DOMINIC LAWSON: How I wish Diana had taken our advice

A theme has emerged from various interviews that Prince William has given to mark the 20th anniversary of his mother’s death.

He feels strongly that Diana did not get the support and advice she needed in the last few years of her life.

And in one such interview he added: ‘I feel very sad and I still feel very angry that we were not old enough to be able to do more to protect her, not wise enough to step in and do something that could have made things better for her.’

It is both sad and predictable that William feels that in some way he let her down: children often feel responsibility for disasters that befall a parent, even when objectively they have no reason for any self-reproach, let alone feelings of guilt.

Close: Diana at the christening of Rosa and Dominic’s daughter Domenica in 1995 with their other daughter, Savannah

It might reassure Diana’s elder son to know that, even if he had been able to offer her wise advice during the last few years of her life, it would probably not have altered anything. That was my experience.

My wife, Rosa Monckton, had become a very close friend of the Princess, and in 1995 Diana offered to be godmother to our daughter Domenica — who was born with Down’s Syndrome on June 1 that year.

It was after Domenica’s second birthday party in 1997, when all the other guests had left, that Diana sought our advice and guidance on an invitation she had received.

She told us that she had been asked by Mohamed Al Fayed to spend a few days with him and his family in the South of France, on his newly-acquired yacht, Jonikal.

Diana told us that she was tempted — in part because she hoped Al Fayed’s big security operation would protect her and ‘the boys’ from the Press — but wanted to know if we thought it would be a good idea.

I urged her not to accept the invitation, pointing out the almost toxically controversial nature of the Egyptian (then owner of Harrods) and the fact that having been condemned eight years earlier in a 752-page Department of Trade report as a serial liar and fantasist, he was not a suitable holiday host either for her or her sons.

What I did not know then was that Al Fayed — a man long obsessed with gaining connections to the British Royal Family — had already conceived this holiday as an opportunity to introduce Diana to his son Dodi, and actually to make them into a couple, with marriage the intended apotheosis of his stunningly audacious scheme.

Anyway, after I had given her the advice (which I think included the words ‘Mohamed Fayed is nothing but trouble’) Diana stared at me with those unnervingly beautiful eyes and said: ‘Thank you so much, I’m very glad I asked you.’

The rest, of course, is history. Diana ignored our advice (Rosa had strongly backed me up) and six weeks later she was aboard Jonikal with Mohamed Al Fayed.

The trap was set, the bird was in the cage: he ordered Dodi (who was completely intimidated by him) to abandon his then girlfriend, Kelly Fisher, and join Diana on the yacht.

Diana had shortly beforehand broken off her relationship with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan, after he rejected her wish that he live with her in Kensington Palace (the resultant media attention would have made it impossible for him to continue his work).

I know Dodi’s going to give me a ring but it’s going firmly on my right hand 

My wife’s view — and that of other close friends — was that Diana’s affair with Dodi was chiefly designed to ‘show’ Hasnat, and perhaps to win him back.

She had laughingly told Rosa, when they went on a week’s holiday, just the two of them, less than a fortnight before her death: ‘I know Dodi is going to give me a ring, but that is going to go firmly on a finger on my right hand.’

Obviously, none of us could have had the slightest premonition of the horrible way that summer fling ended: violent death in the Pont de l’Alma Tunnel, in flight from the French paparazzi.

In last night’s BBC1 documentary Diana, 7 Days, Prince Harry said: ‘One of the hardest things to come to terms with is that those people that caused the accident, instead of helping, were taking pictures of her dying on the back seat.’

But while the behaviour of the paparazzi in taking those last pictures was appalling, those men were not the cause of his mother’s death.

The French judges Herve Stephan and Marie-Christine Devidal, after prolonged investigation, produced a 6,800-page report concluding that the cause of the fatal accident was that the driver, Henri Paul ‘had been inebriated and under the influence of drugs not compatible with alcohol, a state that did not allow him to maintain control of his vehicle which was travelling at a high speed on a tricky section of the road’.

That was an understatement: the Mercedes sped at up to 97mph (three times the local limit) into an 1850s tunnel already notorious for its fatalities.

