Princess Diana of Wales spent her life working for charity and the people of Britain. At the young age of 36, she died in a car accident in August 1997. Not much was known about her final moments after the crash. That is, until a fireman revealed his story in 2017.
In an interview with The Sun, Paris fireman Xavier Gourmelon admitted that he was the first to attend to Princess Diana. To learn her final words, and the circumstances which lead to the tragedy, keep reading.
A Crash Unlike Any Other
On the morning of August 31st, 1997, fireman Xavier Gourmelon attended the scene of a car crash. To him, it was a tragedy he had seen many times before: a fatal wreck caused by a drunk driver. As his team attended the two gentlemen in the car, Gourmelon helped a blonde woman.
When Gourmelon noticed that the woman was alive, she muttered something to him. At the time, he had no idea that this woman was Princess Diana, and that he had heard her final words.
Set Up For Disaster
1997 was a challenging year for Princess Diana. Since she had divorced Prince Charles five years before, and the paparazzi had relentlessly stalked her later relationships. They even released tapes of her previous lover, a car salesman named James Gilbey, calling her “Squidgy.” They wouldn’t let that go for a while.
Struggling to keep her romances a secret, Diana got together with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan. But in 1997, that relationship began to fail. She never seemed to catch a break.
A New (Potentially Scandalous) Relationship
In July 1997, Princess Diana took her sons to St. Tropez, France, on vacation. There, she met Dodi Fayed, the owner of Harrod’s Department Store and Paris’s Hotel Ritz. She had no idea that they would eventually meet a tragic fate together.
As the son of Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed, Dodi was accustomed to a luxurious life. He even produced two films, Hook and Chariots of Fire. Diana was so smitten with him that when she returned, she broke up with Khan.
More Attention Than She Wanted
After the breakup, the paparazzi suspected that something was up. They pored over Diana’s life more than ever to reveal news of her and Dodi. Eventually, news got out that Dodi had given Diana expensive gifts, although he was already engaged to someone else.
Tabloids exploded with headlines featuring Diana and Dodi. Were they engaged as Vanity Fair claimed? Or did she want to make Khan jealous? It’s no wonder that the couple took several trips to avoid the paparazzi.
She Could Never Escape The Paparazzi
In August of 1997, Diana and Dodi visited Paris once again. They stayed at Dodi’s own Hotel Ritz, but reporters still followed them everywhere. On August 30th, the couple went to dinner at the lavish Benoit restaurant.
As expected, the pair received much attention on their night out. Reporters estimated that 30 photographers followed them on their date. As a result, Diana and Dodi changed plans to eat at L’Espadon instead. It was one of many changes they would make that night.
It Wasn’t Just Any Night For The Couple
It’s no surprise that the couple wanted to be alone. According to reports, Dodi had planned to ask for Diana’s hand in marriage that night. Around 6:00 pm that night, Dodi asked Repossi jewelers to deliver two rings to his suite.
Trying to avoid detection, the couple left through the rear exit of their hotel and the Benoit. But neither tricks worked. By the time they ordered omelets at L’Espadon, Dodi had grown nervous and suspicious.
So Suspicious That They Couldn’t Eat
Although Dodi and Diana ordered their meals, they didn’t stay long. According to Christopher Andersen’s book, The Day Diana Died, Dodi had grown suspicious of other patrons in the restaurant. He believed that they may have been photographers posing as clients.
With no other options, the couple requested that their food be delivered to their hotel room. They returned to the Ritz and didn’t leave until after midnight, never expecting what was to come on August 31st.
Joining An Inebriated Driver
After midnight on August 31st, the couple decided to head to Dodi’s apartment by the Champs-Élysées. They left through the rear entrance with Diana’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones. Entering a black Mercedes S280, they joined Ritz security employee and driver Henri Paul.
Although nobody knew it at the time, Paul had consumed at least two drinks beforehand. He was three times the legal driving level of inebriation for France. A September analysis also revealed that he was on medication that inebriated him further.
Dangerous Red Flags
By the time the passengers got in the car at 12:20 a.m., Paul was already unstable. According to a BBC report, Paul was taunting the paparazzi who surrounded the car. Stephane Darmon, a motorcyclist for a photographer, described him as “playing a game” with the paparazzi.
Paul joyfully shouted things like, “Lady Di is going to be there in a quarter of an hour.” After he got into the car, he rapidly sped off. “It took off just like a plane,” Darmon said.
Why Paul Drove So Fast
Despite it being Paul’s night off, he drove Diana and Dodi to the Champs-Élysées. Two decoy vehicles left before and after the black Mercedes. But because Paul shot off to the right, photographers caught wind of what was happening.
At this point, Paul was driving around 65 mph. Later inquiries suggested that the paparazzi tried to cut him off to no avail. As the Mercedes approached the tunnel under Pont d’Alma, the paparazzi became the least of their problems.
And Then, The Crash
Three minutes after the car left, Paul lost control of the car. Before they crashed, he asked Rees-Jones to buckle his seatbelt, which was against the protocol for bodyguards. They collided with a concrete pole under Pont de l’Alma.
Paul died immediately after the crash. Photographers captured the totaled car while bystanders contacted emergency relief. It was then that firefighter Xavier Gourmelon received the call. Of course, he didn’t speak publicly about it until decades later.
A Firsthand Account Of That Night, Revealed
Dodi died at the scene, and Diana passed away after she arrived at the hospital. For over 20 years, the public knew very little about the accident other than what was caught on camera. Gourmelon didn’t speak publicly about the crash for years afterward.
