Who Was Henri Paul? The Driver in the Deadly Crash That Killed Princess Diana

More than two decades ago, millions of people around the world were stunned when they learned that Princess Diana had died following a car crash in Paris. Her death brought about a number of questions and several conspiracy theories. Because of the chaos that occurred that night, there was an inquiry into the princess’s death and the driver of the limousine carrying Diana was found responsible for the crash.

Here’s more on who Henri Paul was, how he came to be the Princess of Wales‘ driver that evening, and who says he’s just a scapegoat.

Princess Diana
Princess Diana | Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

Moments leading up to the fatal car crash

A year after her high-profile divorce from Prince Charles, Princess Diana began dating Dodi Fayed the son of former Harrods owner Mohamed Al-Fayed. The two were in Paris together and had dined at the Imperial Suite inside the Ritz Hotel on Aug. 30, 1997. They left the Ritz just before midnight and were headed to Fayed’s apartment. They exited the rear of the hotel to escape the paparazzi. However, the photographers were waiting for them there and gave chase as soon as Diana and Fayed pulled away in a Mercedes S-280 limousine driven by Henri Paul.

In an effort to lose the paps following them, Paul was operating the vehicle at a high rate of speed. The car ended up crashing into a pillar inside the Pont de l’Alma tunnel, less than two miles from the hotel.

Paul and Fayed were killed instantly but Diana was still alive and suffering from multiple injuries. She was transported to the La Pitie Salpetriere Hospital where doctors worked to save her life but she was pronounced dead on Aug. 31, 1997. Bodyguard Trevor Rees (previously Rees-Jones) was traveling in the car with them and is the only person who survived the crash.

Henri Paul’s job and how he became Princess Diana’s driver

Photo of Henri Paul, who was the driver in the deadly Princess Diana crash
Photo of Henri Paul, who was the driver in the deadly Princess Diana car crash | COR/AFP via Getty Images

Over the years, many people have wondered just who Paul was and how he became Princess Diana’s driver on that fateful night.

The Sun noted that he was born on July 6, 1956, in Lorient, France. He joined the French Air Force in his 20s and reached the rank of captain. He later got into the field of security and began working for the Ritz Hotel in Paris where he was appointed assistant to the director of security. At the time of his death, he was acting head of security.

Paul had picked up Diana from the Le Bourget airport when she arrived in Paris. After his shift had ended, he agreed to return to the Ritz Hotel and drive the pair to Fayed’s apartment near the Arc de Triomphe. Those who saw him that day say he was “over-excited” to be the princess’s chauffeur. What Paul did in the three-hour time period between the end of his shift and when he went back to the hotel for the couple is not known and remains a mystery to this day.

An inquest found Paul responsible for the princess’s death, but his family doesn’t buy that

Princess Diana, bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, and driver Henri Paul
Princess Diana, bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, and driver Henri Paul photographed just before crash | Jacques Langevin/Sygma via Getty Images

‘Spencer’ vs. ‘The Crown’: First Looks of Elizabeth Debicki and Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana

An inquiry into the death of the People’s Princess found that Paul was intoxicated that evening and should not have gotten behind the wheel. At the 2008 inquest, the jury foreperson said:

The crash was caused or contributed to by the speed and manner of the driving of the Mercedes, the speed and manner of driving of the following vehicles, the impairment of the judgment of the driver of the Mercedes through alcohol, and there are nine of us who agree on those conclusions. In addition, the death of the deceased was caused or contributed to by the fact that the deceased [were] not wearing seatbelt(s), the fact that the Mercedes struck the pillar in the Alma Tunnel rather than colliding with something else, and we are unanimous on that.

A Scotland Yard’s investigation agreed and in its report stated: “The concentration of alcohol present in his blood at the time of his death would, unequivocally, have adversely affected his ability to safely control a motor vehicle.”

However, Paul’s family sees things differently. His father, Jean, previously spoke to The Mirror and claimed that Paul was “collateral damage” in a plot to stop Princess Diana from marrying a Muslim man.

“Diana was killed and my son was killed. I believe they were both murdered,” Jean told the publication. “My son was simply ­collateral damage of a plot to kill Diana and they killed him as well.”