Since its premiere in 2016, Netflix’s “The Crown” has followed the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, blending fact and fiction as each season inches closer to the present day. Last year, after complaints about the show’s historical inaccuracies, Netflix added a disclaimer that “The Crown” is a “fictional dramatization.”
The show’s sixth and final season, the first four episodes of which arrived on Thursday, opens in 1997, eight weeks before the death of Diana, Princess of Wales (Elizabeth Debicki), in a car crash in Paris, along with her boyfriend, the Egyptian film producer Emad Mohamed al-Fayed, known as Dodi (Khalid Abdalla). (The driver, Henri Paul, was also killed.)
The accident, as the couple was pursued by paparazzi, shocked the world, and 30 million people in the United States alone watched the funeral of “the people’s princess” on television.
But the public wasn’t privy to the private conversations between Diana and the people close to her in the weeks leading up to her death, which “The Crown” imagines. In the first four episodes — the final six will land on Dec. 14 — Diana is navigating co-parenting with her ex-husband, Charles, uncertain about her future and her relationship with Dodi as the press follows the couple’s every move.
So how accurate is the show’s depiction of the period leading up to the accident, and the subsequent fallout?
Here is a look at how The Times and other news outlets reported on this period at the time. You can find more in the TimesMachine archive browser. (Warning: This feature contains spoilers for Season 6 of “The Crown.”)
Episode 1, ‘Persona Non Grata’
Diana’s budding relationship with Dodi Fayed and her desire to make real change in the world through charitable work is a particular focus in Episode 1.
As Diana moves away from her unsuccessful relationship with Prince Charles (Dominic West), he is focused on his partner, Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams), being accepted by the royal family and the British public. While Charles throws a 50th birthday party for Camilla, Diana takes Prince William (Rufus Kampa) and Prince Harry (Fflyn Edwards) on a holiday to Saint-Tropez, where they vacation on a yacht owned by the Egyptian businessman and father of Dodi, Mohamed al-Fayed (Salim Daw).
On July 15, 1997, The Times reported on coverage in the British news media that Camilla and Charles wanted to marry. “For the last several weeks, newspapers, even respectable, conservative-leaning ones like The Daily Telegraph, have been quoting unnamed ‘friends’ as saying that the couple would very much like to marry and hope that the stern British public will eventually sympathize,” Sarah Lyall reported.
In that same paper, as part of a regular column that often provided short snippets of celebrity news, Elaine Louie wrote that, despite being notified of Diana taking the children to France, “it is not clear whether the queen knew that Diana’s host would be Mohamed al-Fayed, the Egyptian billionaire who was a figure in recent political scandals.”
Episode 2, ‘Two Photographs’
This episode follows two photographers taking very different images of “The Crown” characters.
On the show, al-Fayed asks his staff to find “the best photographer on the Mediterranean” to take paparazzi shots of Dodi and Diana. Mario Brenna (Enzo Cilenti), a photographer known for his celebrity portraits, captures the couple kissing on a yacht in Italy. These photographs were bought and published by The Sunday Mirror, with The Daily Mail and several international publications also paying hefty sums to reproduce them.
“London newspapers have been filled with articles about the Princess of Wales on a six-day Mediterranean cruise off the coast of Italy with Dodi Fayed,” The Times’s Chronicle column noted on Aug. 8, 1997. “In a change of pace, the princess is scheduled to fly to Bosnia today to call attention to the damage caused by land mines and to meet with land mine victims.”
The Los Angeles Times reported in September 1997 that Brenna was said to have earned $5 million for selling the first paparazzi images of the couple worldwide.
“Money like that creates an international tabloid feeding frenzy,” Steve Coz, the then-editor of the National Enquirer, told the newspaper. “Anything can happen when the stalker paparazzi think a photograph can win them the lottery.”
In 2008, The Guardian reported that al-Fayed took a British celebrity photographer, Jason Fraser, to court for taking photos of the couple on a yacht in Italy days before they died. The Guardian’s report stated that Fraser had been ordered by a French court to pay al-Fayed £3,900, equivalent to $5,000, in damages, after it ruled the images breached the couple’s privacy.
In “The Crown,” to counteract the glamorous images of Diana and the hubbub surrounding her new relationship, Prince Charles’s publicist suggests a wholesome shoot featuring Charles, Harry and William. A Scottish photographer enamored with the royal family, the fictional Duncan Muir (Forbes Masson), is trusted with the task.
