Following the news of Prince Philip’s death on April 9, 2021, some were reminded of a time when the nation mourned the death of another royal.
Many fans all over the world can recall where they were and how they heard about Princess Diana‘s death in 1997. A number of people in the U.K. found out from television reports. Years later the journalist who broke the story spoke about how he “lost it” but had to pull it together when he reported that the Princess of Wales had died.
The car crash in Paris
On Aug. 30, 1997, Princess Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, dined at the Ritz in Paris around 10 p.m. The pair then left the hotel just after midnight in route to Fayed’s apartment.
They exited the rear of the hotel in an attempt to escape the paparazzi but to no avail and were chased by photographers as they drove off in a Mercedes limousine driven by Henri Paul, the head of hotel security. Paul was driving at a high rate of speed in an effort to lose the paps and ended up crashing into a pillar inside the Pont de l’Alma tunnel. Fayed and Paul were killed instantly but the princess was still alive and transported to the La Pitie Salpetriere Hospital.
BBC journalist Martyn Lewis remembered getting the news and having to go to the studio to report that Diana was injured. “I was shaken awake at 1 a.m. by my daughter saying that the newscaster’s PA was on the phone and that she wanted to speak to me urgently,” he recalled to the Radio Times. “She told me the Princess of Wales had been injured in a very bad accident in Paris and I had to go on air with two bulletins. A taxi was on its way so I threw on a suit and tie. I lived about eight minutes from Television Centre which is probably why I was asked to do it.”
Martyn Lewis says he almost broke down reporting the news
After he gave the initial bulletin on Diana’s injuries, Lewis went back home to get some sleep before preparing for the morning news program. Meanwhile at the hospital in France doctors worked to save the Princess of Wales’ life but she was pronounced dead hours later on Aug. 31, 1997.
When Diana died Lewis he got another call to go back into the studio.
“My head hit the pillow for 40 minutes before my daughter was shaking me awake again saying there was a phone call for me. I knew instantly what it had to be,” he stated.
Delivering the news to the nation was a tough task for Lewis especially since he had met and worked with the princess on a number of occasions.
He admitted that he “lost it” for a moment and had to keep from breaking down while reporting the tragic news.
“I lost it for about five seconds when I was repeating Tony Blair’s words from his interview about Diana when he described her as the ‘People’s Princess,'” Lewis confessed. “I recovered, however, because it was my job as a presenter to surround myself with a sort of emotional cocoon. If newscasters were to allow themselves to be influenced by the emotion inherent in many of the stories they’re reading, they wouldn’t be able to do their job.”
“I was on air for six hours virtually without a script,” he told the Belfast Telegraph. “For the rest of the time as this momentous story broke I was flying by the seat of my pants, with only the voice of a marvelously calm producer in my ear telling me who I was going to talk to next. There’d been none of the normal briefings before the bulletin and I should have been a nervous wreck, but it all happened so quickly.”
Princess Diana’s funeral took place on Sept. 6, 1997, at Westminster Abbey. She was laid to rest at the Althorp Estate in Northampton, which has been the Spencer family home for centuries.