, traveling at around 65 mph before tragedy befell its passengers.
Then, as the Mercedes blazed through the road tunnel under Pont d’Alma, Paul lost control of the car. And since no photographer was apparently close enough to have caused this, the inquest would put the lapse down to Paul – who had drunk enough alcohol to put him three times over the legal limit for driving.
With force, the car went on to plow into a pillar of the central reservation. And the crash was vicious and deadly, killing Paul straight away. Even despite the horrific wreckage, though, the paparazzi reportedly did little for the stricken passengers – instead choosing to photograph the smashed vehicle. Fortunately, someone did at least call the emergency services, and a team of firefighters subsequently rushed out from the nearby Malar station.
The rescuers were headed by Gourmelon – the duty officer for that night. And in 2017 he would tell The Sun exactly what he and his crew had found. Gourmelon explained, “The car was in a mess, and we just dealt with it like any road accident. We got straight to work to see who needed help and who was alive.”
Gourmelon continued, “For me, this was simply a banal traffic accident – one of many that emergency services have to deal with – and it was the usual causes: speed and a drunk driver.” And straight away, it was apparent that Paul was beyond help. Gourmelon added to The Sun, “When I got to the car, I could see the driver was already dead, and there was nothing that could be done for him.”
Sadly, things were not much better for Dodi in the back of the limo. He had suffered a heart attack while still inside, with a paramedic calling his time of death once he’d been lifted out. But although Rees-Jones was also badly injured, he would thankfully survive the accident.
And even in grave peril, the bodyguard’s main concern was apparently his princess. Yes, Rees-Jones is said to have repeatedly asked after Diana despite the fact that the firefighters needed him to stay composed. Finally, Gourmelon told him that none of the rescuers knew any English, and he should try to be still.
In the meantime, Gourmelon attended to Diana, whom he could identify only as a mystery “blonde woman.” Initially, in fact, he felt that she should be fine, given that she remained conscious with open eyes. Diana, who was lying on the floor in the back, was even able to make some movements – albeit small ones. Regardless of her state, however, it was time to get her out.
So, Gourmelon fed the princess oxygen and gripped her hand as he prepared to release her from the limo. And all the while, he had had no clue about who she was, as he would later explain to The Sun. Gourmelon revealed, “It was only when she had been put into the ambulance that one of the paramedics told me it was [Princess Diana].” Plus, in conversation with the newspaper, the firefighter also revealed what Diana had said to him at the time.
Yes, as Gourmelon tended to her, Diana apparently spoke a few words – perhaps the last sentence that the princess would ever say. Stunned in the chaos of the wrecked limo, she purportedly asked her rescuer, “My God, what’s happened?” And while Gourmelon did not say whether he had ever responded to her question, he did tell The Sun what happened next.
Gourmelon went on, “I gave [Diana] some oxygen, and my team and I stayed by her side as she was taken out of the car. It was very quick because we didn’t have to cut any of the wreckage.” Tragically, though, as the princess was laid on a stretcher, she suffered a heart attack.
So, Gourmelon immediately gave Diana aid, and this seemed at first to work. He told The Sun, “I massaged her heart, and a few seconds later she started breathing again. It was a relief, of course, because as a first responder you want to save lives – and that’s what I thought I had done.”
Indeed, Gourmelon had every reason to believe that the princess would pull through. He could not see any blood on her person, for one, while the only injury that he could spot – that one of her shoulders had been hurt – didn’t appear to be serious. To begin with, then, Gourmelon may have thought that he and his team had successfully kept Diana from further harm.
And as the firefighters shifted Diana into the ambulance, Gourmelon was optimistic about her chances, later telling The Sun, “To be honest, I thought she would live.” But it wouldn’t be long after the emergency vehicle had powered off towards Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital that the Frenchman received some shocking news.
Diana had arrived at the hospital not long after two in the morning and was subsequently rushed into surgery. But although medics had battled hard to keep her alive, their struggle ultimately ended in failure. The princess passed away, her injuries – including a burst blood vessel close to her heart – invisible but extensive. And the night hadn’t ended yet for Gourmelon.
You see, following the rescue attempt, the lead firefighter had phoned his wife to share what had gone on. He told The Sun, “[My wife] was asleep, and I told her about the accident and Princess Diana. I said that she had suffered a cardiac arrest, but I’d managed to revive her.” Tragically, though, at around 04:00 a.m., the princess was dead.
Gourmelon did not talk about that fateful August night for two decades – until he had left the fire service, in fact. And the memories were apparently still strong even years on. He said to The Sun, “I can still picture the whole scene. It’s something I’ll never forget and that I always think about at this time of year.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, this isn’t the only secret about Diana that has come out since her death. For instance, reports have arisen of an alleged moment just before her wedding to Charles. Diana is said to have uttered four words minutes before walking down the aisle. And they may just bring a tear to your eye.