Memories of Princess Diana for the 20th anniversary of her death – 31 August 2017


20 July 2017
nick-parfjonov-86100.jpg Princess Diana 20th anniversary
This summer marks the twentieth anniversary of the tragic death of Princess Diana in a car crash in Paris. Members of the Family Tree team reflect on the anniversary, and the importance of recording memories for our descendants.

This summer marks the twentieth anniversary of the tragic death of Princess Diana in a car crash in Paris. Members of the Family Tree team reflect on the anniversary, and the importance of recording memories for our descendants.

Many of us can recall exactly where we were at a specific moment time – when we found the news of a major event, such as the assassination of JFK, or the Moon Landing. The same applies to the death of Princess Diana, as the nation remember the princess and her legacy ahead of the twentieth anniversary of her death, on 31 August 2017.

In this special report, three members of the Family Tree team share their thoughts on the day that Diana died.

FT editor Helen Tovey remembers hearing the sad news very shortly after it occurred: ‘I just remember exactly where I was when I heard. I woke at dawn as I was pregnant with my daughter Milly (and I was hot and uncomfy) and turned on the radio as I couldn’t sleep. And it was just terrible and unbelievable hearing the news.

‘And I remember that all that summer the national press were horrible about her, and then she died, and they put her on a pedestal and starting being horrible to the queen. I was just a big Lady Di fan (even though – or perhaps because – I’m not a big monarchist) so just felt so sad.’

Family Tree’s assistant editor Karen Clare found that the news of the tragedy had a big impact on her day at work, where she was a reporter on a local newspaper: ‘I was in the back of a taxi coming home from a nightclub when I heard about the crash on the radio. The report suggested Princess Diana had survived, but was injured while her chauffeur-driven car was being chased through a Paris tunnel by the paparazzi. I was a reporter at the time on the Peterborough Evening Telegraph and had to be in work a few hours later for a lone, normally quiet, Sunday shift. But this wasn't to be a normal day. 

‘I woke to funeral music on my radio alarm and dashed into the newspaper office while the news was sinking in, in households across the world. Within minutes I answered my first call; it was a member of the public screaming at me, calling me a murderer, before slamming the phone down. I was shaken, but we were the local press, far removed from the world of the paparazzi, and we had a job to do for our community.

‘The editor and the rest of the newsroom team soon came in and we spent the day producing a special tribute supplement to Diana, watching the news on the TV as it unfolded. I went outside to 'vox pop' local people in the street and, by chance, interviewed the then Bishop of Peterborough, who was off to the train station for an emergency meeting in London. After that we were 'bashing the phones', calling all the local community representatives and big-wigs for their reactions to the shocking news. I got home late, then was back to work at 7am to do it all over again.

‘Diana had gone to a small private school in my home town of King's Lynn in Norfolk, just a couple of miles from the Queen's estate at Sandringham, where she was born. ​The following weekend I went with my mum to see the multitude of flowers outside her childhood home, Park House. I'd been on autopilot all week at work but reading some of the hundreds of personal messages, and seeing crowds of mourners, brought it home to me. I think that was the first time I shed a tear.’

FT’s digital editor Rachel Bellerby remembers how Princess Diana had been part of her childhood memories: ‘I actually found about that Princess Diana had died an incredible seven hours after the tragedy – which seems incredible given how fast news travels nowadays.

‘I’d wandered into the supermarket in search of something to cook for lunch and was told the news by a workmate. Even after I heard the words that Diana was dead, I refused to believe it. ‘Go and look at the newspapers if you don’t believe me!’ I was told and sure enough, there it was in black and white.

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‘I remember that day with so much sadness as ‘Lady Di’ as she was back in 1981, had been part of my childhood. I’d cut out her picture from magazines, made a scrapbook of her engagement and wedding day, and as a young teenager, admired the many different outfits she wore.

‘Now, I’m so glad that I kept those scrapbooks, books and magazines – they’re a reminder of a moment in history and hopefully one day I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren where I was on the day that Diana died, and share memories of how much she meant to so many people.’

For more on recording family memories for posterity, read our special guide.






(Image copyright Nick Parvjonov)