In reality, the photographs of the royal men posing on the river bank near Balmoral Castle, in Scotland, a residence of the British royal family, have been attributed to many royal photographers since they were published, including Arthur Edwards, Tim Graham and Kent Gavin.
Episode 3, ‘Dis-Moi Oui’
In this episode, the rising intensity of the paparazzi attention while Dodi and Diana are on a holiday in the South of France has the pair agreeing to return home to London. But Dodi convinces Diana to stop briefly in Paris with him, where he plans to propose with a ring she had shown interest in during their trip.
To Dodi’s surprise, Diana rejects the proposal in their suite at the Ritz, explaining that, while she knows the world is wondering if they will wed, “that’s not a reason to actually do it,” adding: “I’m nowhere near ready for another marriage, and you’ve barely untangled yourself from the last person you proposed to.” The pair agree to leave through the back of the hotel to stay the night in Dodi’s apartment.
According to The Guardian in 2007, grainy CCTV footage from the day of the accident showed Dodi at the Repossi jewelry store in Paris, near the Ritz, inspecting rings. Later, a Ritz staff member took an item in a bag from the shop to the couple’s suite at the hotel. After the couple’s death, a ring bearing the inscription “Dis-moi Oui” (“Tell Me Yes”) was recovered from that suite, The Guardian reported.
On Sept. 1, 1997, the day after the fatal crash, The Times also noted that a person close to Dodi believed the film producer wished to propose. Hassan Yassin, a Saudi businessman and a cousin to Dodi’s late mother, is quoted as saying, “He told me last night he was going to marry her.”
Episode 4, ‘Aftermath’
The final episode of Part 1 breaks down the days following the car crash, as Diana and Dodi’s families are informed of the incident. While Dodi died instantly, Diana is taken to a hospital for surgery before dying soon after. Al-Fayed hopes the tragedy will bring him closer to the royal family, but he soon learns that the queen still has no interest in being in contact with him.
On the day of Diana’s death, The Times reported that she had been “killed shortly after midnight today in an automobile accident in a tunnel by the Seine.” The article noted that a spokesman for the Prefecture of Police in France said: “The car was being chased by photographers on motorcycles, which could have caused the accident.” Several motorcyclists were detained for questioning after the crash.
“Diana lived in a remote universe of glamour and fashion, but her death is a shock because she made a genuine emotional connection with those outside her world,” a Times editorial, published Sept. 1, said. “She did so by dint of her mesmerizing beauty and her intense personal struggles.”
In “The Crown,” the royal family discusses the intricacies of how they should handle the funeral of a former princess, with Prince Philip telling the queen they should not follow the special measures provided for the death of a royal family member. “Diana was no longer royal,” he said. “We must be seen to be doing this by the book.”
In reality, in the days following Diana’s death, Britain’s tabloid newspapers published front pages demanding the queen do the opposite, and break with protocol: On Sept. 4, the headlines read: “Show Us You Care” (The Express); “Your People Are Suffering, Speak To Us Ma’am” (The Mirror); and “Where Is Our Queen? Where Is Her Flag?” (The Sun), referring to the tradition of flying a flag at half-mast to honor a high-profile death.
Peter Morgan, the creator of “The Crown,” also explored this public anger with the royal family in the wake of Diana’s death in his 2006 film “The Queen,” in which Helen Mirren played a Queen Elizabeth II out of step with the intensity of her nation’s grief.
Diana’s funeral took place on Sept. 6, and the BBC reported that more than a million members of the public lined the funeral procession’s route through central London to pay their respects to Diana.
“Britain discovered feelings this week it never knew it had,” The Times wrote in a front-page story the day after the funeral, adding that the intensity of the British public’s grief felt more like “the American belief in the value of letting it all hang out at moments of personal and national stress.”
In the show, we see the day mostly from William and Harry’s perspectives as they march behind their mother’s coffin, passing by crowds of wailing members of the public. “Why are they crying for someone they never knew?” William asks Philip. He replies, “They’re not crying for her. They’re crying for you.”
The Times’s report on Diana’s funeral noted that “Dr. Carey, the Archbishop, asked that the congregation pray for Emad Mohamed al-Fayed, Diana’s companion, known as Dodi, and for Henri Paul, who were also killed in the crash last Sunday. Mr. Fayed’s father, Mohamed, was in the audience.”