Paul swerved, having brushed against the rear of a white Fiat Uno and lost control. He never braked.

Henri Paul was no chauffeur, but the deputy head of security at the Al Fayed-owned Paris Ritz hotel, where Diana and Dodi were staying.

He had been off-duty and, as colleagues later confirmed, ‘everyone knew that, when he wasn’t at work, he tippled’.

But apparently not Dodi, whose crazy idea — which he told the astounded bodyguards had been backed by his father — was to throw the paparazzi off the scent, by leaving not with one of the trained and accredited chauffeurs, but in a second-hand Mercedes S280 driven by the off-duty Henri Paul.

Ambition: Mohamed Al Fayed, pictured at a charity dinner with Princess Diana in 1996, was determined that his son Dodi should marry her

Ambition: Mohamed Al Fayed, pictured at a charity dinner with Princess Diana in 1996, was determined that his son Dodi should marry her

Most crazily of all, the inebriated Ritz deputy security chief wanted a race: just before whizzing off, he taunted the photographers: ‘Don’t try to follow us, you will never catch us.’

Unsurprisingly, the devastatingly bereaved Mohamed Al Fayed could not come to terms with the fact that his son was responsible for the fatal plan, and that his own employee, Henri Paul, had been shown to have consumed two large measures of Ricard (equivalent to four whiskies).

Over the years that followed Al Fayed built up a body of lies masquerading as a conspiracy theory: that Diana told him she had accepted Dodi’s offer of marriage, that she was pregnant with Dodi’s child, and that in full knowledge of this, the Duke of Edinburgh had commissioned MI6 to murder them (disguised as a car crash).

I attended the inquest, as my wife Rosa was one of the witnesses. And I still recall Al Fayed’s discomfiture when asked by Richard Horwell QC about the Fiat Uno’s role in this alleged assassination:

‘It is an extremely light car, one of the most underpowered cars available in the world. Can you help us as to why, with the might of the Royal Family, MI6 and so on and so on, they chose such a car? Can you assist us?’

Intelligible answer came there none.

Partly in order to prove how malevolently absurd were Al Fayed’s claims about the murderous intent of the Queen’s consort, my wife gave the inquest copies she had of some of the letters exchanged by the Duke of Edinburgh and Diana, written in 1992 as her marriage to the Prince of Wales came under terminal pressure.

My wife wanted the inquest to know how much Philip cared about Diana 

Rosa wanted to show the inquest how much the Duke clearly cared about Diana: his letters were deeply humane and constructive, always ending ‘with much love, Pa’.

Yet when each of Philip’s letters reached her, Diana would ring Rosa in tears, saying how unfair he had been and how unsympathetic to her.

Rosa would then ask to see it, and would talk Diana through it line by line, explaining how clearly well-intentioned the latest letter was. Diana would then calm down and ask us to help her reply.

I must here confess that I did the drafting of these replies (‘You’re the writer,’ Rosa would order me). My drafts would go to Rosa’s office at Tiffany’s (she was then the managing director), to be typed up by her secretary.

They would then be couriered to Kensington Palace, where Diana would write them out in her own hand, presumably altering my drafts in whatever way she wished. But the Duke’s replies suggested that Diana had not changed much of what I had drafted.

This, I suppose, was one example where she did take advice: and I think that by keeping a thoughtful line of communication open with Prince Philip, she did begin to calm down a little in that most difficult year and become a little less fraught.

Still, when I look at those letters now, I am reminded of how she hid from us (and indeed everyone) her involvement in the explosive Andrew Morton book which had described in intimate detail both her own misery and her husband’s behaviour — the latter in most unflattering terms.

Whenever the Duke referred to the concern at Buckingham Palace at some of the contents of the Morton book, Diana would ask us to make clear in ‘her’ response that she hadn’t even read it, still less assisted its author.

So, little knowing the truth, we did.

But, for all that, she was a wonderful friend to Rosa, and was more than capable of expressing this in her own words and in her own way.

One such letter I have in front of me as I write this: ‘The words “thank you” are totally inadequate to tell you just how much your advice and friendship have meant, Rosa. One day I pray that I will be given an opportunity to show how dear you are to me . . .’