The sixth and final season of The Crown opens with a tragic event that's all too familiar—Princess Diana's fatal 1997 car accident in Paris. The new season, which releases in two installments, debuted its first four episodes on Netflix on Nov. 16; the remaining six episodes will release on Dec. 14.
The first installment centers primarily on the final days of the Princess of Wales, reanimating scenarios that have become an indelible part of our cultural imagination, from a final holiday with her sons aboard Egyptian businessman Mohamed al-Fayed's yacht to a tenuous new romance with Mohamed's son, Dodi Fayed. However, one of the most striking moments comes in the third episode, which depicts the fateful last day that Diana and Dodi spent in Paris.
The episode begins with Diana and Dodi vacationing on a yacht off of Monte Carlo, making the decision to cut their trip short because of the relentless paparazzi. Ahead of their return to London, Dodi makes the decision for them to stop in Paris, where he plans to propose to Diana, encouraged heavily by his father. On the way to the city, they make a detour to Villa Windsor, the former residence of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor that Mohamed bought and renovated. This interferes with Diana's planned phone call with William and Harry, which would end up being her final conversation with her sons.
In Paris, the couple stays at the Ritz, also owned by Mohamed, where they are subject to even more frenzied attention. The mounting pressure wrought by this scrutiny leads to tension between the two of them—and it's especially hard for Diana, who is anxious to return to her sons and escape the glare of the spotlight. The attention is so great that Diana and Dodi have dinner in their hotel suite before leaving out the back entrance of the hotel, with their original car in the front as a decoy, in an attempt to lose the paparazzi. They then take a different route than planned, which leads them to the Pont de l’Alma traffic tunnel and their tragic end.
The episode takes ample liberties in imagining what Diana and Dodi may have shared on their final night together, including Dodi's attempted proposal to Diana and her gentle rejection of it. The fictitious conversation that ensues gives both characters a chance to reflect on their lives up to that point and to consider what they both want for the future—a moment that's both tender and heartbreaking, given what we know about what happens next.
While there's no way of confirming what really happened between Dodi and Diana, here's what we know about their final night.
Did Dodi propose to Diana in real life?
In The Crown, Dodi attempts to propose to Diana before she stops him, pointing out that neither of them was ready for marriage—she had been divorced for just a year, while Dodi had been engaged to someone else just weeks earlier. The show also suggests that Dodi proposed to Diana under heavy pressure from his father, who the series depicts as having orchestrated the whole of their relationship.
In real life, there are conflicting reports about what the status of Dodi and Diana's relationship was at the time of their deaths. Dodi had been in a relationship with model Kelly Fisher from 1996 until 1997 with a reported wedding planned for August 1997. According to Fisher's lawyer, Gloria Allred, Fisher didn't know that Diana and Dodi were romantically involved until she saw photos of the pair kissing on vacation; following the publication of the photos, she sued Dodi for breach of contract, dropping the lawsuit after Dodi and Diana's death just days later.
The Repossi "Dis-moi Oui" ("Tell me Yes") ring that appears in The Crown was purchased by Dodi in real life, and it was widely believed to be an engagement ring for the couple since the ring came from a line of engagement jewelry. In a 1997 Washington Post interview with the jeweler Alberto Repossi, he claimed that Diana and Dodi picked out the ring, which cost more than $200,000, during a trip to his Monaco store just 10 days before their deaths, with Dodi picking up the ring in the Paris store. However, according to a report by the AP, during an inquest into Diana's death that took place between 2004 and 2008, a former executive of the Ritz Paris, Claude Roulet, said that the story was fabricated by Repossi. Another ring, a gold Bulgari one that Diana was wearing on her right hand at the time of her death and was given to her by Dodi, was merely a "friendship ring," according to her former butler Paul Burrell.
"Her precise words to me were: 'I want another marriage like I want a bad rash,'" Burrell wrote in his 2006 book, The Way We Were: Remembering Diana. "He [Dodi's father] must accept the Princess and Dodi had no more than a summer fling. The world must stop believing Diana and Dodi were due to get married, because that simply isn't true."
