Now, it is late afternoon. The corridor outside Diana’s room has been secured. Aside from the police guards, there is a permanent presence of just Colin Tebbutt, the Consul-General, the nursing sister, Paul Burrell and the priest.
The priest, Father Yves-Marie Clochard-Bossuet, recalls that he could tell that butler Burrell was genuinely devastated by Diana’s death, unlike some of the ‘hypocritical’ officials who had paid their respects. ‘He felt the need to tell me how much she meant to him.’
But then ‘suddenly down the corridor comes this tall man and his wife and they just walked into Diana’s room with the policeman saluting,’ recalls Tebbutt.
‘I’m like, “What the hell’s happening now?” I went to call him back when I suddenly realised it was President and Mrs Chirac [again]. Mr Chirac bowed at the end of the bed and walked out. After that, we sat in the office and waited. They knew that the VIP party from Britain was close.
Devoted: The Princess of Wales with Prince Harry and William in 1995. A picture of Diana’s two sons, which was in her handbag, was placed in her hands following her death
‘I knew little about the Royal Family tree,’ recalls the priest to the Mail. ‘I knew Diana’s husband was called Charles . . . I had no idea that the whole world would be talking about this for years to come.’ He is bemused by the deferential anticipation of his British companions.
‘The people of the embassy warned me an hour before he arrived that Charles was coming. We French and English are different. They were asking me if I felt OK, was I prepared in order to meet His Royal Highness [their attitude]? It was absolutely as if Christ Himself was about to descend [on us].’
First to arrive are the royal undertakers’ party. ‘The coffin was carried shoulder-high by these four big guys accompanied by Mr Leverton himself, all in morning suits, marching down the corridor as if it were a military parade,’ recalls Tebbutt. ‘I told Mr Leverton that the French undertakers had been and hoped that everything was OK. And he went in and looked at her and came out and said: “Mr Tebbutt, they’ve done a fine job, thank you,” which was a huge relief to me.’
Now Prince Charles arrives, accompanied by Diana’s sisters, Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes. President Chirac is at the hospital entrance with a 12-strong guard of honour.
‘I had known [the Prince] since 1978. He said to me, “Colin, thank you very much for coming,” ’ says Tebbutt. ‘I explained to him what had been happening and he asked, “Are there any members of the clergy here?” I said there were and he replied, “I would like to go into the [Diana’s] room with the clergy and her sisters. Is that alright?” I said, “By all means, Sir.” ’
An Anglican clergyman is also on hand, at last. ‘He arrived five minutes before Charles,’ recalls Father Clochard-Bossuet. ‘A nice man named Martin Draper (the serving Anglican Archdeacon of France). And it was he who told Prince Charles, “This is the Catholic priest who has been watching over Diana for ten hours.”
‘And Prince Charles was very amiable, very simple, very nice. He thanked me and invited me to come and pray with them. And so there was a prayer, the Anglican prayer for the dead, with Prince Charles, the two sisters, maybe a nurse, and the two priests, me and the Anglican. There was no one else in the room.’
The prayers last a quarter of an hour. The priest notices that Diana’s appearance has changed since he last saw her. Diana has been prepared and dressed in Lady Jay’s outfit. ‘They had put on eye-shadow and make-up,’ he recalls. ‘She didn’t have the naturalness she had before. She looked like a doll, whereas before she was just a very beautiful woman.’
A picture of Diana’s two sons, which was in her handbag, has been placed in her hands together with rosary beads given to her by Mother Teresa. She is wearing the jewellery that has been recovered from the Mercedes, although one earring is missing. (It will be recovered from the wreckage.)
Afterwards, ‘Charles thanked me,’ recalls the priest. ‘He was very, very moved. Yes, I saw tears.’
Yves-Marie Clochard-Bossuet, pictured above. The catholic priest was the chaplain at the hospital where Princess Diana died
‘But [when the royal party was praying in the room] someone from Charles’s entourage, a gentleman who I didn’t know, asked me, “How are you getting back then?”’ Tebbutt recalls.
‘And I said, “I haven’t given it a thought, Sir. I haven’t got a shilling in my pocket.” And he said, “Well, you won’t be going on the royal plane, of course.” And I thought that was a little strange. They’re taking over. But the boss is mine. She’s still mine. Are they going to shove me on [the Eurostar] or something? But then the Prince came out and thanked me again and said, “You and Mr Burrell will be coming back with me on the plane.” ’
6.35pm: Draped in the Royal Standard and led by Archdeacon Draper, Diana’s coffin is carried to a dark blue hearse. The royal cortège departs the hospital for Villacoublay military airfield, where the coffin is transferred to an aircraft from the Royal Flight.
‘As we drove through the streets of Paris, everyone was applauding,’ Tebbutt recalls. ‘It was amazing. Very, very moving. When we got to the plane the two sisters decided they wanted to sit with Paul and me.’ The Prince and his staff sit in a different compartment.
