Princess Diana was planning to move to America with boyfriend Dodi Al-Fayed before her tragic death, according to her former bodyguard.
Lee Sansum was part of the security detail looking after the royal and her sons, Princes William and Harry, as they holidayed in St. Tropez in July 1997. The family was staying on businessman Mohammed Al-Fayed’s luxury yacht, the Jonikal, and paparazzi swarmed the boat daily — desperately trying to snap photos of Diana and Dodi together.
“The press were the bane of her life everywhere, not just in St. Tropez,” Sansum writes in his book, “Protecting Diana: A Bodyguard’s Story,” out Tuesday. “And she said to me, ‘There is nothing I can do in the UK. The papers there attack me no matter what I do,’ Then she told me, ‘I want to go to the US and live there so I can get away from it all. At least in America they like me and will leave me alone.’”
Sansum, a former private military contractor, remembers asking Diana if her sons, William, then 15, and Harry, 12, would be going with her. He writes that Diana explained she would never be allowed to take them and that, if she moved, “I will probably only be able to see them in their school holidays.”
But it seemed that Diana may have seen leaving her sons as a sacrifice that would ultimately save them.
“You could tell Diana was a wonderful mother, so loving and attentive to her two boys but it looked as if she might have to leave them both behind in the UK to escape from the press, who hounded her relentlessly every single day of her life,” Sansum writes. “It was also to free them from all of the attention they got when she was with them.”
Finally, a few days into the holiday, Diana — upset that the press scrum was causing extra work for her security detail — suddenly announced that she was off to tell the lurking press that she was leaving the UK for good.
“I was alarmed because if we thought the press pack outside was huge now, just for her holiday, it would probably go up ten-fold if she gave them a story as big as this one,” the author writes. “The place would be swarming with paps, desperate to get pictures of the princess who was about to leave it all behind to run off to America.”
According to the book, Diana did go out to speak to reporters but ultimately did not say anything about her plans.
Sansum flicks away critics who have labeled the royal mentally unstable.
“I can tell you that I spent ten days close to her and she was one of the most balanced people I have ever met,” he writes. “I ought to know. I am trained to spot if someone is unbalanced. It’s part of my job. You look for signs that people give off when they are under stress because it means they might be about to do something. Diana wasn’t excessively angry or out of control. She was normal and very deliberate.”
He also dismisses reports that Dodi Al-Fayed was just a summer fling designed to make Diana’s ex-boyfriend Dr. Hasnat Khan jealous.
“They were really friendly and affectionate towards one another,” he writes of Di and Dodi. “The guys on the security team all thought it was game on and would develop into a serious relationship. You wouldn’t see them kissing in public, so some people misread that as if it wasn’t a romantic relationship but her boys were often around and the paparazzi were always there too, so that naturally made them more cautious and less demonstrative to one another.”
It was purely by chance that Sansum was not assigned to look after the couple as they spent time in Paris at the end of August 1997. Instead, his good friend, Trevor Rees-Jones, was tasked with the job. Rees-Jones was badly injured in the car accident that killed driver Henri Paul, Dodi, and Diana. The car had been speeding while trying to outrun a pack of photographers.
Diana was 36 when she died.
“Diana was one of the nicest people you could meet,” Sansum remembers. “She was lovely, in fact, just a normal person who clearly loved her boys. The poor woman got slagged off for everything she did—even when it was really normal stuff like working out to stay fit, the press gave her grief about that too. It was so unfair.”