Mohamed strongly maintained that his son and Diana were engaged at the time of their deaths. In a 1997 interview with the BBC, Mohamed's press spokesman Michael Cole said that Dodi and Diana "were engaged" and that the ring he had given her hours earlier gave him "the strongest indication that he was going to marry Diana."
Mohamed also alleged that the princess was pregnant with Dodi's child, a claim that he used to promote a conspiracy theory that the couple was the target of a racist and Islamophobic murder plot to prevent Diana from marrying and having a child with someone who was Muslim. According to a New York Times report on the inquest, Mohamed alleged that their deaths were a result of a conspiracy led by Prince Philip, with the participation of Charles, executed by British and French secret intelligence services, with the help of the CIA. The conspiracy theory has been attributed to Mohamed's grief as well as his resentment at his applications for British citizenship being denied. In 2022, Diana's younger brother, Earl Charles Spencer, dismissed the conspiracy theory in an interview with NBC's Today show.
"With the conspiracy part of it, my family and I are absolutely certain that we have never seen any evidence of that whatsoever," he said. "I do think it is just a bizarre coincidence than tied in with reality."
The pregnancy claim was disputed both by John Burton, a coroner who examined Diana's body at the mortuary, and pathologist Robert Chapman, who did Diana's post-mortem examination. The claim was further refuted by forensic scientist Angela Gallop in her 2019 book, When Dogs Don't Bark: A Forensic Scientist's Search for the Truth. She wrote that Diana's blood samples from the car tested negative for the pregnancy hormone, hCG.
Diana's last conversation with her sons
In this episode of The Crown, it's clear that Diana's top priority is returning to her sons, who are with Charles and the rest of the royal family at Balmoral. In addition to cutting her holiday short in Italy to return to them sooner, she grows increasingly anxious and agitated when Dodi makes a detour on their way to Paris to visit Villa Windsor at Mohamed's insistence, because it will make her late for her scheduled phone call with them. The detour, combined with the increasingly menacing paparazzi, makes her miss the call. While waiting for their call at dinnertime, she secures Harry's birthday present, an Xbox. When she finally has her call with her sons, they share a sweet conversation about their days, a discussion that affirms she won't be marrying Dodi, and a final loving goodbye.
In reality, Diana did speak with her sons just hours before her fateful car accident, a conversation that both remember vividly. Both William and Harry have expressed regret over taking their last time talking with her for granted.
“Harry and I were in a desperate rush to say goodbye, you know, ‘See you later,’" Prince William, who was 15 when his mother died, recounted in the 2017 documentary, Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, noting that they were eager to hang out with their cousins.
“If I’d known now what was going to happen, I wouldn’t have been so blasé about it,” Prince William said in the documentary. “But that phone call sticks in my mind quite heavily.”
For Prince Harry, who was 12, the regret over their last phone call also looms large.
“Looking back on it now, it’s incredibly hard. I’ll have to sort of deal with that for the rest of my life,” he said in the documentary. “How differently that conversation could have panned out if I’d had even the slightest inkling her life was going to be taken that night.”
In his memoir, Spare, Harry confirmed that he received his 13th birthday present, a long-desired X-box, in the weeks following his mother's death, a story that he only knew because it was told to him.
"It was an Xbox," he wrote in Spare. "I was pleased. I loved video games. That’s the story anyway. It’s appeared in many accounts of my life, as gospel, and I have no idea if it’s true."
Internet sleuths were quick to point out that the gift was probably another video game console as the Xbox did not come out until 2001, four years after Diana's death. But Harry also noted in his memoir that the trauma of losing his mother affected his memories and his ability to remember what happened in his life during that period.
"Pa said Mummy hurt her head, but perhaps I was the one with brain damage?" he wrote. "As a defense mechanism, most likely, my memory was no longer recording things quite as it once did."
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