6.51pm BST: A TV audience of 19 million watches the plane’s arrival at Northolt in West London. Six RAF pallbearers from the Queen’s Colour Squadron lift Diana’s coffin on to their shoulders. Prime Minister Tony Blair is there to meet the royal party, along with the Lord Chamberlain and Diana’s private secretary Michael Gibbins.
Police outriders from the Special Escort Group now lead the hearse out on to the A40. Too late, Diana is getting the police protection she had disastrously rejected. As the hearse passes under bridges, bystanders drop flowers on to the road. Back at Northolt, Prince Charles re-boards the RAF plane to return to Balmoral and his heartbroken sons.
The hearse continues on to Bagley’s Lane mortuary, in Fulham. There Diana’s body is formally identified by her sisters and a post-mortem examination takes place. The royal doctor also examines Tebbutt. The bodyguard is 57, physically exhausted and mentally overwrought. His longest, most challenging duty is at an end.
But his attention now turns to Diana’s sisters. ‘How were they to get home? Everyone else was a stranger, save for the royal doctor,’ he recalls. ‘We were still the household of the Princess of Wales. No one was going to help us. So I got my driver to take Sarah home to Lincolnshire that night.’
3am BST: Tebbutt is finally able to return to his bed in Botany Bay, from which he was roused by a call from Balmoral in the early hours of the previous morning. His day of days has lasted 26 hours.
Monday & Tuesday September 1 & 2
Diana’s body has remained under police guard overnight at the Fulham mortuary. It is now lying in a closed casket in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace. By chance the royal residential protection officer tasked to guard her this morning is Garry Smith, whose charitable event she had offered to sponsor a week before she was killed.
‘All the windows in the chapel had been thrown open and I could hear people outside talking about what had happened,’ Smith [not his real name owing to his sensitive current occupation], recalls to the Mail. ‘They didn’t know they were only a few feet away from the Princess herself.
‘[Her death] affected me afterwards more than it did on the night it took place, when I just couldn’t believe it was happening. Forget about all the “Queen of Hearts” nonsense. She was a normal woman who had faults like we all do. She was tricky, but I very much liked Diana as a human being.’
In preparation for the funeral, the casket will later be moved to her apartment in Kensington Palace.
Diana’s Paris luggage has ended up at Mohamed Al Fayed’s office in Harrods department store. Tebbutt goes there to retrieve it on behalf of Diana’s sisters. ‘But they [Al Fayed’s office] would not let me have it just like that,’ he recalls. ‘I was told a member of his staff must go with me and the luggage to Lady Sarah’s home in Lincolnshire. So we drove up there in convoy and when we arrived the Harrods man wanted to go inside and be present when we checked the contents of the bags. But Lady Sarah would not have him in her house. He was made to wait outside.’
The funeral: Saturday, September 6
Garry Smith is on plain-clothes duty, surveying the dense crowds from the ‘wedding cake’ statue of Queen Victoria outside Buckingham Palace. Colin Tebbutt and his partner Liz are not only inside Westminster Abbey, but right at the front of the VIP congregation, next to Diana’s ‘blood family’.
Diana’s coffin, draped in the Royal Standard, is carried out of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris on August 31, 1997
‘We were treated fantastically well by Earl Spencer,’ he recalls. ‘The doors of the abbey were open and I said to Liz, “Listen to the rain, everyone outside will get soaked.” But in fact it was clapping and then the applause entered the abbey and moved up through into the choir. That showed what people thought of the most beautiful woman in the world.’
He accompanies the family mourners to Euston station and boards the Royal Train to Long Buckby, the nearest stop to Althorp. Diana’s coffin is driven to Northamptonshire in a hearse.
‘I was helping direct operations outside the station when to my horror I realised everyone was driving off without me. But then one of the cars stopped and Prince William said “Get in, Colin” and I was taken to Althorp House.’
There is a lunch before the interment. Then the mourners make their way to the shore of the Round Oval, a small lake in the grounds. Diana is to be buried on the island in the middle. Tebbutt is one of the privileged few beside the close family to be allowed to the graveside.
‘No police protection officers; Earl Spencer didn’t want anyone else down there,’ he recalls. ‘The Army had put a bridge across to the island and I walked over it with [Diana’s mother] Mrs Shand Kydd. She held my hand the whole time and we walked across to the island and stood there together. The coffin was lowered and the whole family went forward. I kept my distance.
‘I was just amazed to be there and very emotional. Then we walked back across the bridge and I went with Mrs Shand Kydd to sit on a bench. She had a cigarette. That’s what she wanted. We sat in deep silence as the Army was taking the bridge away. Then we walked back to the house, had coffee and went our separate ways.’
Special research: Simon Trump and Rory Mulholland in Paris. Picture research: Sue Connolly