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Death of Diana: Times Journalists Recall Night of the Crash

The Glamour of Diana

Elisabeth Bumiller, now The Times’s Washington bureau chief: I was a reporter at The Washington Post’s Style section and was assigned to cover Nancy Reagan’s trip to the royal wedding on July 29, 1981. The first I saw Diana in person was at a polo match that week, right before the wedding. She was watching Charles play. Diana was dressed fairly simply, and I was struck by how young she looked — and was. She was 20 at the time.

At the polo match, I was among a small band of American reporters, almost entirely women, covering Mrs. Reagan. We watched as the first lady arrived in the same 15-or-so black-car motorcade that had caused a fuss for further tying up traffic all week in London. A short time after Mrs. Reagan arrived at the polo match, the queen drove up — at the wheel of her own Vauxhall station wagon, with a single security guard, or so I remember, in the passenger seat. “The queen is driving herself!” I exclaimed out loud. My words were evidently overheard, because the next day my comment appeared in one of the tabloids as a member of the first lady’s entourage expressing astonishment that the queen was so self-sufficient compared to America’s first lady.

Farrell: What was interesting to me was the contrast between Diana’s public duties and what she was doing in private. I remember the last years of her life as seeming to have been on a slow, sad, trajectory. The tabloid tales of an unhappy marriage had persisted for years, and were finally confirmed by Charles and Diana themselves in media interviews. And in the last year or two the unhappiness seemed to take its toll as Diana sought a role both inside and outside the royal circle, sharing the upbringing of her sons with her estranged in-laws, but also leading her own life.

Two weeks before she died, I was sent to the tiny former mining village of Lower Pilsley in Derbyshire, where Diana had just reportedly flown in a helicopter with Dodi to consult a psychic. It was a three-hour drive, but also a million miles, from Buckingham Palace.

Bumiller: Her presence at a charity dinner turned it into an international media event, as happened when she appeared in New York in 1995 at an awards dinner for the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Supporters of Prince Charles were critical of her at the time for her role as an American fashion booster — or at least that’s what I wrote in The Times at the time — but Diana did it as a favor to her friend, Elizabeth Tilberis, the late British-born editor of Harper’s Bazaar.

I remember that I talked to Diana in the crush of the crowd and asked her the question that was in all the New York tabloids: Was she moving to New York?

“No, no, no, no,” she said. “My boys are at home, and I’m at home.”

I think she was a little stunned to be in such a crush of 2,500 people — this was at Lincoln Center — and probably a little stunned to have come face to face with a reporter. In any case she was quite polite. I also remember that she had the most beautiful, luminous skin.

She had a new look that night — her hair was slicked back and she was wearing a tight and very low-cut dress by the British designer Catherine Walker. Her presence that evening had all the designers buzzing — I quoted Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Isaac Mizrahi as being excited that she was there.

Source: NYT > World

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