Gourmelon gave evidence to Diana’s inquest in 2007. But until 2017, he never said anything about the princess’s final moments. During an interview with The Sun, Gourmelon finally gave his account since he was no longer in active duty.
Just Another Job For Gourmelon
When Gourmelon received the call, he had no idea that he was tending to Princess Diana. “For me, this was simply a banal traffic incident,” he admitted. “It was the usual causes, speed and a drunk driver.”
Since he was so close to the crash, his team was the first to arrive. Dr. Frédéric Maillez, who happened to be passing by, had already tended to Diana a little bit. But Gourmelon didn’t see her at first.
He Didn’t Even See Diana At First
Gourmelon’s ten-person team took less than ten minutes to reach the crash site. When they arrived, they immediately searched for who was alive. Gourmelon immediately knew that “nothing could be done” for Paul, who had died on impact.
Dodi and Rees-Jones, though, were still alive. “The bodyguard in the front was conscious, but he was trapped and had very severe facial injuries,” Gourmelon explained. Since he didn’t see Princess Diana at first, he attended to Rees-Jones.
Her Bodyguard, Still Trying To Protect Her
As his teammates attended to Dodi and Rees-Jones, Gourmelon encountered Diana. Reportedly, Rees-Jones still worried about his dear princess. He repeatedly asked about Diana, although his rescuers did not understand English.
“He kept asking for the princess, saying, ‘Where is she? Where is she’?” Gourmelon revealed. He told Rees-Jones that none of his team spoke English, and he advised him to keep calm and not move. Meanwhile, Gourmelon noticed the “she” the bodyguard had been calling for.
Gourmelon noticed a blonde woman on the floor in the back of the car. Since she was moving slightly, he knew she was alive. “I could see she had a slight injury to her right shoulder, but other than that, there was nothing significant,” he recalled.
Noticing that there was no blood on the woman, Gourmelon moved to reassure her. “I held her hand and told her to be calm and keep still,” he told The Sun.
The Princess’s Final Words
Gourmelon would end up attending to Diana for around an hour until she was sent to a hospital on an ambulance. In the meantime, he tried to calm her down. It was then that Diana said what might have been her final words.
“She said, ‘My God, what’s happened?'” Gourmelon said. He never revealed whether he answered her or not. Although it seemed like she would survive, Princess Diana would not last through the night, even with her hospital care.
Her First Heart Attack
Workers had to use an electric chainsaw to remove the metal parts from Diana. “I gave her some oxygen, and my team and I stayed by her side as she was taken out of the car,” Gourmelon said. But more problems arose.
Moments later, the princess stopped breathing. “We are all trained to give first aid,” Gourmelon said, “and I saw that she suffered a cardiac arrest and stopped breathing.” He immediately moved to help.
She Recovered…For A Time
Fortunately, Gourmelon managed to revive Princess Diana. “I massaged her heart, and a few seconds later, she started breathing again,” he told The Sun. “As a first responder, you want to save lives — and that’s what I thought I had done.”
Alive and breathing, Diana was loaded into an ambulance and rushed to the Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital at 1:20 a.m. During the drive, she suffered another heart attack. The ambulance stopped to administer CPR and AED (defibrillation).
By 1:45 a.m., Diana had survived her second heart attack of the night. According to The Day Diana Died, she arrived at Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital around 2:01 a.m. She underwent surgery moments later.
Although Diana received a two-hour cardiac massage and surgery, she didn’t last through the night. She was pronounced dead at 4:00 a.m. Anesthesiologist Bruno Riou reported that she had arrived in a state of shock with internal bleeding. Ultimately, these internal injuries killed her.
Gourmelon Didn’t Know He Had Helped Diana
Meanwhile, Gourmelon returned to his wife with shocking news. “I had no idea then that it was Princess Diana,” he told The Sun. “It was only when she had been put into the ambulance that one of the paramedics told me it was her.
“I was so shocked,” he admitted. “I knew who she was, but don’t follow British royalty closely. I went to the ambulance and looked in, and that’s when I recognized her.”
He Expected Diana To Live
Even with her injuries, Gourmelon expected her to live. “As far as I knew, when she was in the ambulance, she was alive. And I expected her to live,” he admitted. In the meantime, Gourmelon returned to the fire station, where he was working a double weekend shift.
Gourmelon learned the truth when the public did. Bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones was the only victim who survived the incident. Dodi Fayed experienced a heart attack when he was taken out of the car, and he died at the scene.
Why He Didn’t Reveal His Story
Gourmelon kept his story a secret for over 20 years. As a fireman and a member of the French military, he was forbidden to reveal anything about the incident. He only spoke to The Sun after he had left the service.
Gourmelon worked in Paris until he recently moved back to his home in Brittany. He is now in charge of emergency services at Brest airport. But despite the decades that have passed, Gourmelon still remembers the crash well.
In Response To Her Death
In response to her death, the people of Britain spared nothing. Flowers and heartfelt messages covered the streets. Citizens erected floral tributes to the “People’s Princess” on the gates of Kensington Palace.
“The week after her death was phenomenal, and the scenes at her funeral were amazing,” Gourmelon said. “I suppose it is all because of the imagination which the princess captured in people.” Unfortunately for him, all the attention served as a reminder of his experience that night.
A Scar On Gourmelon’s Memory
During his revealing interview, Gourmelon admitted that he will never forget that upsetting night. “I can still picture the whole scene,” he said. “It’s something I’ll never forget and that I always think about at this time of year.”
In Paris, an unofficial monument marks the area under Pont d’Alma, where Diana’s car had crashed. Since her death, Gourmelon has received several calls to that area–to attend the tourists who visited the spot of the Princess’s crash.