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In almost every instance that involves a royal or anyone closely associated with the family, Queen Elizabeth II is the first person notified. Whether it’s about the birth of a child or a controversy that could cause a public relations nightmare Her Majesty is usually told about it before anyone else. However, the queen was not the first to know the night Princess Diana was in that terrible car crash in Paris.

Here’s more on who was told about the accident before the queen and why the royal family was heavily criticized after the Princess of Wales passed away.

Princess Diana
Princess Diana | Pierre Verdy/ AFP/ Getty Images

What happened the night of the crash

Around midnight on Aug. 31, 1997, Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, left the Ritz in Paris after dinner and headed to his apartment. They exited the rear of the hotel to escape the paparazzi and got into a Mercedes S-280 limousine. Some reports have said the vehicle they were originally supposed to travel in would not start, while others claim that they changed cars at the last minute to throw off the paps.

They ended up leaving in the Mercedes driven by Henri Paul, who was traveling at a high rate of speed. The vehicle eventually crashed into a pillar in a tunnel under the Alma bridge. They were less than two miles from the hotel.

Paul and Fayed were killed instantly but Diana was still alive and suffering from multiple injuries including a severed pulmonary vein. She was transported to the La Pitie Salpetriere Hospital.

Who was the first person told about the accident?

Reader’s Digest noted that one of the very first people to learn that the princess was involved in an accident was Britain’s ambassador to France, Michael Jay. He was awoken at 1:45 in the morning and alerted about the terrible crash. Upon hearing the news, he and his wife rushed to the hospital. At the time, he was unaware of how bad Diana’s injuries were.

Right after Jay was notified he phoned Queen Elizabeth’s private secretary, Robin Janvrin, to let her know what had happened.

Prince Charles and Lady Sarah Spencer
Prince Charles and Diana’s sister, Lady Sarah Spencer | Martin Hayhow/Getty Images

At 4 a.m., the princess was pronounced dead.

The royals were criticized after Diana’s death

After Diana passed away, the public was expecting a statement from Buckingham Palace or the queen herself but instead, there was silence. In fact, the royals weren’t even in London they were in Scotland at the Balmoral Castle and their silence was deafening.

While members of the British public were furious that they weren’t in England where the princess’ body had been brought back to, the family remained in the Highlands with Diana’s two sons in an effort to allow the boys to grieve privately. But the business-as-usual approach including the news that William and Harry attended mass with their grandmother the morning after Diana died was viewed as cold and rubbed many people the wrong way.

Outside Buckingham Palace, a Londoner reads headlines criticizing the Queen's silence since Princess Diana's death
In front of Buckingham Palace, a Londoner reads the headlines of a national newspaper criticizing the British Queen’s silence Princess Diana’s death. | Dave Gaywood/ AFP/ Getty Images

Prince William offered this explanation about his grandmom’s behavior after the tragedy, “She felt very torn between being the grandmother and her queen role. And I think she–everyone–was surprised and taken aback by the scale of what happened and the nature of how quickly it all happened.”

The family finally returned to London on Sept. 5, and the queen spoke to the nation in a live broadcast in which she paid tribute to her former daughter-in-law.

Read more: Why Prince Charles Blames Prince Philip For His Unhappy Marriage to Princess Diana

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